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400th Mayflower Anniversary Coin Designs Revealed

April 15, 2019 0 Comments

Coin collectors always wait eagerly for the release of important commemorative coins, and in the history of America there can be few events more worthy of commemoration than the landing of the Pilgrims, in 1620 – 400 years ago next year.

The coin designs releases by the Mint to narrow down to the final choices show the changes and confusion currently found in American society. They give diverse visions of this pivotal event, and they show us how coins are a microcosm of the broader world around us.

In 2020 the Mint will be recognizing the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower voyage by releasing a 1/4-ounce 24-karat gold coin, alongside a 1-ounce .999 fine silver medal. They will be released separately, as well as in a set which will include a coin from the Royal Mint, in England. The exact details have not been released.

On April 16, 2019, the US Mint revealed to the Citizen’s Coinage Advisory Committee 26 proposed designs for the coins, although the designs were in pairs, with the same central picture but a different border. Rather than the usual public competition the mint had, quote, “. . . worked with a panel of subject matter experts who helped identify the concepts as well as the impact the Mayflower voyage had on the pilgrims, the Wampanoag Indians, and the history of our country.”

What is striking about this, and many of the designs create is the degree to which, since the 300th Anniversary, social attitudes have changed. Sensitivity to Native Americans was not part of the equation in the designs or thinking for 1920, which show on the obverse an image of William Bradford, leader of the group and the first Governor of the Colony, and on the reverse the ‘Mayflower’ at sea, which was of course the ship the Pilgrims arrived in.

The change today is a tribute to how attitudes have altered over the last century, and how everyone is aware of how great an event the arrival of that ship was for the Wampanoag people who lived there. A perusal of the designs shows a desire to respect both groups, although how successfully is a matter for debate.

Some designs show the classic story. A small landing boat carrying two men sails towards us, with their main boat behind. On one variation is the word MAYFLOWER, but the other has instead the world PATUXET, which is what the Wampanoag called their home.

At least three designs (each with a border variation) do show a more ‘classic’ image of the arrival, featuring a Pilgrim couple with the woman holding a child, in various stances on each design, and all with the ‘Mayflower’ behind. Another shows the bust of a Pilgrim man and woman, while another shows a group of Pilgrims signing the pact that brought them to North America.

It is, however, some of the other designs that are already attracting accusations of ‘political correctness’, and defenses of the occupation of Native American lands. These show for example, a Pilgrim and an Indian facing away from each other, while one has a group of Indians planting corn, beans and squash, with no sign of Pilgrims at all. Another shows a Pilgrim stepping out of the coin towards an Indian with his arms firmly folded. Perhaps the most poignant has the same family unit as on the Pilgrim designs – man, woman, child – but this time they are Native Americans, with the ‘Mayflower’ coming into view.

It will be fascinating to see what choices the CCAC make, and if controversy erupts, but certainly this 400th anniversary is a very different affair from the 300th, a century ago.

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