Coin designer becomes American Idol of metal

My two favorite quotes from this article are, “Jean Fitzgerald calls her husband ‘5 Cent,’ rapper style” and “I do admit that in private moments I Google myself,” (said by Fitzgerald).

By William L. Hamilton, The New York Times March 28, 2005

Though corporate America turns to Martha Stewart or Michael Graves for a little wow in what it sells, the U.S. Mint at the Treasury Department turned to Joe Fitzgerald.

In the world of coins, Fitzgerald, 54, is an overnight sensation. Beating out the mint’s in-house designers and a group of 23 others who constitute the mint’s Artistic Infusion Program, inaugurated last year, Fitzgerald won two commissions for a new nickel.

His portrait of Thomas Jefferson, which is uniquely and controversially off center, with a new larger nose that critics have compared heatedly with Bob Hope’s, appeared on the obverse of a nickel introduced to the public by President Bush on March 1. And Fitzgerald’s design for the reverse (replacing a bison by Jamie Franki) will have its debut in August, making the nickel pretty much Fitzgerald’s personal turf and bragging right, design-wise, whether you agree with his thinking or not. Talk about excitement.

“This is ‘American Idol’ in metal,” Fitzgerald said, sitting at home in suburban Maryland earlier this month with his wife, Jean, and their pug, Fabio. Jean Fitzgerald calls her husband “5 Cent,” rapper style.

For a nickel’s worth of fame, Joe Fitzgerald can afford to boast. Roughly a billion coins bearing his designs will be minted in the next year, circulating as widely as any pop CD. Because the designs are scheduled to be retired in 2006, the Fitzgerald nickel could be one of the most collectible and widely hoarded coins, experts in the field speculate, in American history.

Not bad for the chief of graphics at the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Md., who keeps a coat tree of leather motorcycle jackets in the front hallway because his wife, who works as an archivist with the Smithsonian Institution, thinks he’s too clumsy to own a motorcycle and won’t let him buy one.

“I do admit that in private moments I Google myself,” said Fitzgerald, who is also a painter.

Read the rest of the article at Rocky Mountain News.

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