Description and Analysis
2003 W FIRST FLIGHT $10 MS
Description & Analysis
The urge to fly like a bird has been a dream of humans for millennia. It fills ancient mythology, and inventors from Leonardo da Vinci onward have devised contraptions of all shapes and sizes in an attempt to fulfill this dream. Not until modern scientific observation was applied, however, did someone succeed. After years of experimentation with gliders, brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright of Dayton, Ohio finally achieved success where so many had failed. They did so by combining their knowledge of controlled flight with a motor of sufficient power-to-weight ratio that it permitted them to apply this knowledge. The result was a frail craft that could actually fly in the desired direction for as long as the fuel supply lasted. The date of that first successful flight was December 17, 1903.
To honor the centennial of this momentous occasion, Congress authorized a three-coin set consisting of a copper-nickel-clad half dollar, a silver dollar and a gold eagle. This last coin was included in place of the more typical half eagle, or five-dollar piece. The recipient of surcharge revenue from these coins was the First Flight Foundation, which oversees maintenance of the Wright Brothers National Memorial Park on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where the historic flight took place and where a monument to this achievement now stands.
The half dollar’s design is a collaborative effort between U. S. Mint Sculptor-Engravers Donna Weaver and John Mercanti. The obverse features a perspective view of the Wright Brothers Memorial, with the inscription “WRIGHT MONUMENT” beneath it. Below this is the date of coining, and the usual statutory mottoes complete this side. The reverse is likewise refreshingly spare of text. It shows a view now familiar from a photograph taken on the historic occasion of Orville Wright in the Wright Flyer, with brother Wilbur running behind. Beneath the horizon line are the initials of the artists at left and the coin’s mintmark at right. Statutory legends are arranged above and below the central device.
The obverse of the silver dollar displays conjoined, left-facing busts of the Wright Brothers. The dates of commemoration and coining flank these busts, with the inscription “ORVILLE & WILBUR WRIGHT” below them. The initials of U. S. Mint Sculptor-Engraver T. James Ferrell are just above the truncation of Wilbur’s bust, and statutory mottoes are arranged in arcs at the top. Norman E. Nemeth of the U. S. Mint sculpted the reverse of this coin, and his initials are seen near the border at five o’clock. This side features the Wright Flyer soaring over a stylized sand dune. The mintmark is placed near the border at three o’clock, and the balance of this pleasing design consists solely of statutory legends.
Donna Weaver designed the gold eagle, which displays on its obverse facing bust of the famed inventors. Placed beneath these is the inscription “ORVILLE & WILBUR WRIGHT FIRST FLIGHT CENTENNIAL,” while the dates of commemoration and coining are stacked at the right. The mottoes required by law on all USA coins complete this side. The reverse shows an aerial view of the Wright Flyer and an American eagle, with a stylized beach beneath them. Below the horizon line are the designer’s initials at left and the coin’s mintmark at right, and statutory legends balance the design.
Congress placed mintage limits on the First Flight Centennial coins of 750,000 half dollars, 500,000 silver dollars and 100,000 gold eagles. The Philadelphia Mint coined both the proof and uncirculated editions of the half dollar and dollar, while West Point struck all of the gold pieces.
The sales period for this offering ran a full year, from August 1, 2003 through July 31, 2004, but hopes for a sell-out were dashed. Though the Wright series benefited from a general increase in the popularity of modern United States coins, the higher cost of a ten-dollar piece over that of a five-dollar piece likely limited sales of this issue both individually and as part of the sets.