For nearly 30 years, Alaska has been one of the few states in the U.S. that produces state coins. Run by a local family, the Alaska Mint has produced a unique coin each year since it opened in the early ’90s. Each designed by a different local artist, the coins serve to represent Alaska in a more unique way than the typical t-shirt or postcard.
“The coins commemorate Alaska,” Mike Robuck, owner and operator of Alaska Mint, said. “They are a great gift from the state and an interesting and fun addition to any collection, the next step up from a souvenir.”
Of the nearly 20 applicants that submitted potential ideas for the 2018 coin, Megan Warren, junior political science major at UAA, came out on top. Her hand-drawn design, featuring a Cessna 206 bush plane flying over a moose in Denali National Park, captured the essence of Alaska and attracted a variety of buyers by combining multiple interest groups.
Warren’s coin is unique from years prior, focusing on more than just an animal, the most popular design in the past. Born and raised in-state, she is one of the first Alaska Native artists to have a design featured on the state medallion. Some of her inspiration was drawn from her Tlingit background.
“I have roots here, so I have stake in the design. It helped growing up here because I know what Alaskans are into and what they want to see,” Warren said. “My mom is super involved in the Tlingit community, working for the National Parks Service doing tribal relations with villages. I’ve always been really involved in the culture growing up.”
Warren also found inspiration in her personal love for the state, as well as past coin designs.
“I was thinking of some of my favorite parts of Alaska, and Denali is definitely one of them. My grandpa has the same float plane [as the coin],” Warren said. “I thought [Alaska Mint’s] aviation designs, which are separate from the state medallion, looked really nice on the coin… and a lot of them featured moose, so that inspired me.”
Warren’s artistic interest grew during her high school years, although she has never taken an art course while in college. She attended Sitka Fine Arts Camp, a month long summer camp that offers classes in different art subjects, including drawing and painting, from her freshman to junior year of high school.
“I attended a combination of classes I didn’t think I’d be good at and some I already knew I was,” Warren said. “It’s cool to be around people with similar interests, develop new skills and touch up on ones you already have.”
Applications for the 2018 coin were submitted this summer. The criteria was to be a resident of Alaska and create a design that represented the state. Semi-finalists were chosen by Alaska Mint, but the Alaska State Arts Council made the final decision.
“I’m there to help let [the State Arts Council] know what would make a good coin design once we have narrowed down the best of the designs… We look at what the image is and the best layout of design,” Robuck said. “Important aspects are good art, designs that have good content that relates to [Alaska] and not too busy that you cannot see the detail in the coin. It is also important that it is relevant to Alaska.”
In addition to the coin, Warren was awarded with $500 and recognition at December’s First Friday. Despite the other benefits, she felt the coin itself was the most rewarding.
“I love the way the coin turned out,” Warren said. “It’s so cool that [Alaska Mint] does everything in store, I love that part about it. It’s all hand-made and authentic, keeping it home-based.”
The coin making process takes place exclusively at the Alaska Mint shop. The artist’s drawing is carved into clay, creating an original sculpture, according to Robuck. The sculpture is then transferred and cut into steel, and pressed onto the metal by 18 tons of pressure to create the medallion.
“We’re like a microbrewery,” Robuck said. “You can see the workers at the mint from behind the glass, and they’re working most days. We mint on site, creating a cool atmosphere.”
The medallions are produced in six sizes, the most common being the one-ounce coin.
The coins are also pressed onto three different metal types. The silver coin with gold highlights is the most popular among collectors, according to Robuck, as it provides more contrast and definition than the pure gold or silver options. A bronze coin was also added recently to the collection, providing a cheaper option.
The state medallions are minted in limited quantities throughout the calendar year they are designed for, raising their value as the years pass. In addition to collectors coins, the medallions are also made into a number of other products, including necklaces, watches, belt buckles, wine stoppers, bolo ties and more.
The coins are sold at the Alaska Mint shop on West Fourth Avenue, as well as other local stores, including the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport gift shop.