By Don Everhart – Former Sculptor-Engraver, United States Mint …..
Exclusive for CoinWeek
On January 4, 2004, after a 5 am wake up call, a hurried breakfast, a 20-minute drive to the train station, an hour on the R5 from Exton, and a 10-minute walk through the darkness and rain in Philadelphia, I rounded the corner of Arch St. and 5th and saw the United States Mint for the first time. It was well-illuminated and looked to be a welcome respite from the winter gloom around it.
But I can’t say I was thrilled to be starting this new phase of my career. I am a freelance artist at heart, and the thought of an everyday nine-to-five job really didn’t sit too well with me. How was I going to maintain my daily regimen of cycling? Was I going to be permitted to be creative?
Even though I had a stereotypical and not-quite-positive idea of what a government position would be like, I decided that I had to make the best of it. At the time I had no idea that the job would be the very opposite of what I expected.
After going through security at the employee’s entrance of the United States Mint, I was ushered up to the third floor and the Sculptors Studio. I had already met John Mercanti and Donna Weaver, both staff engravers, when I had my initial interviews the year before. I also knew Charles Vickers and Norm Nemeth previously from my six years of working with them at The Franklin Mint.
I noticed that the corner cubicle was open for me! It had windows on both sides and was at the front of the building. Wow, I thought, they must hold me in high regard to give me the prime spot in the Sculptors Studio!
I found out rather quickly and to my chagrin that when it was cold outside this spot was FREEZING! I can remember Donna wearing a coat and gloves one winter day using masking tape on the windows to keep the chill air from leaking in.
Conversely, in the summer months, it was stifling. We would have four or five fans going at once. The building is made of granite and holds the cold in the winter and the heat in the summer. The windows in the studio faced south.
I began in my new position by cleaning dies, changing dates on pennies and nickels, and started working up some designs. John, who was in charge of handing out sculpting assignments, gave me the California State Quarter to sculpt! I couldn’t believe that I was actually sculpting a coin to be circulated in the very successful 50 State Quarters program.
John also gave me the reverse of his Jackie Robinson Congressional Gold Medal design to sculpt. I still appreciate the guidance John gave me while he was the Chief Engraver of the United States Mint.
I worked for about a year developing designs, none of which were chosen. I thought were good enough, but, for whatever reason, they weren’t making much of an impression on the CFA (Committee For Fine Arts) or the CCAC (Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee) in Washington, DC.
One day I conveyed my dismay to Dave Puglia, who was Acting Plant Manager at the time. He told me, “Don’t worry, you are going to get designs chosen, and they will come in bunches.”
I wasn’t so sure about that, but about two weeks later I found out my Nevada State Quarter design was the top pick of the committees! Within a week my Benjamin Franklin Founding Father Commemorative obverse design and my Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King Congressional Gold Medal obverse design were also chosen.
Now I felt like I belonged.
During my employment at the Mint I had many designs picked to be coins and medals; in fact, a few of the coins I worked on went on to be chosen as Coin Of The Year (COTY).
Two in particular stand out. The Baseball Hall of Fame curved coin (the first curved coin to be struck by The United States Mint), and the March of Dimes Commemorative Silver Dollar coin.
The COTY award is given by Krause Publications. Awards are given by a panel of international judges based on design, artistic vision and craftsmanship. All countries are eligible to enter.
The 2014 Hall of Fame Baseball Coin of the Year was awarded on February 6, 2016 in Berlin. The obverse design consisted of an open baseball glove, designed by independent artist Cassie McFarland of California. The design of the obverse was selected through a competition open to all United States citizens.
My reverse was chosen from designs submitted by the Engraving Department at the Mint. I remember being present at the committee meetings. The CCAC had narrowed down the reverse submissions to two designs: Phebe Hemphill’s excellent design and mine. Phebe had a strong design, and I thought that it would be selected. In the end, however, mine won out and I was elated, to say the least.
As a child, growing up in York, Pennsylvania, I was an avid baseball fan. I can remember my dad and I driving to Baltimore from York to attend a Yankees – Orioles doubleheader (yes, they actually played doubleheaders back then, and didn’t charge you for two games). While my dad rooted for the New York Yankees, I was an Orioles fan. I got to see Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and Roger Maris play. But, being a fan of the “O’s”, my heroes were Frank Robinson, Jim Gentile, and, in particular, the great Hall of Fame third baseman, Brooks Robinson.
