Coins designed by Magrane. CONTRIBUTED

It was an average sort of day; it was dinner time, and the dinner was good, but the conversation was even better. The year was 1905 and two icons spoke of their visions. This wasn’t just a meeting of the minds, but a meal that would change coins in America.  

President Theodore Roosevelt was speaking to acclaimed American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Roosevelt wanted to change the look of American currency, to have coins that were “worthy of our great nation.” Being a master sculptor and visionary, Saint-Gaudens created coins which are still celebrated and often considered among the most beautiful gold coins in history. His visionary American coins are simply called “Saint-Gaudens.” 

Art can be found everywhere, sometimes in places we don’t expect or don’t appreciate. Coins are an art form. Sometimes you see basic, average and ugly coins, but then you have works like the Saint-Gaudens. Dr. Brian Magrane, of Mariners Hospital in Tavernier, is one person who appreciates coins, and from that appreciation comes art.

Magrane’s adoration of coins began as a young boy. He would venture out to Grossman’s Farm, which was located on the outskirts of New York City. Although he visited the farm several times with his mother, this time he would stop at a new spot.  

“I whined, kicked a box, dragged my feet right in the middle of Grossman’s Farm. Perhaps age-appropriate, but my mother was unfazed, as usual,” Magrane recalled. “My mom took me to a location just outside of Grossman’s, where there was an antiques store.”

As most boys would do, he considered all the paintings, lamps, old furniture, clocks to be junk. Going through the antiques store he noticed a glass showcase filled with coins in white holders. The man behind the counter asked, “Do you collect coins?” The young Brian replied, “Of course I do,” even though he didn’t. The man began to talk about a particular penny.   

“This 1909S V.D.B. Lincoln cent is rare”, he said. The V.D.B. Lincoln is a low-mintage coin because of the outrage American citizens had with the placement of the artist’s initials. They argued that it was free advertising for the artist and possibly illegal. The U.S. Mint removed the initials from any further Lincoln cents. The nice man at the antiques store would inspire Magrane into a lifelong journey with coins. 

Between reading and collecting, Magrane became a coin expert over the years. He even began creating his own coins. He appreciates the art form that a coin truly is and began with an idea to make his own coins for special milestones.  

One of his coins features the Spanish treasure ship, the Atocha, sailing in rough waters. He has made up wooden nickel styles, including an American-style buffalo and a Spanish style with a cross and shield.  

Finally, for his daughter’s wedding, he had a coin-making station where people could hammer their own coin featuring a Spanish cross, a wedding date and names of the bride and groom.

Life is art. Coins could be simple designs and basic shapes. There is really no need for a beautifully-sculpted coin, but humankind is fond of adding artistry to items of common use. Some coins are so beautiful we decided to collect them, much like an art collector. We might not spend any time thinking about how the coin looks, but it is important. It is part of us and our culture. 

Coins are timeless. Centuries from now, archaeologists will infuse new interest in our current coins. Magrane has taken his passion for coins and turned it into digital art. The art features classic coin designs created with bold colors and has a pop art vibe. It is through Magrane’s art work that we realize how important coins are to our culture.

“As is not uncommon, childhood coin collecting gets put on hold for years, decades even. Life becomes a devotion. I never forgot coins, hoping that, maybe, someday, I could find my way back to the joy they brought me,” Magrane said. “Little did I know what my return to coins would be like.”  

Today, Magrane seeks out coins on his travels. He also speaks and writes on coins. Catch Magrane’s talk at the Historical Preservation Society of the Upper Keys on Monday, March 11 at 7 p.m. at Coral Isles Church, MM 90 in Tavernier.

William DePaula
William DePaula is an artist, designer and gemologist who believes in the power of art. From his early childhood onward, he has never stopped drawing, painting and creating. He envisions a world in which beauty is as important as function, where culture and history are respected, and where nature is at once powerful and vulnerable. Infusing an essence of life in all his paintings, DePaula understands beauty is accessible to all. DePaula's art has been featured in select art museums around the world.