Description and Analysis

Modern Commemoratives

Description & Analysis

Ben Franklin was one of the most remarkable individuals of all time. A multi-talented scientist, philosopher, journalist and statesmen, he remains nearly as popular today as he was in his own time. Honored with a circulating half dollar from 1948 through 1963, Franklin was again selected to appear on United States coinage in 2006 on the 3000th anniversary of his birth. This time, however, the issue would be purely commemorative in nature and would consist of not one, but two, silver dollars. The variety of Franklin’s many achievements were impossible to portray in a single coin, so the idea was conceived of having two pieces that would capture different aspects of his public life.

The first coin in this set shows a youthful Ben Franklin flying a kite, a reference to his famous experiments which established that lightning was indeed a form of electrical energy. Norman Nemeth of the U. S. Mint designed this obverse, and his initials appear beside Franklin’s right foot. In addition, the inscription “BENJAMIN FRANKLIN SCIENTIST” is seen to the right of the standing figure, with the dual dates of commemoration and coining following the border at right. The coin’s mintmark appears to the left of Franklin’s left knee, with statutory mottoes completing this side.

U. S. Mint Sculptor-Engraver Charles L. Vickers created the reverse of this “Scientist” issue. It features a framed depiction of a serpent broken into segments, with the warning “JOIN, or DIE.” This iconic image from the American Revolution has each of the segments labeled with the initials of one of the American colonies, though the New England colonies are bunched together as the serpent’s head. The initials of artist Vickers appear below the lower right corner of this picture, and the usual statutory legends balance the design.

The second silver dollar in this two-piece set portrays Benjamin Franklin the “Statesman.” The obverse was designed and sculpted by Don Everhart of the U. S. Mint. A mature, three-quarters facing bust of Franklin is accompanied by a cartouche containing his signature. To his right appear the dual dates of commemoration and coining, and around the border above is the inscription “BENJAMIN FRANKLIN TERCENTENNARY.” The coin’s mintmark is to the right of Franklin’s left shoulder, Everhart’s initials are on Franklin’s coat at five o’clock and the mottoes required by law are used to balance this side.

The reverse of this silver dollar features the obverse of the Continental Dollar of 1776. The central feature of this historic coin is a sundial, beneath which appears the admonition “MIND YOUR BUSINESS.” That phrase had a different meaning in 1776 than its more caustic interpretation of today, and its use in combination with the sundial is traditionally attributed to Ben Franklin. Surrounding the antique coin image are the statutory legends found on all United States coins, separated by single stars, and the initials of designer Donna Weaver appear to the right of letters ‘NC’ in “CURRENCY.”

The Philadelphia Mint produced the proof and uncirculated editions of both Benjamin Franklin Silver Dollars. An interesting packaging option for the Scientist type was the Coin and Chronicles Set. This included an uncirculated example of the coin, four postage stamps, a replica of Poor Richard’s Almanack (originally published by Franklin) and an intaglio print.

The two issues comprising this set were offered beginning January 1, 2006 and were limited by law to a combined total of just 250,000 pieces. This was certain to guarantee a sellout of these popular coins. As of this writing, the final breakdown of sales between coins of each type was not available, but it may be expected that the proofs outsold the uncirculated issues by at least two-to-one.