Q. David Bowers
The White House
The White House has served as the official residence for all U.S. presidents, except for George Washington. Construction began with the laying of the cornerstone on October 13,1792 (the year commemorated on the silver dollar), but it was many years before the building was complete; indeed, when John Adams moved in on November 1,1800, the presidential mansion was not entirely finished. In 1814, British soldiers set the building on fire, and destroyed it so thoroughly that only the walls re-mained standing. It was rebuilt between 1815 and 1817. Since then, the mansion has been substantially enlarged and the interior has been remodeled.
West Wing offices were built in 1902, then enlarged in 1909 when the first Oval Office was constructed for President William Howard Taft. In 1948 it was decided to completely renovate the interior, as the walls and wooden beams were deteriorating. The renovation continued into 1952. The collection of art work in the White House was begun in 1800 with the purchase of the Gilbert Stuart portrait of President George Washington that now hangs in the East Room. In 1961 a law was passed protecting the White House and its contents, and a Fine Arts Committee for the White House was formed. President
Johnson made the White House curator a permanent position. Nearly 1.5 million visitors tour the White House each year, and 50,000 official guests are entertained there annually.
Commemorative Dollars Authorized
The 200th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone of the Executive mansion in Washington D.C. provided another subject for a silver dollar commemorative. The coin was authorized by an act of Congress, Public Law 102-281, on May 13, 1992, which read in part as follows:
The Secretary [of the Treasury 1 shall issue not more than five hundred thousand (500,000) one dollar coins which shall weigh 26.73 grams, have a diameter of 1.500 inches, and shall contain 90 percent silver and 10 percent copper .... The design of such coins shall be emblematic of the White House. On each such coin there shall be a designation of the value of the coin, an inscription of the year" 1992", and inscriptions of the words "Liberty", "In God We Trust", "United States of America", and "E Pluribus Unum." .... The design for each coin authorized by this title shall be selected by the Secretary after consultation with the Curator of the White House, the Commission of Fine Arts, and the White House Historical Association.
All sales shall include a surcharge of $10 per coin .... The total surcharges received by the Secretary from the sale of the coins issued under this title shall be promptly paid by the Sec-retary to the White House Endowment Fund (The Fund) to assist the Fund's efforts to raise an endowment to be a per-manent source of support for the White House Collection of fine art and historic furnishings, and for the maintenance of the historic public rooms of the White House."
Creed came to the forefront, and the surcharge of $10 represented a new high for a commemorative silver dollar. Many collectors felt that the entire price of the coin should not be more than that! As it developed, this hated surcharge raised $5 million, prima-rily from the numismatic community.
Development of the Designs
By the middle of June 1992 the Mint's engraving staff had prepared sketches for the White House coin, and two of these sketches received the preliminary approval of Secretary of the Treasury Nicholas Brady. The designs were presented to the Commis-sion of Fine Arts at its monthly meeting on June 18. The Commission objected that the Treasury Depart-ment pre-selected semi-final designs, instead of al-lowing it to review a larger number of ideas. Once again, the Commission was being asked to rubber-stamp motifs preferred by the Treasury.
The obverse sketch, prepared by Edgar Z. Steever IV, featured a view of the north portico of the White House with a fountain, a pair of trees, and some shrubbery in the foreground. This was criticized as being "too busy" by the Commission, and the members regarded the fountain and vegetation as being unnecessary to the design.
The reverse sketch, by John Mercanti, also depicted a view of the north portico. Partly behind the portico, a shield-shaped "plaque" bore the inscription: "MAY NONE BUT HONEST AND WISE MEN EVER RULE UNDER THIS ROOF," a sentiment attributed to President John Adams. On top of the plaque stood an eagle with spread wings. The director of the Fine Arts Commission; John Carter Brown, after viewing the design, mused that the plaque had the appearance of a giant antenna or T-shirt mounted on top of the White House. It was also pointed out that in some future time, honest and wise women might also rule under the famous roof.
After meeting with the Commission of Fine Arts, the Mint artists modified the obverse and entirely replaced the reverse. The adopted obverse design featured an almost identical view of the north portico, but, without the fountain, the trees, or the shrubbery. Above the central motif is the inscription THE WHITE HOUSE and the dates 1792 and 1992. Beneath is the motto IN GOD WE TRUST and the word LIBERTY.
The new reverse, executed by Chester Y. Martin, portrayed a profile bust of the White House archi-tect James Hoban facing left, with an ornate White House doorway in the background. Above is the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM. Below is the denomination ONE DOLLAR.