In October of 2013 an event was to be held in Washington DC to launch the Baseball Hall of Fame designs and Cassie McFarland and Brooks Robinson were to be present. I was excited to meet both of them, especially my boyhood baseball idol, and eagerly anticipated the meeting. However, there was a government shutdown and I resigned myself to missing a great opportunity to meet Brooks. Needless to say, I was quite disappointed.
One night I was watching TV and the phone rang.
“Yes, this is he.”
“Brooks Robinson here, how are you doing?”
I almost fell out of my chair!
Ken Meifert, Vice President of Sponsorship and Development of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York was representing the Hall as the stakeholder. We had met at previous meetings and talked baseball, and naturally the conversation turned to my years growing up as an Orioles fan. Ken had called Brooks after the cancelled launch and told him that I was a lifelong fan and how disappointed I was to not be able to meet him. I will forever be thankful to Ken for this. Brooks and I talked for about 20 minutes, sharing tidbits from when he played for the Orioles and previously for the York White Roses minor league team.
When I began sculpting Cassie’s obverse with the glove, I felt I needed additional reference material. Her design was excellent and a worthy winner, but personally I felt that it needed more detail to give the glove authenticity. One day, after arriving home from work, I started looking for a baseball glove to use as reference. I managed to find my son’s little league glove. I took it to work the next day and was surprised to see that it was practically an exact replica of the glove in Cassie’s design! I used the glove as a reference and it enabled me to see a lot of small details that gave my sculpt a more realistic and authentic look. Details such as the wrinkles and folds near the fingers of the glove and the overall look of textured leather really made the sculpt work.
Next, I finished the reverse sculpt and was quite proud of it until it was relayed to me that I had the seams on the baseball backwards! I had so many variations of the reverse design in my files that when it came to the sculpting part, I chose the wrong design. This is something that the layman probably would not notice but it didn’t escape the Hall of Fame stakeholders. I frantically went back to work and within a day I had the baseball seams true to form.
I am quite proud of the part I played in bringing this coin to fruition. However, it was a group effort that involved many people working within strict parameters on a tight deadline on a curved coin configuration that we hadn’t done before. Congratulations to all who worked on it.
In 2015 I began working on designs for the March of Dimes Commemorative Silver Dollar program. In this case, as in most commemoratives the mint produces, a percentage of the profits the mint makes on the coin would be given back to the recipient, the March of Dimes.
The obverse design that was ultimately chosen featured a well-executed double portrait of Franklin Roosevelt and Jonas Salk, who developed a vaccine to fight polio. Designed by Artistic Infusion Program artist Paul Balan and beautifully sculpted by staff engraver Mike Gaudioso.
One morning I was at my work station at the United States Mint feeling quite frustrated that I couldn’t think of a worthy reverse design. I was wracking my brain trying to come up with something simple and iconic that conveyed the mindset and purpose of the March of Dimes organization – a design that they would be proud to put on their commemorative coin.
So far, zilch.
Then it hit me.
My daughter Cristina is a professional photographer in Pennsylvania and lives with her husband Jon and two young boys, Tyler and Jack. She does a lot of weddings and children’s photography. More importantly, she has that rare ability to get the most out of her subjects, even crying babies.
In June of 2012 (on her birthday), she was in the hospital giving birth to her second son (Jack). A little while after the child was born, her husband Jon was in the room with her holding the little newborn Jack in his hand.
Given the dedicated photographer she is, she had come equipped with her camera. Later in the day, in the hospital room she took a picture of the father holding his newborn son. The boy was small enough to be held in one hand. This photo flashed into my mind and I immediately felt it would be a powerful and most appropriate subject for the reverse design on the coin. It conveyed the total dependence of a newborn on his parents, and society in general. It totally fulfilled and illustrated the purpose of the March of Dimes organization. Additionally, it made a very nice design.
I called her and asked if she would mind if I used it for the basis of my coin design. She immediately gave her hearty consent and I began adapting the photo to my design.
I didn’t use it verbatim. I changed several things; most notably the hand position and the hair and eyes. I also labored over the font and text placement. Cristina and the Mint signed off on the release of the photo and I submitted it to be considered for the reverse.
Ultimately the design was chosen and I thought about what a family effort it was to bring this design to creation. We had Jon, the father, holding his son, Jack, while the boy’s mother Cristina took the photo that the grandfather (yours truly) worked into a design for an official national commemorative coin!
Who said I wouldn’t enjoy working for the United States Mint?
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You can see more of Don’s sculpture and design work on his website:
NGC-Certified March of Dimes $1 Silver Commemorative Coins Currently Available on eBay