U.S. Coin Designer Series: Elizabeth Jones

Today’s coin climate is one of the most vastly expanding fields out there in the world of collecting. From vintage to modern to world and more, it is completely incomprehensible to think of all the different types of collections that are out there. One of those facets of the hobby happens to be commemoratives. Some collectors make it a point to collect ONLY commemorative coins. Some remain vintage in their finds while others stay the course in moderns. Regardless of preference, commemoratives have a huge impact on coin collecting and one of the most regarded United States coin designers has been one of the leaders in making it so. She also ended up being the first and only female United States Mint Chief Engraver.

Elizabeth’s Early Years

Born in Montclair, New Jersey, on May 31, 1935, Jones took an interest in arts. After graduating high school, she attended Vassar College and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1957. There she studied the arts while developing the talent that would land her in her career. From there, she went to the Art Students League in New York where she specifically studied painting.

Studying Abroad

After her time in New York, Jones eventually moved to Rome, Italy, where she looked to expand her knowledge even more. While a painter, she found inspiration in sculpture and began taking an active interest in that particular form of art. Because of this, she decided to attend Scuola dell’ Arte dollar Medaglia (School of Medallic Arts and Relief Sculpting). The school was a part of the Italian Mint and it was there that Jones learned the intricacies of coinage and gained a wealth of experience and knowledge that would lend itself to her future title. After opening her own studio in Rome in 1964, Jones continued to develop a name for herself as her skills within the arts took on a life of their own.

For her mastery in medallics, Jones began receiving commissions from some of the largest names including the Franklin Mint, Judaic Heritage Society and the Medallic Art Company. In 1972, she was awarded the Art Award for Excellence in Medallic Sculpture by the ANA and then won the Bennett Award from the National Sculpture Society a few years following. With this and her commissioned works, Jones became one of the most highly recognized medalists in the world.

Stint At the Mint - 11th Chief Engraver

After returning to the United States, Jones was named as Chief Engraver of the United States after then-Chief Engraver Frank Gasparro decided to retire from the position (the first to do so). Among many applicants, Jones applied for the position and soon enough, President Ronald Reagan appointed her for the job and she was sworn in on September 8, 1981, as the first woman in US history to earn the title at just 46.

As mentioned previously, her contributions to the US commemorative coin program were among her most popular and praised achievements. Perhaps her most recognized piece is that of the design of the 1982 George Washington Commemorative Half Dollar. The half dollar commemorated the 250th anniversary of our first President’s birth. The coin, in addition to being the first coin to launch the modern commemorative program, was also the first to have been minted in 30 years at the United States Mint.

In addition to the Washington commemorative, Jones designed the 1983 Los Angeles Olympics Silver Dollar in celebration of the 1984 Summer Olympics. She also took on the design of the 1986 Statue of Liberty Gold Half Eagle and the obverse of the 1988 Olympic Gold Half Eagle. In 1988, Jones also looked over the commissioning of the West Point Coin Mint which became the newest branch of the US Branch Mint on a larger level. This particular branch has since become well known for producing commemorative coins exclusively in addition to the production of silver and gold bullion coins.

Her Later Years

After just 10 years at the US Mint as the United States Chief Engraver, Jones retired in 1991. Her contributions to the US modern commemorative program are the reason it still holds strong today. After her retirement, the US Chief Engraver position remained vacant and then was abolished until 2006 when John Mercanti took over as the 12th Chief Engraver.

Even in her retirement years, Elizabeth Jones found herself continuing her craft as she found herself designing the 2001 Capitol Visitors $5 Gold coin. She also created a number of relief portraits, produced medals that featured some of the most famous of names including Pope John Paul II and Pablo Picasso, and worked on life-size sculptures.

For three out of the five coin designs discussed above, she won the International Coin of the Year Award and also won numerous other awards during her career. Once again, her commitment and contribution to the modern US commemorative coin program were her most recognized of achievements. In 1994, she was named an Honorary Life Member of the ANA (American Numismatic Association) for her accomplishments in numismatics.

Source: USA Coinbook