At the end of 2016, just as the last Congress was concluding, the U.S. Congress passed legislation later signed into law by President Obama that calls for a 4-coin commemorative program in 2019 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, a seminal moment in American and world history and a major triumph of scientific achievement and American ingenuity.
The coin program will include no more than 750,000 clad half dollars, 400,000 silver dollars, 50,000 $5 gold pieces and 100,000 Proof 5-ounce coins. Each of these coins will be struck in the same curved shape (i.e., convex on the reverse and concave on the obverse) as the 2014 baseball coins.
The common reverse for these coins, which was approved this fall by the two coin design review committees (the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee and Commission on Fine Arts), is based on a famous photograph of astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the moon as he is standing in his space suit with an American flag on the left and the lunar module on the right.
In late October the two committees met again to consider the design for the obverse of the Apollo 11 coins, which according to the enabling legislation must be “emblematic of the United State space program leading up to the first manned Moon Landing.”
The obverse design will be selected by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnunchin based on recommendations from a six-person jury made up of members from the two committees, which reviewed designs submitted by outside artists for a design competition.
18 design drawings from those submitted for the competition were evaluated on October 19 by the CCAC, and on October 20 by the CFA in Washington, DC.
There was a considerable gap in how the two committees reacted to the designs since the CFA was generally receptive to them, while several members of the CCAC expressed strong reservations about the overall artistic quality or other issues regarding the designs.
The concerns of CCAC members included the view of Michael Moran that great art is needed to sell coins, and that these will not sell; Donald Scarinci’s comment that “it’s a tragedy we’re ending up with this; and the view of member Heidi Wastweet, who is an accomplished medallic sculptor, that it was important to remember they were not evaluating drawings per se, but considering which design would work best on a coin.
In addition, member Thomas Uram, who said he was not worried about the coins selling, showed the group a 2009 French coin that marked the 40th anniversary of the moon landing with an obverse design showing an astronaut’s footprint on the moon.
A different version of that same image appears on one of the two designs that drew the strongest support from both groups, though Liza Gilbert of the CFA said she wanted to see something new that had not previously appeared on a coin.
On the other hand, recently-reappointed CCAC Chairperson Mary N. Lannin said she was confident the coins would do well because the Mint staff of engravers and artists based at the Philadelphia Mint “can make it work.” She also said one of these designs must be used on the coins since they can’t be sent back, and that the designs could be improved as needed.
Two reverse designs
The two designs that were met with the greatest enthusiasm by the CCAC include: one that shows a large footprint of Neil Armstrong on the lunar surface and inscriptions for the three space programs, “MERCURY,” “GEMINI,” AND “APOLLO” plus the usual ones for the date, motto, and “LIBERTY”; and a second design that shows a Saturn rocket against a background that includes the moon and various calculations and other markings used by scientists and mathematicians who played a key role in the space program plus the same inscriptions as on the other design since those are mandated by law.
Wastweet noted that the Saturn design is the one she would want to sculpt [if she were not on the committee and were tasked to do that], while Scarinci said the footprint image had some “potential.” As the discussion proceeded, it was clear these two designs were the most popular with the committee.
Ron Harrigal, who is the Mint’s manager of design and engraving, said there were some issues as far as turning the Saturn design into a coin, but presumably, those can be worked out.
Since these two designs garnered the most support the group asked the Mint’s lawyer, Greg Weinman, about the possibility of using two obverse designs instead of just one. He said he believed the law ruled that out but that it might allow for changes because of the different sizes of the four coins.
In various numismatic forums, coin collectors, who are eagerly anticipating the 2019 coins, were mostly also in favor of the same two designs, though there was also considerable interest in a different design that show a bald eagle in flight with the moon and the earth in the background.
CCAC member Michael Moran and some forum posters made a similar point about the footprint design regarding its scalability on the different coins of the 2019 program. In other words, it might work well on the smaller coins like the $5 gold issue, but would not be effective for a coin of a large size, especially the 5 oz. Proof piece.
At the same time, there seems to be some consensus that the more detailed Saturn rocket design would work better on the larger coins since the larger palette provides more space for all the details and because small images like the calculations would be hard to see on a small coin.
In the end, neither the CCAC, not the CFA, voted on the proposed designs during their October meeting, and they will presumably revisit the issue next year after the Mint checks to see if two designs can be used.
Stay tuned for more updates on this exciting coin program in 2018.
||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.” 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 American Hard Assets. 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 was previously a congressional relations specialist and policy analyst at the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress and a syndicated columnist and news analyst on international politics and national security for a wide variety of publications. He has been writing professionally since the early 1980s.|