Tags: JFK | Portrait | Coinage | Dollar

JFK's Portrait in Coinage

By Tuesday, 25 August 2015 08:50 PM Current | Bio | Archive

The just-released John F. Kennedy presidential dollar figured to be among the most popular issues in the ongoing series of $1 coins honoring the nation’s chief executives now in the ninth year of its roughly 10-year run.

The coin is the work of Don Everhart, a senior sculptor-engraver on the U.S. Mint’s roster of staff artists. It depicts a contemplative JFK looking down and seemingly lost in thought.

Over the years, the image of John Kennedy that has dominated most people’s memories is that of a resolute leader confidently facing the myriad challenges confronting the United States as it entered what he called a “New Frontier.” The Kennedy half dollar, first issued just four months after JFK’s tragic death, helped crystallize this image through its strong portrayal of Kennedy gazing ahead with a calm yet determined look upon his face.

JFK was so popular at the time of his death that people lined up for blocks outside banks to acquire the new half dollar when it was released in March 1964. His image has lost little luster in the intervening years. Polls conducted by CNN and Gallup in 2013 found JFK to be the most popular U.S. President of the last half century.

Nor has his appeal been limited to his fellow-Americans. He was greatly admired 50 years ago – and still is today – by people around the world. In 1976, when my wife lived with a local family in Ireland during her physical therapy internship in that country, two large photographs occupied places of honor in their home – one of the Pope, the other of President Kennedy.

I’ve heard some people say the portrait doesn’t look like JFK. I like the portrait. And after looking into how it came about, I learned that it has an important precedent – one that served as an influence and inspiration for Don Everhart. It turns out that Kennedy’s official presidential portrait – the one that hangs in the White House – also captures JFK in a reflective moment, with his head bowed, his eyes downcast and his arms crossed. The artist, Aaron Shaker, later explained that the oil painting was based on a photograph of the President taken at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the fate of mankind rested quite literally on his shoulders.

The portrait was painted in 1970, seven years after the assassination, and was closely monitored by Kennedy’s widow, Jacqueline, who not only commissioned Shaker but also gave him detailed instructions on how she wanted the President to be shown.

The artist vividly recalled the circumstances, which he recounted in a 1981 article in People magazine.

“I don’t want him to look the way everybody else makes him look, with bags under his eyes and that penetrating gaze. I’m tired of that image,” the former First Lady told him, Shaker said.

Shikler remembered seeing a photo of the President’s brother, Ted, grieving at JFK’s funeral in November 1963 with his arms crossed and his head bowed. The artist made a sketch from that photo, he told People, and that was the image Kennedy’s widow chose to represent her husband in the final portrait.

“All I wanted to portray was a man who looked like he could think,” Shikler explained.

I was struck at once by Jackie’s close involvement with the process and by the fact that the Kennedy painting differs greatly from previous presidential portraits, just as the coinage portrayal of JFK on the new presidential dollar stands in clear contrast to earlier ones.

Keep in mind that Jacqueline Kennedy also played an important role in shaping the final look of the Kennedy half dollar. Given an opportunity to provide her input on that JFK portrait, which was designed by the Mint’s chief sculptor-engraver, Gilroy Roberts, she asked for revisions in the way the hair was shown – and these, of course, were made. As a result, a distinct variety – known by collectors as the “accented-hair” variety – exists for proof 1964 half dollars struck before the change was implemented. Coins of this variety display stronger hair lines than those minted following the change.

To my mind, Don Everhart captured what Jackie would have liked, given the design of the presidential painting. What’s more, I think the President himself would have approved. I base that conclusion on a story my parents told me many years ago regarding brief interaction they had with Jack and Jackie Kennedy at a 1959 banquet in Lake Charles, Louisiana, not far from where we lived.

I fully endorse Don Everhart’s design. Others will surely persist in their objections – especially the notion that it “doesn’t fit in” with other designs in the series. I urge them, though, to keep an open mind.

About the Author: Mike Fuljenz
Mike Fuljenz is a member of the Newsmax Financial Brain Trust. Click Here to read more of his articles. Mike's books, media appearances and newsletters about gold and rare coins have won Best of the Year awards from the Numismatic Literary Guild and the Press Club of Southeast Texas, and he received the NLG's coveted top honor in 2013, "The Clemy Award."

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The just-released John F. Kennedy presidential dollar figured to be among the most popular issues in the ongoing series of $1 coins honoring the nation’s chief executives now in the ninth year of its roughly 10-year run.
JFK, Portrait, Coinage, Dollar
Tuesday, 25 August 2015 08:50 PM
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