By CoinWeek News Staff ….
Did you know that the Roosevelt dime has Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s initials on it?
Or that a series of Canadian banknotes feature the devil in Queen Elizabeth II’s hair?
Did you know that if you fold a $20 bill just right (the basic design having been around since 1928), you can see images of the 9/11 terrorist attacks?
Of course, everyone knows about the prudish public outcry at Liberty’s exposed breast on the 1916 Type I Standing Liberty quarter. And that the $4 Stella gold pattern coins given to politicians as presentation pieces later ended up in the jewelry cases of “ladies of the night”.
We could go on.
Collectors love a good story. Besides an object’s beauty, aesthetics, and value, the “story” is a large part of the allure of collecting in the first place. And because of this, legends and rumors about coins and banknotes will forever be a part of numismatic lore.
And now, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and an unfortunate coincidence, we might have a new one.
This is How Rumors Get Started
Over on our YouTube channel, we recently noticed some interesting comments popping up on our video about the 2020 America the Beautiful American Samoa quarter.
Along with the usual hot takes about how much they like or dislike a new coin, some people couldn’t help but notice the fact that the United States Mint released a quarter with a bat on the reverse shortly before the breakout of a global pandemic said to have crossed from bats to humans in Wuhan, China.
But while many of those commenters simply acknowledged the coincidence or indulged in morbid humor about it and, by extension, the circumstances everyone finds themselves in these days, some of the comments hinted at a darker story.
Below are some of the more interesting ones.
Some of the more interesting comments on our YouTube video about the release (Feb.3) of the 2020 National Park of American Samoa “Bat” quarter
Timing is Everything
The Mint is no stranger to bad timing – take the Susan B. Anthony dollar, for instance.
But even when the timing is “bad”, every new product issued by the United States Mint–whether for collectors or for general circulation–is the culmination of a relatively long process.
In the case of the 2020 American Samoa quarter, this process started with the enactment of the America’s Beautiful National Parks Quarter Dollar Coin Act of 2008, which was signed by President George W. Bush on December 23 of that year. The bill, sponsored by Delaware Representative Mike Castle (R), authorized the Mint to strike a new series of changing quarter reverses to replace the extraordinarily popular 50 State Quarters series–which Rep. Castle also sponsored–that ran from 1999 through 2009 (including the Washington, D.C. and U.S. Territories quarters).
Starting in 2010, five quarter designs would be released each year until the end of the program in 2021 (which would see only one quarter come out). The new America the Beautiful (ATB) series would again center around states and territories, but this time each reverse would honor one of the country’s many parks, historical sites, wildlife reserves, et al., in the National Park Service (NPS) that is located within the borders of the respective state or territory. The new quarters would be issued in chronological order according to when the park in question became part of the NPS.
The National Park of American Samoa joined the NPS relatively recently, in 1988. It follows that the corresponding ATB quarter would then be released later in the program (specifically, February 3, 2020).
The design process for each America the Beautiful quarter involves artists from the Mint and the Mint’s Artistic Infusion Program submitting images of candidate designs for selection. The Mint narrows down the field of prospective designs and presents the finalists for review to the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee (CCAC), the Commission of Fine Arts (CFA), and representatives of the national parks.
The CCAC and the CFA consist of several individuals appointed to each committee based on certain criteria, usually a relevant field of expertise such as sculpture or American history . In the case of the CCAC, some members are also selected purely as representatives of the general public, and the law authorizing the committee’s work ensures that both Republicans and Democrats have representation on the CCAC at any given time as well. It is the job of each committee to review and discuss candidate designs for the nation’s coinage and to pass on their recommendations to the Secretary of the Treasury to make a final decision.
The two committees do not always agree on their recommendations. While the CFA recommended the Samoa flying fox reverse at its June 21, 2018 meeting, the CCAC had chosen a different reverse involving a butterflyfish and Samoan design elements at its June 12, 2018 meeting.
Trump Administration Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin–who, it must be noted, is free to act independently of the CCAC and CFA–approved the “bat” quarter not long after the recommendations were delivered to him in 2018.
Another important aspect of this review process is that the Mint does not identify in the portfolio it provides to the committees which artist created which design. So when the CFA chose the mother bat and her child for the American Samoa quarter, they did not know the designer was Richard Masters, an inaugural member of the Mint’s Artistic Infusion Program.
Masters began submitting designs for coins and medals in 2004. You’ve seen his work on the Nebraska State quarter (2006), the Birth and Childhood in Kentucky Lincoln cents (2009), the U.S. Marshals Service commemorative silver dollar (2015), the Ronald Reagan Presidential $1 coin (2016), and four previous America the Beautiful quarters. The upcoming U.S. Virgin Islands Salt River Bay National Historic Park and Ecological Preserve quarter reverse (2020) is also one of his designs.
Besides his numismatic work, Masters taught art at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh until he retired in 2015.
It is up to the artist who wishes to submit designs to the Mint when they want to begin creating said designs and how long they want to work on them. We do know of times when an artist created and submitted art at the last minute that ended up becoming the winning design; Cassie McFarlane’s design for the 2014 National Baseball Hall of Fame commemorative program immediately comes to mind.
But again, because the CFA recommended this particular design to the Treasury Secretary on June 21, 2018, Masters had to have produced his work prior to that date.
The 2020 release of the ATB American Samoa quarter was planned as far back as 2008, and the “bat” design that ended up on its reverse was created by June 2018 at the latest.
At the time of writing, the first known case of Novel Coronavirus 19 has been traced back to November 2019 at the earliest.
An unfortunate coincidence for the Mint, just like Chief Engraver John Sinnock’s initials. But another fun story for the collector, just like those congressmen who couldn’t keep it in their pants… pocket.