The Coin Analyst: CCAC’s Gary Marks Calls for “Coin Designs that Reflect Our Time”
By Louis Golino for CoinWeek
I recently spoke with Gary Marks, Chairman of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Commission, about his involvement with coins, last week’s meeting on the silver eagle reverse design, the committee’s approach to balancing modern and classic coin designs, and related issues.
Mr. Marks has worked as a city manager for decades in a number of different states and recently became the city manager for Lebanon, Oregon.
LG- “Can you tell our readers a little about how you first became interested in coins?”
GM- “For my tenth birthday my mother gave me a blue Whitman penny folder for 1909 to 1941 that she had when she was a collector, and that’s what started it all. She also gave me a proof set for my birth year. Those two things got me started, and I still have both items.”
LG- “Like you I also started 40 years ago, but I took time off while in college and grad school. Did you stick with the hobby all those years?”
GM- “I did take time off to start a family, but now as the kids have grown, and some are now leaving the nest, I’ve come back to it, and stronger than before.”
LG- “How did you end up as Chairman of the CCAC?”
GM- “That’s an interesting story. I used to be the city manager of Whitefish, Montana, which is the home town of the Montana Governor at the time, Brian Schweitzer. When the state quarter program came to Montana, I called him and asked if I could serve on the commission that was heading up the design process. So he put me on that commission, and when it was time to launch the quarter, the governor had me be master of ceremonies at the Helena civics center where I shared the stage with Ed Moy, who was then Director of the Mint. The two of us got to talk about coins, and low and behold about four weeks later I got a call from Ed saying there is a vacancy on the CCAC and asking me if I would consider serving. Of course, I said I was interested, and I came on in 2007, and am now in my second term. In 2010 I became chairman.” [CCAC member terms are 4 years. –LG]
LG- “As far as last week’s meeting on changing the reverse design for the American silver eagle, I heard you say the change would apply to the bullion and proof coins. Would it also apply to the burnished uncirculated, enhanced uncirculated, or other versions?”
GM- “All versions would be changed. The existing reverse would simply be retired in total.”
LG-“ I have heard that the committee has recommended a possible design change for the past three years and understand the general background to last week’s meeting. But can you tell us a little more about the impetus for the change and why you decided to leave the obverse design?”
GM- “The first factor is that every 25 years the Secretary can change the design. Second, the committee wants to further design excellence. When we look at programs like the state quarters or the Westward Journey nickel program, we see that those design changes enlivened the hobby, increased interest, and got more people involved, and I would say even enlivened the existing collector base because there was something of new interest to look at. If decade after decade, you have the same design, it’s just the same thing.
Let’s see if we can enliven the series, spark even greater interest in the series, and let’s do it with an eye towards matching the obverse and reverse together. The Adolph Weinman obverse design is such an American classic that I felt if we can find a design that is appropriate for that obverse and place it on the reverse, that would be a home run.
My perspective is that the Adolph Weinman obverse is an active design. Liberty is walking towards the sun, telling the story of Liberty marching forward, there is a bright future, etc. The current reverse is a static design, fixed in a position. The design the committee recommended last week is also an active design that has some drama to it like the current obverse. I believe they complement each other, and would make a great combination. The current obverse design is popular with many collectors, and this change is an opportunity to enliven that with a new and exciting reverse, to spark new interest in the hobby, and put some excitement in there for collectors who have been collecting for years.”
LG- “I have heard some collectors say they get tired of seeing the same design all the time, while others seem to be resistant to any change. I think many of them will come along if the design is well-executed.”
GM- “That is the key. You don’t mess with the silver eagle unless you have a great design. I think we are on route for that, and the Mint will prepare several designs with the correct inscriptions, etc. And we will have another look at the design later in the year. Last week was just the beginning.”
LG- “So there will be at least one more CCAC meeting on it plus the CFA (Commission on Fine Arts) review.”
GM- “We will probably meet this fall. I think that is how it will work out.”
LG- “Has there been any progress on the committee’s proposal made last year for a circulating Liberty commemorative coin series?”
GM- “Not really. The issue is how the CBO (Congressional Budget Office) does not consider seigniorage as budget savings. We were able to show we would increase seigniorage, which goes directly to paying down the national debt, but that is not considered budget savings, which makes it hard to get the attention of Congress. It’s really a semantic difference since the savings is there, and the national debt is less, albeit not by a huge amount. That is the hook we hang the program on other than the numismatic reasons and the real basis for convincing a majority of members of congress that the program is in the national interest”
“The state quarter program was not enacted during the first session of Congress when it was proposed. It took several sessions as members became more knowledgeable about the program. I see it as a process, and hope it is enacted.”
LG- “As you know there is still a lot of interest among collectors in re-issuing the classic coin designs of the past, but I know the CCAC favors more modern depictions of classic American themes. Would you favor re-issuing the classics on a limited basis such as for anniversaries like the 100th anniversary of the Standing Liberty quarter in 2016, or the 100th of the Peace dollar in 2021?”
GM- “In fact, one of our recommendations in our current annual report was to issue a Peace dollar dated 2018 as part of a commemorative program to mark the end of World War I, which has not really been honored on past American coins. The Peace dollar was intended as a celebration of the peace restored to the world at the end of WWI. We recommended a two-silver dollar program, including one that would honor the men and women who served in our Armed Forces during that war, who have not been honored on American coinage, and a Peace dollar dated 2018 done in high relief.”
Regarding your central question, the committee looks at the designs on U.S. coins as something that should tell the story of our generation as Americans, and how we as Americans observe Liberty. How Liberty might be portrayed can change, and it’s a balancing act. It is good to honor the old classic designs. There are some really good ones that came out of the golden era of coin design, and periodic re-issues like the 2018 Peace dollar are totally appropriate.”
But with the American Liberty circulating program we would have an opportunity over time to develop a whole new collection of modern renditions of Liberty and themes on freedom, which would appear on the reverses of the coins. We want to be able to leave behind for the next generation some great art as was left to us from the golden age. That is at the heart of what we want to do. For our own time and for future generations we want to create a record of coin designs that reflect our time and how we portrayed Liberty in the modern era.”
CoinWeek is grateful to Mr. Marks for sharing his comments on the work of his committee.
Louis Golino is a coin collector and numismatic writer, whose articles on coins have appeared in Coin World, Numismatic News, and a number of different coin web sites. His insightful retrospective on the American Silver Eagle was the cover feature of the February 2014 issue of The Numismatist. His column for CoinWeek, “The Coin Analyst,” covers U.S. and world coins and precious metals. He collects U.S. and European coins and is a member of the ANA, PCGS, NGC, and CAC. He has also worked for the U.S. Library of Congress and has been a syndicated columnist and news analyst on international affairs for a wide variety of newspapers and web sites.