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Many people know Silver Eagles and Platinum Eagles are connected because they are Eagle coins. This story shares another interesting connection between these two issues with historic designs.
Most modern coin collectors know that the American Silver Eagle and the American Platinum Eagle are connected through the artist who designed one of the two sides of each coin. John M. Mercanti, the 12th Chief Engraver of the United States Mint, designed the obverse side of the Platinum Eagle as well as the reverse side of the Silver Eagle. There is, however, a less obvious and far less widely known connection between the flip sides of these coins.
The obverse of the American Silver Eagle is based on the famous design known as the “Walking Liberty” design created by sculptor Adolph A. Weinman in 1916. This design is filled with classic imagery of the strength of a victorious nation just emerging from war. Liberty is walking toward the sun which symbolizes the dawn of a new era. She is draped in her flag symbolizing pride in her nation, and she carries laurel and oak branches which symbolize civil and military power.
The reverse of the 2004 Proof Platinum Eagle is based on the statue “America” which stands outside the Alexander Hamilton Customs House in Manhattan, New York City. Four statues adorn the front of the building, each representing a different continent – Asia, America, Europe, and Africa.
The designer of the Customs House was architect Cass Gilbert, a native of Minnesota who gained the attention of the officials by designing beautiful buildings in the Beaux-Art style. In 1903 Gilbert asked that sculptor Daniel Chester French and sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens each submit ideas for statues to represent the world to place in front of the building which was scheduled for completion in 1907. French submitted his designs which were ultimately accepted; Saint-Gaudens declined the invitation because of a busy schedule, so French received the commission and had four years to complete the project.
In most large sculpting projects the artist has assistants and apprentices, and this project was no exception. French employed the talent and assistance of a 33 year old apprentice sculptor to assist him in creating the four statues. That young apprentice was none other than Adolph Alexander Weinman, who less than a decade after the completion of these statues would design an icon of American coinage that we still use today on the obverse of our Silver Eagles.