Description and Analysis

Modern Commemoratives

Description & Analysis

On December 6, 1999 Congress authorized the minting of commemorative coins in recognition of the U. S. Capitol Visitor Center, construction of which was planned to commence the following year at the Capitol’s East Plaza and be completed in 2005. For the first time since the bloated Olympic coin program of 1995-96, the U. S. Mint would produce the familiar three-coin set consisting of copper-nickel-clad half dollar, silver dollar and gold half eagle. The mintage limits for these coins were 750,000, 500,000 and 100,000, respectively, and surcharges obtained through their sale would be used to fund in part the construction of the visitor center.

For this program, the U. S. Mint returned to its former practice, abandoned for the several preceding commemoratives, of using designs submitted by outside artists. For example, the obverse of the half dollar was designed by freelance artist Dean McMullen. It features a driver and rider in an antique carriage, with the proposed visitor center to the right. Behind these is a featureless silhouette of the Capitol building, with the words “U.S. CAPITOL” and the date “1800” beneath. These elements are encircled within 50 stars, and the date of coining is at the bottom. The initials of the designer and the sculptor are placed beneath the visitor center at left and right, respectively. Statutory mottoes complete this side.

The reverse of this coin is a composite of designs submitted by Alex Shagin and Marcel Jovine. Its theme is the first U. S. Congress to convene in the Capitol in 1800. A circle of sixteen stars, representing the number of states at the time, encloses the following inscriptions: “1800 6th CONGRESS / SENATE 32 SENATORS / HOUSE 106 MEMBERS.” The various legends mandated by law complete this design, with the initials of the designers and the sculptor separating them. The coin’s mintmark is seen at the right at three o’clock.

Hungarian artist Marika Somogyi furnished the obverse of the silver dollar, which features perspective views of the visitor center in the foreground and the Capitol in the distance. These elements are balanced by the date of coining at upper left and the date of commemoration at center right. The words “U. S. CAPITOL” appear along the lower border, and the initials of artist Somogyi and sculptor John Mercanti are placed at opposite sides of the visitor center. Statutory mottoes complete the design.

The reverse of this coin is highly reminiscent of the American Eagle Silver Dollar bullion coin’s reverse, with its heraldic eagle. This is not surprising, as both were designed and sculpted by John Mercanti of the U. S. Mint. The eagle, with its surrounding glory of rays, is also similar to that seen on circulating gold double eagles of 1850-1907. Draped across the eagle, however, is a banner reading “U.S. CAPITOL VISITOR CENTER.” The coin’s mintmark is to the left of the eagle’s tail feathers, while Mercanti’s initials appear to their right. The usual legends required by law complete this reverse.

Former U. S. Mint Chief Sculptor-Engraver Elizabeth Jones created both sides of the gold half eagle. Its simple obverse is dominated by a single Corinthian column of the type found at the Capitol. To the left of this is inscribed: “1800 FIRST CONVENING OF CONGRESS IN WASHINGTON.” The date of coining is at the bottom. At the column’s base are the initials of Elizabeth Jones, designer, and T. James Ferrell of the U. S. Mint, sculptor. The usual mottoes, “LIBERTY” and “IN GOD WE TRUST,” complete this side.

A perspective view of the visitor center is on the reverse, with the coin’s mintmark centered below it. The initials of the designer and of the sculptor are to the left and right of the building, respectively. Legends of a purely statutory nature complete the reverse.

The Philadelphia Mint coined both proof and uncirculated editions of the silver dollar and the half dollar, while West Point produced all of the half eagles. These coins were offered for a full year, from February 28, 2001 through the same date in 2002. In keeping with the Mint’s desire to streamline the ordering process, sales and packaging options were quite limited. Collectors were not too enthusiastic about this issue, and sales of all six coins were modest. The uncirculated half eagle posted the lowest number for this denomination since the Jackie Robinson coin in 1997, creating yet another modern rarity.