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Designer hopes Md. values coin; Mint: No two-bit contestant, he offers three quarters to commemorate the state's entry into the Union.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

It's a fair bet that William Krawczewicz is younger than the quarter in his pocket. But at 32, Krawczewicz stands a good chance of making Maryland history because of the coin.

The Crofton resident created three of the final five designs -- whittled from 280 entries -- under consideration for Maryland's commemorative quarter, part of the U.S. Mint's 10-year program to honor the 50 states in the order they joined the Union.

With the issue of the first state's coin a few days ago at a bank in Wilmington, Del. -- 200 people awaited the armored-truck delivery of the quarter featuring patriot Caesar Rodney -- coin envy has begun in Maryland. But both Krawczewicz and the public have to wait until Gov. Glendening approves the winning design by April 29, and the Mint issues the quarter early next year.

If you had told him 10 years ago that he would become a winning practitioner of metallic sculpture, Krawczewicz says, "I would have laughed. I wouldn't have believed you." But in his first job out of college, Krawczewicz found himself surrounded by images of pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters and the occasional silver dollar. It turned out to be a fortuitous COIN-cidence.

Today, Krawczewicz is a White House graphic artist. He produces everything from presidential seals for bill-signing ceremonies to anti-drug posters to White House Easter Egg Roll brochures. It's a great, impressive job. He's even working on the cover design for President Clinton's State of the Union Address on Monday. But the man can't resist entering commemorative coin design competitions.

Last October, Krawczewicz, a 1988 graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, learned that his scrupulously researched designs of the State House Dome, the state of Maryland, and the Ark and Dove -- the boats that brought the first English settlers to Maryland in 1634 -- had been selected as finalists by the Maryland Commemorative Quarter Committee.

Princess Anne school teacher Frank O'Rourke's rendering of the State House facade was also singled out, as was Baltimorean Don Curtis' outline of Fort McHenry, a joint entry with the Francis Scott Key Memorial Foundation.

In his 6-year-old sideline, Krawczewicz, a tall man with a bright smile and shy manner, has racked up a phenomenal list of winning coin designs.

Before he worked at the White House, Krawczewicz took a similar post at the U.S. Mint. While designing advertising brochures and annual reports, "I got attracted to coins and medals," he says. Krawczewicz learned to value the artistry of a simply wrought, symbolically powerful "coinable" design.

In his spare time, Krawczewicz began to enter national coin design contests. Competing against thousands of others, some coin buffs twice his age, some hopeful schoolchildren, Krawczewicz won three major commemorative coin competitions.

His depiction of an angular and wise James Madison now graces a silver dollar struck in 1992 to honor the Bill of Rights. Krawczewicz created a winning design for the 1994 World Cup Soccer coin. After these triumphs, Mint officials invited Krawczewicz to enter a design contest for a commemorative coin series that would raise money for the 1994 Olympics. Three of his designs were chosen, earning him more than $4,500 in prize money.

The Mint's quarter competition is the first commemorative quarter to be issued since the hugely popular Bicentennial quarter was released in 1976. It does not offer a cash prize.

Lifelong Marylander Krawczewicz, who hits the books and visits historic sites for each design, anxiously awaits the governor's decision.

"It's great to be able to have that opportunity to do something that the state will actually use and implement," he says.

Like Krawczewicz, Frank O'Rourke, a 61-year-old Greenwood middle-school teacher with the Maryland's Tomorrow program, has had good luck in design contests. A self-professed "amateur," O'Rourke designed the winning seal for the town of Princess Anne and placed third in a similar contest in Crisfield.

O'Rourke chose a Maryland State House theme because it is the oldest such building still in use in the country. George Washington resigned his commission at the State House, where his statue stands, thus linking the design to the quarter's reverse image of the nation's first president.

Don Curtis, vice president of the Maryland Numismatic Association, thought that a design of Fort McHenry was a natural, because the birthplace of the national anthem was something "the whole country would be proud about." The 49-year-old Army engineer based his Fort McHenry outline (his first coin contest entry) on a rendering he pulled off the Internet.

Curtis, an ardent coin collector since childhood, says, "It would be really great to have a millennium coin, one of the first coins with the year 2000 on it."

The sale of silver proof sets of the 50 State Quarters, as well as the tendency of Americans to take commemorative coins out of circulation, is expected to put hundreds of million dollars in government coffers and greatly reduce the cost of interest on the public debt.

For Stephen Bobbitt, spokesman for the American Numismatic Association in Colorado Springs, the U.S. Mint's 50 State Quarters Program is a great boon to the coin-collecting hobby as well.

The more coin designs, the more coins to collect. And this program makes it easy: A beginner could collect all 50 coins for $12.50.

Coin collectors see the quarter program, authorized by Congress in 1997, as evidence that that the U.S. Mint is willing to shed its stodgy image and start issuing a wider variety of coin designs. The U.S. Postal office, with its fun-loving stamps touting Loony Tunes characters, Elvis and other pop culture heroes, is the obvious model.

Whether the Mint will make the leap to subjects without historical heft is "really hard to say," Bobbitt says. "Up until 1909, all American coinage embodied allegorical figures of liberty, always as a woman. Then in 1909, Lincoln went on the penny." He's been on there ever since.

There are signs of change -- over the border. Canada, whose commemorative coin program honoring its Provinces inspired the U.S. Mint's quarter program, also issued a $10 Elvis piece not too long ago.

But don't get too excited. Wasn't that Dolley Madison who popped up Monday on a commemorative silver dollar?

Pub Date: 1/13/99

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