By Louis Golino for CoinWeek
I recently spoke with Gary Marks, Chairman of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Commission, about his involvement with coins, last week’s meeting on the silver eagle reverse design, the committee’s approach to balancing modern and classic coin designs, and related issues.
Mr. Marks has worked as a city manager for decades in a number of different states and recently became the city manager for Lebanon, Oregon.
LG- “Can you tell our readers a little about how you first became interested in coins?”
GM- “For my tenth birthday my mother gave me a blue Whitman penny folder for 1909 to 1941 that she had when she was a collector, and that’s what started it all. She also gave me a proof set for my birth year. Those two things got me started, and I still have both items.”
LG- “Like you I also started 40 years ago, but I took time off while in college and grad school. Did you stick with the hobby all those years?”
GM- “I did take time off to start a family, but now as the kids have grown, and some are now leaving the nest, I’ve come back to it, and stronger than before.”
LG- “How did you end up as Chairman of the CCAC?”
GM- “That’s an interesting story. I used to be the city manager of Whitefish, Montana, which is the home town of the Montana Governor at the time, Brian Schweitzer. When the state quarter program came to Montana, I called him and asked if I could serve on the commission that was heading up the design process. So he put me on that commission, and when it was time to launch the quarter, the governor had me be master of ceremonies at the Helena civics center where I shared the stage with Ed Moy, who was then Director of the Mint. The two of us got to talk about coins, and low and behold about four weeks later I got a call from Ed saying there is a vacancy on the CCAC and asking me if I would consider serving. Of course, I said I was interested, and I came on in 2007, and am now in my second term. In 2010 I became chairman.” [CCAC member terms are 4 years. –LG]
LG- “As far as last week’s meeting on changing the reverse design for the American silver eagle, I heard you say the change would apply to the bullion and proof coins. Would it also apply to the burnished uncirculated, enhanced uncirculated, or other versions?”
GM- “All versions would be changed. The existing reverse would simply be retired in total.”
LG-“ I have heard that the committee has recommended a possible design change for the past three years and understand the general background to last week’s meeting. But can you tell us a little more about the impetus for the change and why you decided to leave the obverse design?”
GM- “The first factor is that every 25 years the Secretary can change the design. Second, the committee wants to further design excellence. When we look at programs like the state quarters or the Westward Journey nickel program, we see that those design changes enlivened the hobby, increased interest, and got more people involved, and I would say even enlivened the existing collector base because there was something of new interest to look at. If decade after decade, you have the same design, it’s just the same thing.
Let’s see if we can enliven the series, spark even greater interest in the series, and let’s do it with an eye towards matching the obverse and reverse together. The Adolph Weinman obverse design is such an American classic that I felt if we can find a design that is appropriate for that obverse and place it on the reverse, that would be a home run.
My perspective is that the Adolph Weinman obverse is an active design. Liberty is walking towards the sun, telling the story of Liberty marching forward, there is a bright future, etc. The current reverse is a static design, fixed in a position. The design the committee recommended last week is also an active design that has some drama to it like the current obverse. I believe they complement each other, and would make a great combination. The current obverse design is popular with many collectors, and this change is an opportunity to enliven that with a new and exciting reverse, to spark new interest in the hobby, and put some excitement in there for collectors who have been collecting for years.”
LG- “I have heard some collectors say they get tired of seeing the same design all the time, while others seem to be resistant to any change. I think many of them will come along if the design is well-executed.”
GM- “That is the key. You don’t mess with the silver eagle unless you have a great design. I think we are on route for that, and the Mint will prepare several designs with the correct inscriptions, etc. And we will have another look at the design later in the year. Last week was just the beginning.”
LG- “So there will be at least one more CCAC meeting on it plus the CFA (Commission on Fine Arts) review.”
GM- “We will probably meet this fall. I think that is how it will work out.”
LG- “Has there been any progress on the committee’s proposal made last year for a circulating Liberty commemorative coin series?”
GM- “Not really. The issue is how the CBO (Congressional Budget Office) does not consider seigniorage as budget savings. We were able to show we would increase seigniorage, which goes directly to paying down the national debt, but that is not considered budget savings, which makes it hard to get the attention of Congress. It’s really a semantic difference since the savings is there, and the national debt is less, albeit not by a huge amount. That is the hook we hang the program on other than the numismatic reasons and the real basis for convincing a majority of members of congress that the program is in the national interest”
“The state quarter program was not enacted during the first session of Congress when it was proposed. It took several sessions as members became more knowledgeable about the program. I see it as a process, and hope it is enacted.”
LG- “As you know there is still a lot of interest among collectors in re-issuing the classic coin designs of the past, but I know the CCAC favors more modern depictions of classic American themes. Would you favor re-issuing the classics on a limited basis such as for anniversaries like the 100th anniversary of the Standing Liberty quarter in 2016, or the 100th of the Peace dollar in 2021?”
GM- “In fact, one of our recommendations in our current annual report was to issue a Peace dollar dated 2018 as part of a commemorative program to mark the end of World War I, which has not really been honored on past American coins. The Peace dollar was intended as a celebration of the peace restored to the world at the end of WWI. We recommended a two-silver dollar program, including one that would honor the men and women who served in our Armed Forces during that war, who have not been honored on American coinage, and a Peace dollar dated 2018 done in high relief.”
