The newest design recommendations for circulating U.S. coinage have not gotten good early reviews, to say the least.
Symbolism in Design
Criticisms of the U.S. Mint for a lack of creativity and even quality control have a fairly long tradition that stretches back to the 19th century. There's no doubt that, even during the "classic era" of U.S. coin designs during the 1800s, many of the country's early coin collectors, critics, and numismatic experts subjected our coins to unfavorable scrutiny.
American coin designs underwent a renaissance at the turn of the 20th century. Virtually every coin denomination received a makeover, and many of the country's most beautiful coins were introduced during this period.
One might assume that this rebirth would have carried on in perpetuity, but very little of the artistic sentiment from this era has survived into the 21st century. Rather than portraying Lady Liberty, our coins almost exclusively feature founding fathers and past presidents. You'll only find the richer, more symbolic designs on gold and silver bullion coins today.
For circulating coins and commemorative coins, the U.S. Mint has largely reverted to its historical pattern of uninspired boilerplate designs.
The latest mint program for $1 coins is yet another example in this numismatic legacy.
The American Innovation $1 Coin program was authorized by Congress earlier this year. The series is modeled on the same concept as the State Quarters and America the Beautiful coins: Each state in the Union, as well as each U.S. territory, will have a native-born inventor or invention featured in the design.
It's not the concept behind the series that has drawn intense criticism from the numismatic press. It's the blandness of the proposed design itself.
The image above is one of the common obverse design proposals for the Innovation series, using George Washington's signature—approximately how it appeared on the first patent ever issued in the U.S. All of the other design proposals bore a similar version of this format.
While the theme and symbolism are not without merit, the slate of designs were all unanimously rejected by the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee (CCAC).
CoinWeek skewered the proposals, suggesting that they were "perhaps the worst conceived U.S. coin design candidates" and imploring the mint to "make it stop." The acclaimed writing and research team of Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker go as far as saying the 10-0 unanimous rejection of the designs by the CCAC would not have been a "sufficient rebuke" even if the vote were 100-0.
In a similar vein, Coin World questioned the wisdom (and apparent lack of effort) of a proposal to use the stale Statue of Liberty motif for the obverse. This is the same image that already has appeared on $1 coins for years. The magazine also took exception with how Congress stipulated a great deal of the specific design elements. While the legislature typically makes a few broad dictums, such as requiring a depiction of an eagle on one side of a coin, excessive specificity in the act authorizing the coins seems to have tied the hands of artists by law.
Meanwhile, an opinion piece published in Numismatic News characterized the dollar series as the "same old mistakes" by the mint. In general, dollar coins have not been well-received since returning over the last two decades.
Aside from a bland appearance, dollar coins have lacked widespread demand or adoption in the U.S. because, unlike other countries, we haven't eliminated the paper $1 note nor introduced a $2 coin as a companion. The availability of $1 bills discourages the use of $1 coins while a $2 denomination would facilitate greater commercial use of the coins by making it more convenient to make change.
The U.S. Mint has also been taken to task recently for its apparent lack of rigor in preventing counterfeit gold coins. However, in this regard, it is joined by many of the world's other major mints who have faced the same problem (with occasionally poor results).
Perhaps the most ironic thing about this coin series is that the mint is attempting to embody the theme of innovation through a dull design formula—essentially the opposite of innovation!
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