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Fabled Gardin Fraser Design Recommended for New Washington Quarter Obverse

By Chris Bulfinch for CoinWeek …..
Ninety years after it was originally submitted to the Secretary of the Treasury, a version of the Laura Gardin Fraser’s bust of George Washington will appear on the obverse of the Washington quarter if recommendations of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee (CCAC) and Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) are followed. The two groups recommended Gardin Fraser’s design for the common obverse of the 2022-2025 American Women Quarters Program.

Background of the Gardin Fraser Washington Quarter Design

Laura Gardin Fraser was the first woman credited with designing a coin issued by the United States. Born in 1889, she studied at the Art Students League in New York City from 1907 to 1911 where she met her husband, James Earle Fraser. They were married in 1913, the same year that Fraser’s Buffalo nickel entered production and circulation. The couple collaborated on the Oregon Trail commemorative half dollar; Gardin Fraser designed the obverse or “Indian” side while James Earle Fraser designed the reverse or “wagon” side.

In 1921, Gardin Fraser became the first woman credited with designing a United States coin when her designs appeared on the Alabama Centennial commemorative half dollar. She also designed the 1922 Grant Memorial gold dollar and silver half dollar, the 1925 Fort Vancouver Centennial half dollar, and the 1947 50-centavo and 1-peso coins issued by the Philippines.

Gardin Fraser also designed a number of notable American medals.

In 1931, Gardin Fraser designed the commemorative medal issued by the United States George Washington Bicentennial Committee; her design was based on a 1785 bust of Washington by Jean-Antoine Houdon. The Bicentennial Committee and the CFA, without consulting the Treasury Department, voted to have her design used for the commemorative half dollar they hoped would accompany the medal. Congress, eager to retire the Standing Liberty quarter, passed a law authorizing not a commemorative half dollar but a replacement for Hermon MacNeil’s attractive but hard-to-strike quarter that did not withstand circulation well. The Treasury ordered another design competition, in which the CFA again recommended Fraser’s design.

Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon chose John Flanagan’s design over Gardin Fraser’s, and it appeared on the quarter’s obverse from 1932 to 1998. With the introduction of the 50 State Quarters in 1999, Flanagan’s bust of Washington was modified and shrunk 15%. The original bust was reintroduced in 2010 with the America the Beautiful quarters, but still at that reduced size.

Gardin Fraser’s design has, however, been used before; it is featured on the 1999 gold $5 commemorative marking the bicentennial of Washington’s death.

American Women Quarters: 2022-25

With the end of the America the Beautiful quarter program earlier this year, a new reverse design was selected for the quarter, depicting Washington Crossing the Delaware River. Flanagan’s portrait appeared again, restored to its original size. With a new circulating commemorative quarter program honoring notable American women beginning in 2022, a new design for the denomination’s common obverse is being sought.

Public Law 116-330 authorized the American Women Quarters Program, which will see the Mint honor women on the reverses of up to five circulating quarters each year to “celebrat[e] the accomplishments and contributions made by women to the development and history of our country.” The reverse designs “may feature contributions from a variety of fields including, but not limited to, suffrage, civil rights, abolition, government, humanities, science, space, and the arts,” according to the Mint’s website. A six-step process is used to select designs. The Smithsonian Institution’s American Women’s History Initiative and the National Women’s History Museum (NWHM) are both consulted and the public can submit suggestions via an online portal established by the NWHM.

Sally Ride and Maya Angelou will be the first women to appear on the new quarters. The CCAC and CFA considered five reverse designs honoring Ride and seven honoring Angelou. Ride looks out of a space shuttle window in the design recommended by both committees for the quarter honoring the astronaut and Angelou appears with her arms raised in front of the rising sun and a flying bird.

The CCAC and CFA arrived at their recommendations independently. Both recommended Gardin Fraser’s Washington from a list of 11 designs; the other 10 were provided by U.S. Mint Artistic Infusion Program artists and the Mint’s engraving staff. The artists depicted Washington at different angles and a few put him on horseback.

As happened almost a century ago, the Secretary of the Treasury might not select Gardin Fraser’s design, against the recommendation of the CCAC and CFA.

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