Making His Mark

Gary Cooper quarter design
Close, but no cigar: Gary Cooper also came up with two ideas for the Maine State Quarter (above), one of a moose and Katahdin, another of Portland Head Light. The actual coin wound up depicting another lighthouse, Pemaquid Point Light. Courtesy of Gary Cooper.

A Belfast artist designs the U.S. Mint’s commemorative moon-landing coin.

Apollo 11 coin
Courtesy of the U.S. Mint

As a kid at the beach, Gary Cooper had a knack for spotting loose change, which he’d exchange for ice cream and hot dogs. Soon, he was hooked, not on coins’ monetary value but on their history. A sculptor by trade, with several bronze-relief memorial plaques hanging in Maine’s State House, Cooper also has a serious collection of rare coins. And ever since high school, in the ’60s, he’s dreamed of designing them. Back then, he wrote the director of the U.S. Mint, to see if he could help with the Eisenhower dollar. The director politely declined. A few years back, he was runner-up in the Mint’s design contest for a Baseball Hall of Fame 75th-anniversary coin. In between, he pitched numerous other ideas. Then, for a coin to mark 50 years since the Apollo 11 moon landing, Cooper mocked up a footprint in moon dust, and for the first time, the Mint gave him the thumbs-up. His winning design, the artist says, was ultimately a no-brainer. “I recall seeing those first footprints, and it made so many people feel like that was their own footprint” he says. “I’ve never seen anything like that since.” Now, that image design will be on the flip side of commemorative $5, $1, and half-dollar coins. “I still don’t believe it,” Cooper says. “I was just keeping at it, loving it all the way, and then it finally happened.”

Apollo 11 coins go on sale January 24.