Illustration and Design Stories.

The U.S. Mint and the Golden Ticket.

A Challenging Episode in Illustration and Design.                                   Read time: 5 minutes

Working with the U.S. Mint on as an Associate Designer was one of the more challenging and yet rewarding times in my career. In 2010 I was selected to design coins and medals under an artistic infusion program.

Deadlines were tight. Revisions happened often. But it was still a blast.

I learned from the best artists and sculptors at the United States Mint, including John Mercanti who was the twelfth Chief Engraver of the U.S.Mint until his retirement in late 2010, and Don Everhart, coin and medal engraver-medalist, and sculptor who is at the U.S.Mint in Philadelphia.

Altogether I worked on designs for 16 coins and Congressional Gold Medals: everything from the Congressional Medal of Honor Commemorative coin to The Code Talkers Congressional Gold Medal to The New Frontier Congressional Gold Medal; The Star Spangled Banner Gold coin and The Native American Dollar coin. I created designs for coins featuring Presidents Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt; First ladies Lucretia Garfield, Caroline Harrison and Helen Taft. Plus, there were Quarter designs for Great Basin National Park in Nevada and Arches National Park in Utah.

2 committees reviewed all designs submitted by the Mint: The Citizen’s Coinage Advisory Committee (CCAC) and the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts (CFA). When Presidential Dollar or First Spouses coins were being developed, there was an additional committee of White House Historians and Curators.

All coin designs submitted had to have rigid and extensive documentation of source material and photo references to guarantee historic accuracy and avoid copyright issues. I usually spent more time on these than on the designs themselves.

Design for Eliza Johnson First Spouses 1/2 ounce gold coin. Illustration and design. Gary Whitley.

All designs had to be submitted in a 8” round template. Some designs already had the lettering in the template while others had to include new type. The artwork itself was done in pencil gray scale (shown above) as a roadmap to essentially “model” the shapes and contours needed by the sculptors to do their work. They sculpt the master design at the same size and then using a reducing lathe, the coin dies are made.

Fun fact: The U.S. Mint is not funded by the public. The Mint’s programs are self-sustaining and operate at no cost to the taxpayer through Seigniorage, which is the charge over and above the expenses of coinage (making into coins) that is deducted from the bullion brought to a mint to be coined. After overhead expenses, the “profit” goes straight to the U.S. Treasury.

Here is one of my coins. Notice the “GW” below the frog.

2012 El Yunque Quarter. Gary Whitley
El Yunque National Forest Quarter © Copyright United States Mint 2012. Used with permission.

It is for El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico. The design features an image of a Coqui tree frog and a Puerto Rican Parrot behind an epiphyte plant with more tropical flora in the background. The Puerto Rican Parrot is an endangered species unique to Puerto Rico.

The El Yunque National Forest quarter was the first of 2012 and the 11th overall in the America the Beautiful Quarters Program.

About the Program: In 2010, the United States Mint began to issue 56 quarter-dollar coins featuring designs depicting national parks and other national sites as part of the America the Beautiful Quarters Program. 2012 marked the third year of the program and features five quarters.

El Yunque National Forest is the sole tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest System. It was first established as a national site in 1903.

The Golden Ticket

One memorable part of this story happened when they flew me back to D.C. for a two day orientation at U.S. Mint headquarters.

The date? February 4-5, 2010.

What else happened on that date? Snowmageddon.,_2010_North_American_blizzard

Our orientation was cut short at the end of the first day as Mint staff scrambled to get everyone flights out before the worst of the storm hit. By 5:00 AM I was at Dulles International Airport waiting for a flight out and watching the snow pile up outside. Just me and my 20,000 new best friends. 

I was about to commandeer a place to sleep on the floor in the increasingly likely event I would be stuck in the airport. By 8:30 I had a possible flight out but no tickets and no assigned seats- just a gate number. Everyone had to cue at the gate desk and ask to see if they were on the plane or not. It was like Survivor in reverse. After repeatedly standing in line then being told to take a seat and wait, I was not sure I would be on that flight after all. I think the fifth time I went up to the desk the disheveled and frantic woman finally checked the computer screen and said “you’re all set!” It felt like I had won the Golden Ticket:


By Noon the plane was loaded and in spite of the heavy snowfall we took off. I had a 3 hour layover in Dallas, but at least I was on my way home. I arrived in Portland at about 8:00 P.M., happy for once to see only rain coming out of the sky.


P.S. I’m calling on all Grammar Police and Spelling Wizards to comment on any errors or omissions you may find in any of my posts. It will help make me a better writer, give me a thicker skin and bring a bright smile to your face knowing you have once again rescued the english language from certain annihilation.

1 thought on “Illustration and Design Stories.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *