By Chris Bulfinch for CoinWeek …..
Though not the first coin to feature bats as a motif, the first new America the Beautiful National Parks quarter dollar to be released in 2020 certainly has a distinctive take on the flying mammal. Honoring the sensibly named National Park in American Samoa, the quarter will be released in February 2020, the first quarter to be released in the program’s penultimate year.
First officially contacted by Americans in 1839, the South Pacific islands that today constitute American Samoa were folded into the growing American empire in 1899. The territory has a population of 55,000-56,000 and sends a delegate to Congress, Amata Coleman Radewagen (R), though she is unable to vote on legislation or anything else. American Samoans have the highest per capita rate of military service of any U.S. state or territory. American Samoa was honored on a 50 State quarter in the program’s final year in 2009 when Washington D.C. and U.S. territories appeared. The 2009 quarter featured a reverse design referred to as “Heart of Polynesia”, including an ava bowl, a whisk and staff, and coconut trees, as well as an inscription of American Samoa’s motto “SAMOA MUAMUA LE ATUA”, which translates as “Samoa, God is First.”
The National Park of American Samoa spans three islands, Tutuila, Ofu, and Ta’u. Officially established in 1988 by an act of Congress introduced in 1984 at the behest of bat preservation experts, the National Park was included in the Federal Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act. It is the only park in the U.S. National Park System located south of the equator. In addition to its bats, the park includes coral reefs, jungle, and preservation sites of indigenous Samoan culture.
A little bit of World War II history is preserved in the park as well; an old tramway and gun emplacements sit at Breakers Point and Blunt’s Point. The guns, manufactured in 1907 and placed in 1941, covered the entrance to Pago Pago Harbor.
As a nod to the park’s origins with bat conservation, the quarter’s reverse design is dominated by an adult bat with its offspring clutching onto its chest. The species’ close ties between parents and offspring are reflected in the design. The modified version of John Flanagan’s bust of George Washington will appear on the coin’s obverse, as it has since 2010.
According to the National Park Service’s website, “[F]ruit bats are one of the more unusual animals in American Samoa, especially for visitors from areas where bats are small and rarely seen.” Two distinct species of fruit bat live on the islands, the Samoan fruit bat and the Tongan fruit bat. The former, which can be found only in the Samoan archipelago and Fiji, are featured on the quarter. The animals, sometimes referred to as flying foxes, can have a three-foot wingspan and subsist mostly on fruit and plants. Interestingly, where the Tongan fruit bats often nest communally in colonies, Samoan fruit bats tend to nest singly. Both species show considerable care for their young.
The designs were selected by the Citizen’s Coinage Advisory Committee (CCAC) and the Commission on Fine Art (CFA) months before the coins’ issuance. Other designs considered included depictions of the ocean, coral reefs, fish, turtles, and other sea creatures. Samoan people holding conch shells were another motif that appeared on some of the proposed designs. The bats that appear on the final design appear in flight on some of the other designs presented to the CCAC.
According to Dennis Tucker, a CCAC member present at the meeting discussing the designs for the American Samoa quarter, the design “had some energy around it in our discussions. The sketch itself relies too much on shading (remember that a coin is made of silver or copper-nickel, not pencil lead on paper), but if the Mint’s sculptors feel it could be translated effectively through texture and depth, I would support this design.”
The bats on the coins were designed by Richard Masters. Masters, who worked as Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s Department of Art until his retirement in 2015, was an inaugural member of the U.S. Mint’s Artistic Infusion Program (AIP). He began designing coins and medals in 2004, and his designs have appeared on such recent U.S. coins as the 2006 State quarter for Nebraska, the Birth and Early Childhood in Kentucky reverse for the 2009 Lincoln cent, the obverse for the U.S. Marshals Service commemorative silver dollar, the obverse for the Ronald Reagan Presidential dollar in 2016, and four of the America the Beautiful quarter dollars. Another of his designs will appear on the other U.S. territory whose quarter is being released in 2020: the quarter dollar honoring the Salt River Bay National Historic Park and Ecological Preserve in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The Sculptor-Engraver responsible for transferring Masters’ design onto the quarter-size planchet is Phebe Hemphill.
121 years after its annexation and 11 years after its state quarter was released, American Samoa is getting its America the Beautiful quarter dollar. American Samoa’s quarter is the first of 2020’s five states and territories. As in previous years, the U.S. Mint will strike circulation pieces at the Philadelphia and Denver facilities–as well as at the West Point Mint–and Proofs at San Francisco.
Collectors interested in the ecology of an American territory might consider picking an example out of circulation in 2020 and beyond, or acquiring a proof or mint set that includes the coin. The intense bats on its obverse make for a striking motif that could appeal to a wide range of interests, from animal lovers to those interested in National Park history.
The America the Beautiful program enters its last full year paying homage to an ecologically diverse park far from the continental United States. Richard Masters’ design is one of his many contributions to modern American coinage, and collectors can look forward to his design for the quarter honoring American Samoa.