The U.S. Mint unveiled the much-anticipated design for the World War I American Veterans Centennial commemorative coin and medals for each of the five armed forces. Learn more about each design, the selection process and insight from the creators
On October 9 the U.S. Mint unveiled the much-anticipated design for the World War I American Veterans Centennial commemorative coin, which is authorized by Public Law 113-212.
The coin, which will be released in January 2018, honors both the centennial of the end of the war in 1918 that is known as the Great War and of the participation of 4 million American soldiers in the war, including two million deployed overseas of whom 116,516 died in combat and another 200,000 were wounded.
The efforts and sacrifices of these soldiers helped turn the tide of the war during battles like the Battle of Belleau Wood, and they eventually led to the victory of the Allied forces.
This commemorative coin program was the brainchild of Rod Gillis, who is Education Director for the American Numismatic Association. Mr. Gillis said that in 2010 he reviewed U.S. Mint commemorative coins struck up to that point and realized there was no coin honoring the American veterans of World War I. He then worked with members of congress, including in particular Rep. Doug Lamborn (R- Colorado) and Emanuel Cleaver (D- Missouri) to build support for legislation on the coins, which passed in 2015 and was signed into law by President Obama.
The design of the coin, which was created by Orem, Utah sculptor and New Zealand native LeRoy Transfield, features an obverse called "Soldier's Charge" with a side profile of an American soldier during World War I, often called a "doughboy," with a stone-like expression as he grips his rifle. The reverse shows an abstract image of barbed wire and poppies, which are often used to honor soldiers who died during this war.
The design was selected by the Secretary of the Treasury, Steven Mnunchin, based on the winning design from a juried competition in which artists submitted designs. Select artists who sent designs to the Mint were then invited to submit plaster models, which were evaluated by a jury that included three members each from the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee and the Committee on Fine Arts and a representative of the Treasury Department.
Both sides of the coin will be sculpted by Donald Everhart, who retired this past summer as the Mint's top sculptor-engraver. His work on this coin was among his final duties.
The authorizing legislation calls for the issuance of up to 400,000 silver dollars in Proof and Uncirculated finishes, and each coin will include a $10 surcharge that will go to United States Federation for the Commemoration of the World Wars and will be used to assist the World War I Centennial Commission in commemorating the centennial of the war.
Mr. Transfield said in interviews that although this was his first effort designing a coin, it was selected unanimously from a group that included 20 other finalists. Two of his uncles served in the war as members of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force Native Contingent, which helped spur his interest in the subject matter.
The artist said it was not easy to come up with the concepts for the design, especially for the reverse. He added that he did want the soldier on the obverse to look like a model from an artist's studio, and that is why he decided to give him a very rugged look that conveyed the "feeling of combat," including a nose that might have been broken.
For the reverse, the art came more slowly, and he first tried using images of an eagle or a carrier pigeon, but those did not fit the format of the coin, which is 1.5 inches wide.
He settled on the reverse design of poppies and barbed wire in part because he was inspired by the famous war-time poem, "In Flanders Field," which was written by Canadian physician John McCrae who served during the war. Poppies were one of the few plants that were able to survive the soil of the war landscape that was ravaged by the conflict.
Artists whose designs were good enough to be invited to submit plaster models were asked not to add too much detail. Mint officials said they were more interested in the artists' ideas for the coin.
Sculptor Donald Everhart made some minor modifications to the plaster that Transfield submitted in order to make the designs "more sculptor friendly," added some shading, and made the soldier's rifle period accurate.
On October 10 the Mint unveiled the designs approved for five silver medals for each of the five armed forces which will be paired with the silver dollar when these products are sold next year. A .900 fine silver medal will be struck for each branch of the U.S. military, including the U.S. Army, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marines and U.S. Air Service.
The reverse of each of the five World War I Centennial silver medals features the World War I-era emblem of the respective branch of the military, while each obverse shows an action scene involving members of that service.
The Army medal obverse depicts a soldier cutting through German barbed wire, while a second soldier aims his rifle and a shell explodes in the distance.
The Marine Corps medal depicts the aftermath of the Battle of Belleau Wood showing a marine standing guard while another kneels to pray for the fallen soldiers.
The Navy medal shows a U.S. Navy destroyer on escort duty after it deployed a depth charge to defend a convoy.
The Air Service medal depicts the iconic SPAD XIII, a fighter from World War I that was flown by many American servicemen, viewed from the top and the side.
The Coast Guard Medal depicts a lifeboat from the Coast Guard Cutter USCGC Seneca as it heads out in heavy seas toward the torpedoed steamship Wellington.
These medals will not be sold individually by the Mint and each one will be paired with the silver dollar.
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.