In mid-2021, the reverses of the U.S. Mint's two flagship coin programs and the most iconic modern U.S. coins – the American Silver Eagle and American Gold Eagle – will both feature entirely new reverse designs. In 2021, the Mint will be releasing bullion issues with the series' original reverses for the first few monthes of 2021, with the new designs to debut later in the year.
During meetings held in June, the two design review committees – the Commission on Fine Arts, or CFA, and the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee, or CCAC – reviewed an extensive, diverse portfolio of 39 different eagle candidate designs prepared by the U.S. Mint's on-staff artists located at the Philadelphia Mint and members of the Artistic Infusion Committee. Each model was prepared in two versions, with the only differences between them being the respective inscriptions for the two coins. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will make the final selection for both coins later this year.
Eagles have a long and storied tradition as numismatic motifs on U.S. coinage, with most of those that have been used to date being more traditional, typically being heraldic or flying eagles, on circulating and bullion coinage.
For more information surrounding the initial 2021 Eagle Re-design plans, read this Coin-Authority article.
Commission on Fine Arts (CFA) 2021 Eagle Re-Design Recommendations
During the June 18 CFA review of the designs, the seven members of that group (who mostly have a background in architecture) selected designs for both coins that are in some ways consistent with the current reverse designs. A static eagle with wings spread for the silver coin, and an eagle in motion for the gold coin.
For the American Silver Eagle, reverse "a heraldic eagle in a style that strikes a balance between a naturalistic depiction and a symbolic composition. The eagle holds five arrows, presenting the five branches of the military. The 13 stars represent the original 13 colonies," according to the narrative the U.S. Mint provided for the design. If selected, the design would need to have an arrow added for the new branch of the military, the U.S. Space Force.
For the reverse of the American Gold Eagle, the commission's members chose a single eagle design – unlike many other models in the portfolio that show more than one eagle. The proposed plan portrays the eagle as it prepares to land while carrying an oak branch in its talons that historically has symbolized strength on U.S. coins.
The 11 members of the CCAC (who have a range of backgrounds from numismatics to art, history, sculpture, and more) met a few days later on June 23 during a public meeting held via phone and internet. Members of this group concurred about the high quality of the submitted designs, noted that unused ones should be kept for future programs because they are so good. They also agreed on the high importance of the proceedings since both coins are according to member Donald Scarinci two of our "most iconic coins" and will need to stand the test of time since, by law, the designs can't be changed again for 25 years.
Of the current Gold Eagle reverse, member Dennis Tucker spoke about how at the time it was introduced, the design was considered unusual since it provided a very different view of bald eagles from those that appeared on U.S. coins from 1792 through the 1980s. In this spirit, he said he thought the new design should also be innovative.
The group initially favored a very bold design for the gold coin with a close-up profile of an eagle's head – a motif never previously used on a U.S. coin, though one that is reminiscent of some foreign currencies like the Australian Wedge-Tailed Eagles. The group voted 9 to 2 in favor of this unusual but compelling artistic design.
Throughout the meeting, Mr. Scarinci stressed that while this was a good design, it was not appropriate for the reverse because designs with portraits are supposed to appear on the obverse, which has long been a numismatic convention. As former CCAC member Michael Bugeja notes, this is the fundamental difference between the heads and tails side of a coin.
But Mr. Tucker said later in a discussion after the meeting on Facebook that there actually was a precedent in U.S. coinage for using a "bust-style eagle on the reverse of coins. The second coin of the modern commemorative era was precisely that" Elizabeth Jones' head-and-shoulders profile of a bald eagle on the 1983 Los Angeles Olympiad silver dollar." He also noted that on some ancient Greek coinage busts appeared on the reverse.
The group initially coalesced around a more traditional design of a flying eagle with its wings spread for the Silver Eagle, voting 8 to 3 in favor of that design.
However, the agreement on both designs began to chip away as the group discussed the importance of using what Mr. Scarinci called "a more interesting eagle for the silver" than the current John Mercanti designed heraldic eagle. This line of thinking dovetailed to some extent with Mr. Tucker's repeated calls for an "out of the box design." However, others disagreed, saying this was not the right place for innovation and that it was more important for the silver design to be iconically American, or to "reek of America," as Mr. Scarinci noted.
Finally, at the end of the meeting, Mr. Tucker proposed flipping the two designs, using the eagle bust for the silver, and the flying eagle for the gold. He noted that gold is a traditional asset where a design that is evocative of past flying eagles on U.S. coins is appropriate. By a narrow 6 to 5 vote, the group agreed to do this.
Initial Reactions to Proposed 2021 Eagle Designs
Numismatic writer Eric Jordan told GovMint.com that he liked the flying eagle design for the gold coin, saying that "It has the same feel as the classic Double Eagle reverse. It will play well with both traditionalists and the current generation of coin collectors. Gold is not cheap, and that market segment likes elegant and timeless designs, and the eagle soaring over the sun fits those buyer preferences perfectly."
Of the silver eagle design the CCAC recommended, Mr. Tucker said after the meeting that while he understands the concern of those who feel "it looks like an obverse," that does not disqualify the design as "numismatically inappropriate." He also said: "Whether you love the design or not, it's refreshingly daring as a work of U.S. coin art. And taken with the CFA's choice, the Treasury Secretary will have two committee recommendations: one conservative, one unusual."
Initial reactions from collectors to these proposed designs have been mixed. Still, there does appear to be more substantial support for the CCAC recommendations than those of the CFA, with some preferring the initial CCAC preference rather than the final one. There are also though who would rather keep the current designs.
Paul Gilkes, “New reverse designs for American Eagles undergo Commission on Fine Arts review,” Coin World, July 2020
Dennis Tucker, “CCAC recommends new reverse designs for 2021 gold and silver bullion coins,” www.coinupdate.com, June 26, 2020 and Facebook discussion about this article.
Author’s notes from CCAC public meeting held June 23.