I'd like to add a few thoughts to David Ganz' review of the Mercanti book American Silver Eagles in the previous article. First, I enjoyed very much Mercanti's descriptions of how he came to be an apprentice at the Mint under Gasparro, and his interactions with the staff there, including Ed Steever, Michael Iacocca, Sherl Winter, Philip Fowler, and Matthew Peluso. He states (on p15), "These men were so instrumental to me in my early career that no story of me and my accomplishments is complete without them. Some never had a design selected for a circulating coin, but nonetheless they are a vital part of numismatic history."
I also enjoyed Mercanti's discussion of the more arcane, yet vitally important technical details of producing coinage. "In the world of minting, thousandths of an inch are mountains" (p25). In particular, his discussion of basins is illustrative: "The basin is critical to the production of a coin. It determines the path where metal will flow under pressure. If the basin is too deep, the metal won't flow to the edge and fill the cavities of the peripheral design elements (for example, the text). If it's too shallow, or less deep, then the elements on the periphery will fill too soon and the main element in the center of the coin will not fill properly."
But Mercanti's discussion of the technical aspects of designing coins are tempered with the artistic. From p28: "There is something in sculpture referred to as 'lost and found'. This means that you don't have to model all the detail on a piece. All you need to do is create the impression of an element."
"I've never personally been a proponent of going back over a classic model and sharpening the detail. This was how and why John Flanagan's beautiful original obverse quarter dollar portrait (of George Washington) was later referred to as the 'spaghetti hair'. Someone made the determination that they wanted to see every hair on Washington's head."
I remember the first time I noticed one of these in circulation. I think I jumped in fright - yikes!!
As David notes, this is really three books in one, and while my favorite parts are Mercanti's reminiscences, the rest is a valuable discussion of this overlooked series of U.S. coins. This book, with Mercanti's reminiscences and the illustrated catalog of his work only whet my appetite for Mercanti's anticipated biography.
Thanks to Dennis Tucker for providing images for this article.
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
NEW BOOK: AMERICAN SILVER EAGLES: A GUIDE TO THE U.S. BULLION COIN PROGRAM
Wayne Homren, Editor
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