The Coin Analyst – CoinWeek.com
Three beloved classic American coin designs from years past will be returning in 2016 as 24-karat gold commemorative coins. The Winged Liberty Head or “Mercury” dime, the Standing Liberty quarter, and the Walking Liberty half dollar designs will be seen next year on three special-issue gold coins celebrating the centennial of their 1916 appearance in the U.S. coinage lineup. The occasion is cause for jubilation for many numismatists, as the Mercury dime, Standing Liberty quarter, and Walking Liberty half dollar are widely considered to be among the most beautiful coins the United States Mint has ever produced.
On Wednesday, June 17, the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee (CCAC) reviewed mockups of the designs presented by the U.S. Mint. All attempts to be as faithful to the original works of art as possible will be taken, including working from original Mint assets whenever possible. This would mean that the 2016 gold versions of Adolph Weinman’s Mercury dime and Walking Liberty half dollar and Hermon A. MacNeil’s Standing Liberty quarter will be as close to a realization of the designer’s original intent as can be achieved. While details are still being ironed out, the CCAC is discussing the logistics behind replicating the designs on gold coins.
As it stands now, the Mercury dime design will be placed on a tenth-ounce gold coin, the Standing Liberty quarter will be replicated on a quarter-ounce gold coin, and the Walking Liberty half dollar will be portrayed on a half-ounce gold coin. Readers will note that each of the fractional weights for the gold coins corresponds to the denominations of the original silver coins.
While the mere reissue of these renowned designs may be exciting to fans of the original coin series, the symbolic connections to the beloved original silver coins may not end there. The CCAC is currently discussing the feasibility of placing a Denver (“D”) mintmark on the Winged Liberty Head tenth-ounce coin to commemorate the rare 1916-D Mercury dime issue. Furthermore, there is a proposition to leave a mintmark off the Standing Liberty quarter as a tribute to the bare-breasted Liberty Type I design, mimicking the appearance of the rare Philadelphia-minted 1916 issue. The Walking Liberty half-ounce gold coin, meanwhile, may have a San Francisco (“S”) mintmark to pay homage to the scarcest 1916 half dollar issue.
Whether the commemorative gold coins can or will be minted at these special locations is yet to be determined.
Another matter that is still being finalized is the physical size of the gold coins. Currently, the goal is to produce each gold coin respective to the diameter of each original coin: 17.9 millimeters for the dime, 24.3 millimeters for the quarter, and 30.6 millimeters for the half dollar. Reproducing those diameters on the three gold coins–as well as determining the thickness of each coin–will be worked out during test striking. Other considerations that will also be addressed before and during test striking include the size and spacing of the edge reeding and the relief of the new designs, all of which the CCAC desires to see replicated as perfectly as possible on the new coins.
Details regarding the overall finish for the new coins are also being hammered out. While CCAC member Thomas J. Uram suggests producing both proof and business strikes to open the coins to a wider market, the current plans lean toward business-strike production to replicate the finish of the original 1916-dated coins, though this has not been finalized. Some members of the CCAC have voiced a preference for these coins to be issued in platinum instead of gold, in order to more accurately retain the silver look of the three original series. They concede, however, that the market may be larger if the coins are offered in the more popular gold composition.
Other components the CCAC is considering include the font of the lettering on the 2016 gold coins, including the newly added metallic composition declarations. The size of the lettering of the inscription AU (legally mandated for the gold coins) is a minor obstacle; the lettering is so small that it may need to be produced in a sans serif font. However, the CCAC would like to see the U.S. Mint harmonize all lettering with the look of the coins’ original inscriptions as “organically” as technically possible. To that end, CCAC member and sculptural artist Heidi Wastweet suggested hand-sculpting the letters – an idea, she points out, that engraver Don Everhart likes.
The CCAC also considered the proper location of the requisite “AU” symbols. On the mockup for the Mercury dime gold coin, the Mint places an “AU 24K 1/10 oz.” mark below the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM on the coin’s reverse, while a similar standardized declaration sprawls over the words HALF DOLLAR on the reverse of the Walking Liberty coin. Causing the most controversy right now is the location of the gold inscription on the Standing Liberty coin, which presently shows “AU 24K 1/4 oz.” on the obverse, to the right of Miss Liberty and under the word “TRUST” in the motto IN GOD WE TRUST. During the June 17 meeting, member Erik Jensen suggested that the United States Mint may have found the best possible location for the AU mark, given the limited space on the reverse (which features the Type I design without stars below the eagle). CCAC members have also expressed interest in replacing the element symbol “AU” with the word “GOLD.”
In all, the engraving team at the U.S. Mint may encounter a few stumbling blocks as they painstakingly reproduce the original designs for the new 2016 gold commemorative coins. The original, 100-year-old plaster galvanos may have experienced unfortunate storage and age-related degradation, potentially making the replication of some minute details extraordinarily difficult. This might also affect the physical location of the lettering near the rim of the coins, which, on the original designs, is not perfectly concentric. Wastweet expressed confidence that the Mint staff will exercise the necessary sensitivity to restore all details without “over-improving” the designs.