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CCAC Selects Designs for National Park Service Centennial Coin Program


By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek ….

Selected Designs for the 2016 National Park Service 100th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Program:

  • $5 Gold: Obverse 10 c/w Reverse 3
  • $1 Silver: Reverse 2 (as the obverse) c/w Reverse 5
  • Clad Half Dollar: Silver Obverse 2 c/w Clad Reverse 3


The Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee (CCAC) recently held the first of two meetings–from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.–on Tuesday, June 16 at the United States Mint in Washington, D.C. It was CCAC member Mary Lannin’s first public outing as Committee Chairman, replacing outgoing Committee Chair Gary Marks, whose four-year term of service to the committee expires this year.

After introducing herself as the new chairman and passing motions to approve the minutes from the March and April meetings, Lannin promptly began discussion of the day’s topics.

First on the agenda was the 2016 National Park Service 100th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Program.

April Stafford, Program Manager of the U.S. Mint’s Office of Sales and Marketing, provided background on the matter, including program details and the intent of the authorizing legislation. Betty Birdsong, Stakeholders Relations Program Manager at the Mint, and Donald Leadbetter, Partnership Coordinator at the National Park Service Centennial Office, also participated in the meeting.

As she did for each of the coins and medals on the agenda, Stafford next presented designs for the obverse and reverse of the $5 gold coin. While stating that the field of candidates for the gold National Park Service commemorative was the strongest from among all those submitted to the centennial program, Erik Jensen expressed concern that the CCAC and the Mint had given participating artists too narrow design parameters. The results, Jensen said, were bad designs–but it wasn’t the artists’ fault.

Jensen then went on to suggest that certain symbols, such as the famous arrowhead logo of the National Park Service, would serve better on the $1 silver coin, and recommended some gold designs be considered for the silver dollar.

Heidi Wastweet, sculptor and medallic artist, countered his first argument by saying the CCAC should have some say before the artist begins work and that the artist is always free to stray from the committee’s recommendations. She then warned the committee against pairing obverse and reverse designs in such a way as to create a “two-headed” coin.

Repeating a complaint we’ve heard many times over the last few CCAC meetings, committee member Robert Hoge commented that the artists have produced beautiful drawings that are too concerned with being good drawings. This results in overly detailed designs that are impractical as guides to engraving actual coins.

He also brought up an interesting point about how obverse 17 shows “human beings dwarfed by an aspect of nature”. Not only is this appropriate to the theme of the coin, Hoge said, but it’s also something the United States has never before expressed on an American coin.

Hoge was also the first to dismiss the use of Devil’s Tower in South Dakota as a motif, stating that its impact might be lost on the small field of a coin. Wastweet later commented that the representation of Devil’s Tower on silver obverse 8 could be misinterpreted as a cut-down tree, something completely anathema to the spirit of the National Park Service.

Gary Marks then re-emphasized the CCAC’s accountability for the designs, bad or good, and advised the committee to consider the coin’s planchet size when judging a design. Marks also suggested a proof finish for the gold coin.

Numismatist and committee member Michael Bugeja followed this up by commenting that the artists did not seem to understand what an obverse or reverse is, which he defined as the topic (obverse) and theme (reverse) of a coin.

Donald Scarinci then provided fruitful examples of good and bad coin design, singling out Elizabeth Jones’ 1986 Statue of Liberty commemorative silver half dollar as a success and the 2007 Jamestown commemorative as a failure when it comes to effective use of the coin as a medium. Interestingly, he said the bad design of the 2007 Jamestown coins was not the fault of the CCAC.

While not physically present at the meeting, committee member and numismatic author Mike Moran participated by relaying comments to Tom Uram. Moran declared that John Muir and President Theodore Roosevelt deserved a presence on the National Park Service centennial coins since both men were so pivotal to the creation of the park service in 1916.

The committee ultimately voted to select obverse 10 and reverse 3 for the $5 gold coin.

Jensen started discussion of the $1 silver coin–which he called the “signature coin of the set”–by again expressing his disappointment with the designs provided to the committee, going so far as to say they were all a “waste of an ounce of silver”.

A discussion of the merits of each design and the preferences of each committee member then followed, with some key points made here and there.

Dr. Herman Viola, the committee’s expert on American History and former director of several native American exhibits at the Smithsonian Institute, stated that the CCAC needs to be careful when it comes to designs that incorporate Native American elements. He used silver reverse 1 as an example, stating that Native American women didn’t traditionally wear headbands–Hollywood moviemakers needed a way to keep the wigs that Caucasian actresses wore to look native from falling off.

