Description and Analysis

Modern Commemoratives

Description & Analysis

Leif Ericsson is credited with the first European settlement of the New World in the year 1000. Eldest son of Eric the Red, Leif led his crew from Norway in pursuit of a beautiful new land described by trader Bjarni Herjulfsson, who had come across it by accident when blown off course. Ericsson and his men came ashore at Labrador and then Newfoundland. They ultimately started a settlement which they name Vinland, but the exact location of this community has been lost. Discouraged by continual hostility from the native people, Leif Ericsson and his fellow Vikings decamped to the more hospitable Greenland, leaving the New World untouched for another 400+ years.

The silver dollar honoring the millennium of Ericsson’s settlement was authorized by Congress on December 6, 1999. This law provided for the coining of up to 500,000 pieces, and these were offered for sale from June 21, 2000 through February 28, 2001. The silver dollar was sold either singly or in a set that included a silver 1000-kronur coin of Iceland honoring the same anniversary. The Icelandic coin’s mintage was limited to 150,000 pieces.

U. S. Mint Sculptor-Engraver John Mercanti furnished the obverse design of this silver dollar, which features a right-facing bust of Leif Ericsson done in the traditional style of Icelandic coins. Some of the lettering, too, was in Icelandic style. Despite this nod to tradition, the explorer’s name, which appears above his bust, oddly enough has been Americanized by dropping the second ‘S’ in Ericsson. A decorative pattern encircles nearly the entire obverse, broken only for placement of the coin’s date at the bottom. The artist’s initials appear to the left of the bust, while the coin’s mintmark is to the right. Statutory mottoes complete this side, and these are written in a modern, sans-serif font.

The reverse of this coin is by T. James Ferrell, and it shows a three-quarter view of Ericsson’s ship coming toward the New World with Ericsson standing at its prow. The inscription “FOUNDER OF THE NEW WORLD” is above in Icelandic style, and this is used also for “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,” which is arranged in three lines across the bottom. In plain font are the remaining statutory legends, while the initials of artist Ferrell are placed on the hull of the ship near its stern.

The Philadelphia Mint struck both the proof and uncirculated editions of this coin, as well as the Icelandic 1000-kronur coin. The latter was designed by acclaimed Icelandic artist Throstur Magnusson. Proceeds from the sale of both the American and Icelandic coins went to the Leifur Eiriksson Foundation, which is a joint venture between the University of Virginia and the Central Bank of Iceland. It funds graduate-level student exchanges between the two nations.

Despite worldwide excitement over the year 2000, the theme of this coin was not sufficiently compelling to prompt more than the usual sales for USA commemoratives of the time. Proofs outsold the uncirculated pieces by five to one, but both editions recorded totals low enough to bring premium prices a few years later, when modern commemoratives grew in overall popularity.