Logos have been showing up for years on sneakers and clothing. Now they're on our money.
The U.S. Mint is issuing two commemorative coins to mark the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Winter Games - and the reviews are not raves.
"It's disappointing; it's pathetic," says Robert Wilson Hoge, curator of American coins and currency at the American Numismatic Society in New York City.
"When coins have such low relief, they might as well be blank, as far as I'm concerned," he says. "I think it's kind of unfortunate they can't come up with something more exciting. A geometric pattern of a snowflake is so ephemeral."
Both the $1 silver and $5 gold coins use the snowflake-like Olympic Crystal, the games' main symbol, as the main feature on the obverse, or "heads," side. The coins also carry a secondary "identity mark" titled "Rhythm of the Land." The U.S. Mint website never says exactly what that is. Perhaps it's that weirdly jagged line running down the front of the silver dollar - a form vaguely suggestive of rugged mountain terrain.
The reverse, or "tails," side of the $5 coin sports a stylized Olympic cauldron and flames. Underneath is another jagged-edged form. More "rhythm," perhaps.
Salt Lake City itself, set against the Rocky Mountains, occupies the reverse of the $1 coin. Yet another jagged line rises above the mountains, looking rather like a rainbow on a wicked caffeine high.While the Olympic Crystal is a unique logo, artist Andy Jones of Hampton, isn't sure the stylized, angular symbol translates well onto a coin. Jones designed the Charter Oak reverse for the Connecticut quarter issued by the Mint in 1999.
"It's a very sharp-edged look, almost like it would cut you," he says of the Olympic designs. "There doesn't seem to be any texture in these. They seem very graphic and flat, like a logo. They're not very exciting."
Complaints about the artistic merits of American coins are nothing new. President Theodore Roosevelt, for example, brought in Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the preeminent sculptor of the day, to give some class to the cash. What resulted were the $10 and $20 gold pieces, the latter considered one of the most gorgeous coins ever produced.
Hoge says the U.S. Mint is capable of artistic coins. He points to the Statue of Liberty $5 gold commemorative, issued in 1986, which sold out nearly immediately.
"When the Mint does a good job, it gets a lot of attention," he says.
Yet, Hoge says political concerns tend to outweigh artistic ones in choosing American coin designs.
Coin World, the weekly numismatic newspaper, blames government meddling for the lackluster designs on commemorative coins, claiming "most of the micromanaging has come about because sponsoring organizations - which benefit from surcharges - insist their logos and other associated emblems be used."
There's "no better example," Coin World says, than the Salt Lake Olympic coins. The winter games will get $35 from the sale of each gold coin, for which prices start at $180, depending on condition and packaging. The games will get $10 for each silver coin, for which prices start at $30.
A Coin World editorial declares, "It's time to give our artists an opportunity to capture the moment and our intents on the tiny canvases we call coins."