Gary Marks claimed that the CCAC’s approach to multi-coin commemorative programs was too complex, and that the way design portfolios were currently divided should be simplified.

Bugeja repeated his statement regarding a coin’s obverse and reverse, and said he was “not going to be gentle with the artists”. He joked that a combination of obverse 2 and reverse 3 would be mistakenly holdered as obverse 2, reverse 3 by the third party grading services.

Uram commented that animals sell better on coins than people, and suggested that the three-coin set should be divided thematically into a natural side, an animal side and a cultural side when looked at side by side.

Marks then motioned for reverse 2 to be used as the obverse, coupled with reverse 5. The motion carried, but some felt the vote was forced through the committee without appropriate discussion. Confusion ensued, and the vote was redone. Reverse 2 was selected as the obverse, and reverse 5 was selected as the reverse of the $1 silver coin.

Many on the committee, after discussing silver obverse 2, were convinced that the clad half dollar should focus on children and be marketed in such a way as to interest future generations of numismatists in coin collecting.

Heidi Wastweet, one of the advocates of this idea, added that having a dinosaur on the coin (as seen on reverses 3, 4 and 5) would not only be popular with kids but would also be a first for the United States Mint. Other nations (most notably Canada) have incorporated several innovative dinosaur designs on collector coins in recent years, including the famous Pachyrhinosaurus glow-in-the-dark coin from 2012.


Her preference was for silver obverse 2 (which she believed was better suited to the clad half dollar) to be paired with clad reverse 3.

Erik Jensen asked if the dinosaur skeletons as presented in the portfolio were correct, and also pointed out that the Ford Model T as seen on obverse 6 is also celebrating its centennial in 1916.

Some, however, suggested that the National Park Service centennial could be better represented by some of the other designs, and that there would be “plenty of opportunities” (as Donald Scarinci put it) to use the binocular motif of silver obverse 2 on a coin program and to create a purely dinosaur-themed coin in the future.

Nevertheless, silver obverse 2 and clad reverse 3 were chosen as the CCAC’s recommendations for the 2016 National Park Service 100th Anniversary clad half dollar.

About the CCAC

In accordance with 31 U.S.C. 5135, the CCAC:

  1. Advises the Secretary of the Treasury on any theme or design proposals relating to circulating coinage, bullion coinage, Congressional Gold Medals, and national and other medals.

  2. Advises the Secretary of the Treasury with regards to the events, persons, or places to be commemorated by the issuance of commemorative coins in each of the five calendar years succeeding the year in which a commemorative coin designation is made.

  3. Makes recommendations with respect to the mintage level for any commemorative coin recommended.

The CCAC was established in 2003 by Congress under Public Law 108-15.

                    -courtesy of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee


Coinweek is the top independent online media source for rare coin and currency news, with analysis and information contributed by leading experts across the numismatic spectrum.

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    • Aaaand it makes the obverse design unintentionally hilarious? We try to stay high-minded. We wouldn’t want to make a laughing stock of modern U.S. coin designs now would we?

  1. Based on these selections, I am seriously leaning towards NEVER buying a US Mint product ever again. These designs are absolutely pitiful. The reverse of the dollar coin is mind-boggling as to how in the world it could be wholly representative of National Parks!

    • Sorry, let me clarify, the gold is definitely a winner, but my wallet no longer provides sufficient funds for such purchases.

  2. A “boner” coin?! What else do you expect from “design by committee? Has any good art ever designed by a committee? The fundamental failure is attempting to design a sculptural object of a coin through drawings, and hoping for it to translate well. That’s like asking a poet to write symphony…
    IMO, There should be ONE overseer responsible for research, thematic brief, and the commissioning of new designs.
    I know, this all sounds so undemocratic, but it makes for better coin designs as was done with St.Gaudens double eagles before (and most numismatists at the time did not like the design! Luckily, there was no CCAC and no one listened to the blind wimps)!

    • Check out any of our articles concerning candidate designs for coins and you’ll see design after design that makes one heck of a good drawing but fails as a coin. So I agree with you, conceiving of one medium in terms of what looks good in an entirely different medium is a fundamental error.

      I also tend to support the argument that the process should be a little less democratic, but that presupposes that good design is a worthy goal. For better or for worse, the United States Mint is legally required to pay for itself, so its coins must sell. “Focus groups” like the CCAC make sense.

      And, I might add, CCAC Chairman Emeritus Gary Marks played a large role in getting the Mint to be more responsive to those who advocate better design on U.S. coinage.


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