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Plant Focus

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Quercus stenophylloides is a medium-sized evergreen oak (15–18 m tall) restricted to central and northern Taiwan.

Oak-Themed Platinum Proof Coins

The United States Mint announced last month that it is launching a new five-year Platinum Proof Coin Program series starting in 2021 and continuing through 2025. The series uses the lifecycle of the oak tree from seedling to a mighty oak as a metaphor for the United States’ growth as a nation that values freedom. As stated in the Mint’s announcement: “Liberty grows to a thing of strength and beauty from a seed—the US Bill of Rights.”

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution Platinum Proof Coin Program will reflect the five freedoms enumerated in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution—that is: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

All obverse designs in this series were created by Artistic Infusion Program (AIP) Designer Donna Weaver and engraved by Chief Engraver Joseph Menna. Each design—one for each year—depicts a moment in the life of an oak that illustrates one of the freedoms referred to in the inscription that surrounds the image.

According to Donna Weaver, the assignment had its particular set of challenges and opportunities. "It was a very abstract assignment," she said, "so I needed to find an image that would be able to express the theme over a five-year period. An often-used metaphor for liberty is the oak, and the lifecycle of the tree fit very well with the theme. Now all I had to do was devise interesting ways to illustrate that."

2021 Platinum Proof Coin
Obverse of the 2021 American Eagle Platinum One Ounce Proof Coin, showing a seedling and an acorn

The assignment focuses on the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the first of ten that constitute the Bill of Rights. "These rights are basic to our understanding of liberty," said Donna, "with liberty defined as the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one's way of life, behavior, or political views. I chose to use the oak tree as a metaphor for our country’s growth as a nation that values freedom."

2022 Platinum Proof Coin
Line drawing of the design for the 2022 American Eagle Platinum One Ounce Proof Coin: an oak twig in flower

The designs for the second and third coins in the series focus on freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Liberty blossoms and bears fruit through freedom of expression, just as an oak flowers with the promise of future acorns.

2023 Platinum Proof Coin
Line drawing of the design for the 2023 American Eagle Platinum One Ounce Proof Coin: the branch of a mature oak tree with acorns


"The genus Quercus is made up of hundreds of oak species and could in some respects be an allegory of our country," said Donna. "The oak tree itself was named America’s National Tree in 2004. In the design for the 2024 coin, leaves of several types of oak trees are assembled much like the First Amendment gives the peoples of the United States the right to peaceably assemble."

2024 Platinum Proof Coin
Line drawing of the design for the 2024 American Eagle Platinum One Ounce Proof Coin: oak leaves of several species (can you identify them?)

The selection of oak species for this design was driven to a large extent by what Donna found close at hand. "I live just down the street from a small but lovely park," she said, "the John Paul Park in Madison, Indiana, originally the burying ground for the town. I walked there often and seeing the variety of oaks there began to collect the leaves, knowing I would use them in my design." The Park, established in the early 20th century, includes a planting of a loose circle of 13 trees, each representing one of the original colonies. Five of these trees remain, including two oaks: a northern red oak (Quercus rubra) representing Pennsylvania, and a chinkapin oak (Q. muehlenbergii) representing Connecticut (Lewis 2008).

Leaves collected from John Paul Park
Leaves from veteran trees at John Paul Park, Madison, Indiana, collected by Donna Weaver for her oak-themed coin designs: Quercus coccinea (left) and Q. muehlenbergii (right)

Donna collected leaves from the chinkapin oak and from what appears to be scarlet oak (Q. coccinea), and they are featured in the design of the 2024 coin: chinkapin oak at top left, and scarlet oak top center and below to the right. The other leaves are of two widely distributed U.S. oaks, white oak (Q. alba) at center and bur oak (Q. macrocarpa) below it. 

2025 Platinum Proof Coin
Line drawing of the design for the 2025 American Eagle Platinum One Ounce Proof Coin

In the design for the final coin of the series, a mature, spreading oak tree fills the space. "The oak, known for strength, can live for centuries," said Donna. "It is a symbol of strength, morale, resistance, and knowledge. The oak endures as do our freedoms given to us by the First Amendment to our Constitution."

More information is available on the United States Mint website, where you can also purchase the coins. The first in the series, the 2021 Freedom of Religion coin, went on sale on February 4, 2021. The nominal value of each coin is USD 100, but the cost of buying one is a little more. Be prepared for sticker shock: after all, platinum doesn’t grow on trees!

References

Lewis, A.L. 2008. Merging past and present: John Paul Park, Madison, Indiana. Undergraduate 5th year College of Architecture and Planning thesis. Ball State University. Muncie, Indiana. Available at: http://cardinalscholar.bsu.edu/handle/handle/189199. Accessed March 31, 2021.

Originally published February 12, 2021, updated April 17, 2021.