After Jon Mercanti retired as Chief Engraver of the United States Mint in 2010, the position remained unfilled until February 4th, 2019, when U.S Mint Director, David Ryder, announced that Sculptor-Engraver Joe Menna, was named the thirteenth Chief Engraver of the Mint.
John Mercanti served as the Chief Engraver of the U.S Mint from 2006-2010, leaving big shoes to fill following his illustrious career. So big were those shoes that the post remained vacant for nine years. Then on February 4, 2019, David Ryder, the Mint Director, announced that Joe Menna was elevated to the post, becoming the thirteenth person to hold the position. Menna has been working with the mint since 2005 and has more than three decades of experience in the field.
Menna’s selection signals a marked change in the numismatic field and in an organization that is steeped in tradition. When he began working with the Mint, he was the first ever full-time, digitally skilled artist, to work for it. Now, that man takes the engraving helm at one of the world’s most respected mint.
The educational portion of Menna’s curriculum vitae reads like a proverbial Who’s Who in the design world. He earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Sculpture at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, and a Masters in the same field, at the New York Academy of Art. He continued his education with post-graduate work in Russia, studying at Saint Petersburg's Stieglitz State Academy of Art and Design, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, as well as the Sculpture Center and the Art Students League, both of which are situated in New York City.
Between his impressive education and his work with the Mint, Menna taught and sculpted in Mercer, New Jersey at the Johnson Atelier Fine Art Foundry. There, he worked digitally for a wide range of clients and produced life-sized figures. He also maintained a freelance career, which included a 30-foot tall monument for a New Jersey train station and a seven-foot statue for the Grounds for Sculpture. Today, he continues to work as a freelancer, primarily focusing on collectibles and toys.
While few of them likely realize it, all Americans are familiar with Menna’s work. When the Mint changed the design for the reverse of the Lincoln Cent in 2010, Lyndall Bass designed the new image, but Joe Menna sculpted it. The simple design features a union shield that bears the words “E PLURIBUS UNUM” (From many, one). A ribbon with the inscription “ONE CENT” is superimposed upon it. Menna’s initials are on the lower left of the design.
The relatively simple example of the Lincoln Cent may be the most recognizable example of his work, but experienced and causal collectors alike have him to thank for countless pieces. Menna has worked extensively on the America the Beautiful Series. He designed and sculpted the reverses of two coins in the series, Fort McHenry National Monument and Mount Rushmore National Park. He also designed the reverse of one of the most popular coins in the series thus far, Yosemite National Park. His most extensive work on the collection, however, has been on issues for which he sculpted the designs of other artists. Nine of the coins issued thus far in the series fall into this category, including Voyageurs National Park, Vicksburg National Military Park, and the first issue in the series, Hot Springs National Park.
The new Chief Engraver also has an impressive history of working on commemoratives that honor those who have sacrificed for their country in military service. In 2018, he designed and sculpted the reverses of the World War I Marine Corps and Air Service Silver Medals, as well as sculpting the obverse of the latter. Other work that he did on such coins includes designing and sculpting the reverse of the 2011 Medal of Honor Commemorative, sculpting the 2017 Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal, which honored Filipinos who fought on behalf of the United States, sculpting the obverse and reverse of the 2013 Silver 5-Star Generals Commemorative, and sculpting the reverse of the 5-Star Generals Gold Commemorative. Menna also honored those who are often forgotten in American military service, the Code Talkers who were bilingual Native Americans that proved critical in enabling American forces to engage in communication that could not be decoded by the enemy during the First and Second World Wars. Menna also participated, through design, sculpture, or both, in seven of the faces of the 2008 Recognition Congressional Medals issued to honor these men.
The US Mint’s new Chief Engraver has earned his stripes over the past decade-plus. He has played a central role in the design and sculpture of countless coins, including some of the best known and most important series. He has earned the right to succeed John Mercanti in a position that has been vacant for nearly a decade, and he appears certain to solidify his place among the giants of American numismatics. We at MCM congratulate him on his new position and look forward to continuing to share his remarkable work with our customers for years to come.
||Sean McConeghy is a freelance writer and network marketer living in Roatan, Honduras. He originally hails from New York and specializes in writing about numismatics, real estate, and politics.|