Louis Golino: Chuck, please describe the genesis and development of this beautiful new coin you designed for Modern Coin Mart, which is expected to be the first in a new series honoring great coin designers, including your role, and the partnership between MCM and The Perth Mint that led to its issuance.
Chuck Daughtrey: The idea of somehow linking a numismatic theme to the coin came from John Maben in a group meeting we had internally. We were already in the midst of talking with the ANA about releasing a coin at their World's Fair of Money show, and numismatics fit the bill as the perfect theme. Saint-Gaudens, as a subject, was my idea. I have always had a fascination with the artists who designed coins, and had done some extensive research into the work and lives of our nation's coinage designers. Saint-Gaudens is among the best known of all of them, and all the pieces fell into place to put him first in line.
ModernCoinMart (MCM) has had a relationship with The Perth Mint as a North American distributor that goes back a few years, so talking with them first about creating our own private issue coins was a natural choice. Jay Rudo and Hayden Tubbs have always been our contact with The Perth Mint, and they arranged everything with the mint in the production of this coin.
My particular role was first to come up with a pleasing design in pencil that would meet the expectations of The Perth Mint, the ANA, and our own group of MCM managers. Once we had an approved concept, my job was to convey the design in as close to final form as possible to the designers at the mint who, in turn, engraved the design into relief. After we had a coin design under way, my attention then turned to the box and certificate design, which also had to go through the approval process of all three entities.
LG: What specifically regarding the release of this new coin makes it different from other coins, and what are some key points that collectors who are considering this coin for their collection should consider?
CD: I think there are plenty of points that make this coin an attractive collectible aside from the design itself. One thing to consider is that this is the first time Augustus Saint-Gaudens has been portrayed on a government-issued coin. It is also worthy of note that the mintage limit on this coin is only 1,500, and it's the first coin in a series that we hope to continue years into the future. Another key factor is the ANA logo on the coin - another first. And then there's the fact that the coin will debut at the ANA World's Fair of Money in Chicago, and the NGC graded examples state so right on the label. Additionally, for those collectors looking for a more personal touch in their collection - I signed every one of the 1,500 certificates in silver pen.
LG: Without question Augustus Saint-Gaudens was a towering figure in American art and had an historic impact on classic American coin designs, and as you have noted, he also influenced other coin designers. What was it beyond that that inspired you to design this coin and to use the particular devices and images you used?
CD: I find it very intriguing that - while collectors appreciate the art on coins - they hardly recognize the artists who created the coinage we use every day. The designers are hardly ever portrayed as historic figures themselves. Back in 2006, I began a series of coin designer pencil portraits as a conscious effort to educate today's collectors in placing designers' faces with their names and their work. While researching my subjects, I found that acquiring images of our coins' designers was very difficult - to the extent that finding photographs of some of them is nearly impossible without good connections. My portrait series - as well as these coins - will hopefully help in bringing the likeness of the artists to the level of recognition among today's collectors that I believe they deserve.
Selecting Augustus Saint-Gaudens as the first subject for this series was actually very simple for me. As an artist, I wanted to select someone who had very strong features that would come across nicely on a 40.6 millimeter canvas. I also wanted to select someone who was very recognizable. Given that Saint-Gaudens' image is more readily available and recognizable to collectors than any of the other designers of U.S. coins, and his double eagle design is among the most revered of all US coin designs, the selection of elements was a natural fit.
The specific placement of the elements - with the effigy looking 'forward' off the edge of the coin and his design behind his head, partially hidden, is an artist's statement. I wanted to portray him looking forward to the designs of the future with his renaissance style remaining a strong influence. I honestly think that's what today's collectors want to see with our future designs - back to the past, with a twist.
LG: In your view was the vision of Saint-Gaudens and President Theodore Roosevelt to create a new renaissance in American coinage, with coins that had designs as compelling as those of ancient Greece and Rome, achieved with the very popular coins designed by Saint-Gaudens?
CD: Definitely, but it extends beyond Saint-Gaudens to other sculptors of the time and the cultural influences (art deco and World War I) visible in their designs. Remember that many of our most popular designs were created by those who learned from or worked with Saint-Gaudens; Weinman with the Winged Head Liberty (Mercury) dime and Walking Liberty half dollar, and Fraser with the Indian Head (Buffalo) nickel are two perfect examples.