Regarding your central question, the committee looks at the designs on U.S. coins as something that should tell the story of our generation as Americans, and how we as Americans observe Liberty. How Liberty might be portrayed can change, and it’s a balancing act. It is good to honor the old classic designs. There are some really good ones that came out of the golden era of coin design, and periodic re-issues like the 2018 Peace dollar are totally appropriate.”
But with the American Liberty circulating program we would have an opportunity over time to develop a whole new collection of modern renditions of Liberty and themes on freedom, which would appear on the reverses of the coins. We want to be able to leave behind for the next generation some great art as was left to us from the golden age. That is at the heart of what we want to do. For our own time and for future generations we want to create a record of coin designs that reflect our time and how we portrayed Liberty in the modern era.”
CoinWeek is grateful to Mr. Marks for sharing his comments on the work of his committee.
Louis Golino is a coin collector and numismatic writer, whose articles on coins have appeared in Coin World, Numismatic News, and a number of different coin web sites. His insightful retrospective on the American Silver Eagle was the cover feature of the February 2014 issue of The Numismatist. His column for CoinWeek, “The Coin Analyst,” covers U.S. and world coins and precious metals. He collects U.S. and European coins and is a member of the ANA, PCGS, NGC, and CAC. He has also worked for the U.S. Library of Congress and has been a syndicated columnist and news analyst on international affairs for a wide variety of newspapers and web sites.
Very good interview. Peace dollar, Mercury Dime…classic commemoratives, but new art moving forward is not a bad idead IMO.
The one thing we have learned from having the CCAC is “We don’t need the CCAC!” It is simply another foolish self righteous entity tied to a government institution that has survived just fine without them before. The CCAC does not speak for me and I am sure most others. So please Mr Marks, work to disolve the CCAC and let the Mint do what it needs to do without you!
You did not mention what it is specifically that makes you so hostile to the CCAC.
If it is the designs, no is going to like every design no matter how they originate.
Plus any coin issued also has to be approved by the Mint, the CFA, and selected by the Treasury Secretary.
Also, Mr. Marks did not create it, the Congress did, and only the Congress could get rid of it:
Mission and Purpose of the CCAC
“The CCAC was established in 2003 by Congress under Public Law 108-15 to advise the Secretary of the Treasury on the themes and designs of all US coins and medals. The CCAC serves as an informed, experienced and impartial resource to the Secretary of the Treasury and represents the interests of American citizens and collectors.”
I have to respectfully disagree with Chairman Marks’ comments regarding coin designs that reflect our time. Some of the best designs of the past few years have been done in the old “classic style.” The Medal of Honor commemorative gold coin’s design and the 2011 platinum eagle’s design were both done in a style reminiscent of the old classics. Both won wide acclaim from collectors. If we stuck too rigidly to such a “no classic-style allowed” formula, we would not have had such great coins.
I do agree with his remarks on the silver eagle. There is room for a change, but the new design really needs to be well executed as the silver eagle is the world’s most popular bullion coin. So far they seem to be on track to do this.
Remember that he specifically states that he favors striking a balance between classic and modern designs and is not opposed to classic designs, which is why the committee approved the very designs you like.
Also, I think it is important to focus on the idea of modern images of Liberty. I think he is talking about designs like the proposed new silver eagle reverse, which is really a classic flying eagle similar to the Gobrecht dollars.
Or the Star Spangled Banner silver dollar you like so much. Those are modern images of Liberty, and I think both you and Mr. Marks are in agreement on such designs.
Louis – Thanks for taking the time to conduct this interview and make the conversation available to your readers. So many take-aways, but you and Mr. Marks definitely peeked my interest with your discussions on a 2018 Peace Dollar Set and other liberty related coinage. Cannot wait to see how that long-term program comes together.
I definitely like the idea of the Committees and the Mint looking for opportunities to re-invigorate the hobby outside of the Legislated numismatic programs which, when considering the recent 2013 Girls Scouts and 2014 CRA, have been operating at a less than 50% success rate over the last couple of years.
Personally, I’d like to see the Legislative aspect of this process revamped, as so many of these bills seem to be introduced without a clear understanding of the Program being sponsored or the coin manufacturing processes necessary to present those often blindly recommended, unrealistic and abstract designs.
Thanks for your comments, Chris.
I found it esp. interesting during the recent CCAC meeting when one member said that good designs sell well, and unattractive ones don’t, and he then gave examples of the former being the baseball coins and of the latter being the Girl Scouts and CRA coins.
Here is how a non-American coin writer reacted to this article and characterized the American coin design process on ModernCoins.com Forum (www.moderncoinmart.com/forum):
“Really interesting article Louis. I’m fascinated with the transparency of the whole design process in the States, it’s something that’s just not seen in the majority of countries and makes a refreshing change.”
I know I can take our processes for granted. Thanks for the perspective!
I do get a little excited when I hear about the possibility of a new coin or change to an existing coin. Anything that is unchanging over time will become stagnant and thus, uninteresting. There is a great need for change, but the huge problem is finding a consensus of opinion. Many people want to put in their “two cents” worth… but that too can be problematic. I truly do hope to see some exciting changes in the near future to our coins.
Well said, J.
I think it is noteworthy that:
1.) the CCAC members, who regularly disagree on what designs are best just like the rest of us do, quickly coalesced around the one they ended up recommending with only a couple members opposed, as I saw during the vote.
2.) In web site polls and discussions collectors also mostly gravitated toward the same design (see my article from last week).