When it comes to producing the beautiful coins and medals issued by the U.S. Mint, many people focus primarily on the artist who designed a particular piece. But just as important as creating the coin’s design is the sculptors and engravers who turn art on paper into the three-dimensional, sculptural art coin collectors love. And that is why unlike most other mints that typically only acknowledge the person who created the design of a coin, typically by adding their initials to the side or sides they designed, the U.S. Mint also includes the initials of the sculptor on each coin its issues.
Michael Gaudioso retired from the U.S. Mint in late 2020 after a 13-year career there as a Medallic Artist on the engraving staff, where he served starting in September 2008. Three years earlier, the Mint switched to doing its sculpting using digital technologies, which played a major role in how he does his work. But working by hand is still part of the process, as he explained to a collector interested in one of his works: The mold is made in plaster after the clay prototype is sculpted. The entire process to deliver a finished product for rendering is about two weeks and is reduced from about 10 inches to the size of the quarter for die striking.”
Michael is a classically-trained draftsman and sculptor who studied art and sculpture at some of the most prestigious institutions in the field. He is a graduate of the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and then earned a Master of Fine Arts from the New York Academy Graduate School of Figurative Arts in New York City. And from 1995 to 1999 he studied at the Repin Institute in Saint-Petersburg, Russia also known as the Royal Academy of Arts, where he studied sculpture.
Founded in 1757 and moved to its current facility in 1789 by Catherine the Great, the Repin Institute is the oldest and largest art school in Russia and offers 4-year degree programs in painting, sculpture, architecture and art history. It has 700 students and 160 instructors.
Before joining the Mint, Gaudioso worked as a master plaster and designer for Willet Hauser, one of the nation’s largest and oldest stained glass studios based in Winona, Minnesota.
Silver Eagle sculpt
Although Michael worked on dozens of different coins and medals while working at the Mint, his best-known accomplishment was engraving Emily Damstra’s stunning new American Silver Eagle reverse design that was unveiled by the Mint in October 2020 and has been featured on every bullion, Proof and special collector version of the Silver Eagle since the middle of 2021.
Last year Gaudioso noted of his work on the historic Silver Eagle redesign that was undertaken at the initiative of former Mint Director David J. Ryder, who had to receive approval from Treasury Secretary Mnuchin to move forward with it: “To be part of the American Silver Eagle’s legacy is a career-defining honor.” His initials, “MG” appear on the reverse under the eagle on the right.
The design he sculpted will remain on the coin’s reverse for at least the next 25 years due to an 1890 law that only allows the design of a coin to be changed that often. At that point, the change can be made by the U.S. Mint on its own authority without seeking approval from the U.S. Congress.
His last sculpt for the U.S. Mint is also one that is hugely popular among collectors of modern American coin and one that you probably have received in change at some point in the past two years, namely, the 2021 Washington Crossing the Delaware one-year only quarter dollar that was issued in early 2021 after the final America the Beautiful quarter was released. That quarter dollar, which was designed by Artistic Infusion Program artist Benjamin Sowards, depicts General George Washington commanding his troops through the overnight crossing of the ice-choked Delaware River prior to the Battle of Trenton during the American Revolutionary War.
Other U.S. coins and medals
In addition to those two high-profile coins from the last part of his career, Michael also worked on about 40 other U.S. coins and medals during his Mint career, including the 2017 and 2019 American Liberty $100 High Relief Gold Coin and silver medal, the 2020 American Platinum Eagle Proof coin, several America the Beautiful quarters such as the popular 2017 George Rogers Clark coin, the common obverse for the 2020 Basketball Hall of Fame commemorative coin program, the American Legion silver dollar, several coins in the First Spouse $10 gold coin series, various military-themed medals and a number of other coins and medals.
Many of the coins Michael work on, including especially the 2017 American Liberty gold coin, which won a Coin of the Year Award in 2019, have been either nominated for or received awards.
In January 2021 he signed an exclusive deal with NGC to hand sign certification labels for NGC-graded coins.
The impact of Michael’s work on U.S. medals and coins will be felt for a long time to come because he sculpted or designed so many different issues, including many that were for circulation coins received by millions of Americans as well as because of his work on the new reverse of the Silver Eagle that will continue to be struck on millions of those coins in the future.