Dick Johnson submitted these thoughts on coin design competitions. Thanks.
The Japanese Mint announced this week a coin design competition among world artists. To their credit it is well planned and open to artists of all kinds -- provided the artist is able to produce a plaster model of their design if theirs is a winning design.
Of the two kinds of such competitions -- open to all or closed by invitation only -- this is an open competition There are advantages and disadvantages to both kinds. Such competitions do elicit participation, but often the designs are unsuitable, both artistically and to the constraints of coin production.
Competitions frequently find fresh new talent, but these artists woefully lack the technical skill to produce a satisfactory model for die striking. If a mint is willing to accept whatever it receives -- and modify the design for necessary technical production -- then open competitions can be used.
Wisely, the Japanese Mint chose this competition to be in two stages. The first step is for artists to submit a drawing (rules spell out two circles 120 millimeters diameter side-by-side for obverse-reverse).
Among all submitted designs the jury, composed of one metal sculptor and three Japanese Mint officials including present and former chief engravers, will select five semi-final winners. These artists will be required to prepare plaster models of their designs.
First prize, "Most Honorable Work," will receive about $4,900 prize (500,000 yen),. Second prize will be called "Excellent Work" and 200,000 yen. The other three are delegated "Fine Work," and 100,000 yen.
This plan is farsighted. In previous design competitions plaster models could be submitted. Those that didn't win were returned to the artist who often adapted the design for other work, or the models remained in the artist's studio until his death and the models sold on the open market.
A second category was offered by the Japanese Mint for student work. Similar rules with one 50,000 yen prize and the title "Future Designer."
Many American coins have been designed by competitions with mixed results. A news clipping in my files from 1853 reveals the U.S. Mint seeking coin designs from American artists. Nothing happened. In 1892 a similar appeal occurred from the Mint Nothing happened. It was not until the National Sculpture Society acceded to the Mint's appeal that their members came forth with coin designs -- Brenner cent, Fraser nickel, Weinman dime and half dollar, MacNeil quarter, de Francisci dollar.
In 1937 another contest for the nickel gave us Felix Schlag's design. Even so, it was dramatically modified on the reverse before placed into production. The 1976 bicentennial coinage was another design contest. But the biggest design competition of all was conducted by the Franklin Mint in 1974 for fifty state bicentennial medals.
Inquiries abbot the Japanese contest can be addressed to:
CDC 2014 Secretariat, Japan Mint
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