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Skip ‘Postcard’ in Design
By Debbie Bradley, Numismatic News
July 05, 2013

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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Think of it. The grandeur of the Rocky Mountains, the majestic river winding through a national forest and the vibrant colored birds who call a vast wildlife refuge home. Imagine the sights and sounds.

Then imagine trying to capture those images on a 1-inch silver colored coin.

That’s what U.S. Mint engravers face when designing America the Beautiful quarters, and it doesn’t always result in success.

“The challenging thing is that when we are talking about national forests, monuments and parks and finding images that translate well to a 1-inch coin planchet, it’s very difficult,” said Gary Marks, chairman of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee.

“There is a tendency to want to put postcard images on a 1-inch planchet.”

And that usually doesn’t turn out so well, he said.

Just how coin engravers might better approach designs for the ATB quarters was discussed when the CCAC met June 25.

“The overwhelming message we have is to look for symbolic, emblematic or iconic images of the park or national site,” Marks said.

Putting a postcard image on a coin just doesn’t work, he said.

“You end up losing the dramatic nature of such images,” Marks said. “On a postcard you’ve got color and size going for you. Try to put that on a silver 1-inch coin where all the colors are silver. It’s really hard to translate some of those scenery images.”

Marks pointed to the quarter honoring the 2012 Chaco Culture National Historical Park as an example of trying to put too much on a small coin.

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The CCAC discussed design ideas for the 2015 America the Beautiful quarters that will honor Homestead National Monument of America, Kisatchie National Forest, Blue Ridge Parkway, Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge and Saratoga National Historical Park.

Homestead National Monument of America
The monument honors the Homestead Act of 1863 in which Congress made it possible for ordinary folks to put claims on land in Nebraska and then farm it, Marks said.

“How do you successfully convey the Homestead National Monument of America on a quarter?” Marks asked.

Perhaps with an image of a plow working through a wheat field, he said. Or maybe an image of a sod house that the settlers built.

“My fear again is it’s so small on a coin it begins to look like Lincoln’s cabin perhaps,” he said.

Most people just give a quick look to the image on a coin, he said, and don’t study the details.

Kisatchie National Forest
The Louisiana forest is home to the endangered red cockaded woodpecker and to wild turkeys. Either might work well on a coin, Marks said.

“Other ideas like that, an animal or bird, something that can be identified with the forest or park, those are things that will likely translate well on a coin,” he said.

Blue Ridge Parkway
The North Carolina parkway connects two national parks, Marks said. His research showed that there are 74 different mammals along the parkway, 35 reptiles, scores of birds, brook trout and large mouth bass. All would be suitable depictions on a coin, he said, as would a vintage automobile shown angled on a roadway.

Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge
It’s a sanctuary in Delaware, so discussion focused on the different wildlife that could be featured on a coin, Marks said. Among those mentioned were a great blue heron and American bald eagle. Marks suggested looking at some of the designs considered for the 2008 American Bald Eagle commemorative coin.

Saratoga National Historical Park
The New York Park commemorates the battle of Saratoga and the site at which the British surrendered their swords, Marks said. While a battle re-enactment would seem appropriate, trying to convey that on a small coin would be a challenge, Marks said, noting that he would prefer a simpler design.

“What comes to mind is a cannon,” he said. A simple design, without a lot of clutter, emblematic of the battle and a nice visual object for a 1-inch coin.

Again, Marks emphasized the importance of simplifying coin designs and focusing on emblematic or iconic designs.

“Simple things like a bird or animal or cannon can be portrayed without a lot of clutter and I think those are the type of coins people will find attractive,” he said.

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