LG: Do you agree with the perspective of former Mint Director Edmund Moy, which is that because of the technical difficulties the U.S. Mint encountered when trying to mint the 1907 Ultra High Relief Double Eagle, that vision was really only realized in 2009, when the Mint was able to use modern technology to re-create the coin as it was intended to be?
CD: Much of the problem in completing the 1907 double eagle rested on the fact that Saint-Gaudens was very ill through the stages of creating the design and, in fact, passed away before any of the coins made it to circulation. I believe many of the problems they had would have been resolved in a better manner than to flatten the design (as Barber eventually did) if Saint-Gaudens had been in good health through the process.
I do not disagree with Mr. Moy, however, that if the technology we have now could have come into play back then, the final result would have been a little better than Barber's lower relief design of the double eagle created for the 1908 coins. Of course, very similar circumstances surrounded the 1921 Peace dollars with very similar outcome - a flat, lifeless design that followed a medallic art masterpiece into mass production.
LG: Please tell us how you became interested in designing coins and medals, and what other designs you have created besides the new coin and last year's Florida Alligator coin that is also Tuvalu legal tender.
CD: To be honest, I had never prepared any coin designs that actually went anywhere before the Alligator coin. For many years I played with the idea of creating designs and submitting them to the Mint, and even cut a few of them into plaster or drew them onto paper. I thought about designing some statehood quarters when that program first started, but not knowing where or how to get the attention needed to go forward with those designs - I didn't pursue the idea.
That's not to say I haven't been drawing for years (since I was three, actually), but for anything that would be rendered in 3-D form as a medallion or coin - this issue is but my second.
LG: What were the main artistic influences on your approach to designing coins?
CD: I have worked for ModernCoinMart (MCM) since 2008, and have seen a lot of coin designs come through inventory. As the primary photographer for the company, I have been in a rather unique position to be able to study the art on the world's modern coins as a career. This definitely influenced me, and I believe gave me a boost in being able to portray subjects in a manner that appeals to today's collectors, yet has the artistic charm that I think makes coins attractive.
LG: Finally, as someone who has had a lifelong interest in coins, please describe your main numismatic interests.
CD: My serious interest in coins is focused in die varieties of the Lincoln cent. That started in my teens with a book about doubled dies (by John Wexler) and my obsession with tiny details that make one thing different from something else and in building sets. That obsession blossomed with my 1997 discovery of the internet, HTML, and the fact that I could 'publish' information for free. From that point I was off to the races creating coppercoins.com - the most comprehensive catalog of Lincoln cent information anywhere. I consider myself more a writer and researcher than a collector. Owning a particular coin is not as important to me as having assembled all the information I can about the coin.
This interest in Lincoln cents has nothing to do with my interest in art - it's the collector and 'set builder' in me that keeps me in Lincoln cents. As an artist, though, I take interest in coins, tokens and medals with beautiful art work on them. I've never had the budget to collect such pieces, so photography of them in various catalogs has always worked well enough for me. My favorites of all-time are the Goetz patterns circa 1913.
LG:I would like to thank Chuck for providing this fascinating overview of how the 2014 $1 Tuvalu Saint-Gaudens silver proof coin came about and his interest in coin design and the work of Saint-Gaudens. Knowing the backstory to a coin and why the artist chose the particular subject he did really adds to the enjoyment of owning the coin. I know many people will be eager to find out which designer is honored next in this intriguing new series.
Author Name: Louis Golino
Louis is an award-winning numismatic journalist and writer specializing on modern coins. He has been writing a weekly column for CoinWeek since May 2011 called “The Coin Analyst,” which focuses primarily on modern U.S. and world coins and developments at major world mints. In August 2015 he received the Numismatic Literary Guild’s award for Best Website Column for “The Coin Analyst,” and in August 2021 the column received the NLG award for best column on modern U.S. coins. He has also received other awards for his writing. He is also a contributor to several magazines, including Coin World, where he writes a bimonthly feature;The Numismatist, the American Numismatic Association’s monthly publication, where he writes a monthly column on modern world coins; and and other publications. He began writing about coins in 2009. He is a founding member of the Modern Coin Forum hosted by ModernCoinMart and has written articles for MCM since 2014. He has collected classic and modern U.S. and world coins since he was about 10 and first joined the ANA in the 1970’s. He has been writing professionally since the early 1980s.