I have a sincere question about Simpson's designs and this coin. He really seems to be an enigma.
I've always been puzzled when I compare his Roanoke and Norfolk designs with his beautiful Antietam half. What do you think of the Roanoke design? Were there any competing designs?
@fortcollins: Interesting question.
I'm going to guess that at least part of the reason why you say you are "puzzled" is in regards to the stylistic differences seen between the coins.
If this is it, I will say that a difference I have noted between the three Simpson designs is that the Antietam, to my eyes, has a photo-realistic appearance vs. the more stylized approach taken with the Norfolk and Roanoke coins. The designs on the Antietam, IMO, look much more like a pair of photographs with only minor artistic interpretation vs. the other two coins credited to Simpson.
Of course, a very real possible cause of this is the fact that Simpson had the benefit of actual Civil War era photographs of the Battle of Antietam battleground and the battle's major players on which to base his coin design vs. the pre-photographic days of Norfolk's founding and Sir Walter Raleigh's attempt at a colony at Roanoke - much more "artistic interpretation" was necessary for those coin designs. I also believe that Simpson's attendance and graduation from the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) gave him a distinct appreciation for the coin's military theme and that he approached it with a sort of reverence as a result.
Just between you and me (
), however, I think William's wife, Marjorie, gave non-credited assistance to him on the Roanoke design in addition to her credited assistance on the Norfolk. To my eyes, the Norfolk and Roanoke share a measure of artistic "feel" that makes me consider the possibility of a partnership effort. They did, after all, share a studio!
That said, I think the portrait of Raleigh on the Roanoke's obverse is in line with the portraits seen on the Antietam coin and thus is likely the work of William. The stylistic approach and execution of the reverse, however, have a different feel and seem to correspond more with the Norfolk coin; to me, this is where the involvement of Marjorie comes into play.
The possibility of collaboration on both coins seems possible given that the Norfolk and Roanoke had somewhat overlapping timelines, with the Roanoke half dollar and the Norfolk medal approved just two days apart, June 24, 1936 for the Roanoke and June 26, 1936 for the Norfolk.. (Note: Simpson began work on preparing a design for the medal long before the coin that replaced it was approved.)
The original models for each commemorative piece were submitted to the Commission of Fine Arts in late-1936. I can definitely see how the simultaneous timelines could cause both Simpsons to get involved in completing the designs/models for each piece.
If my speculation is true, I believe it explains the difference in design aesthetics among the three coins.
To your specific question about my thoughts on the Roanoke design - I do like it. I think it's well-executed, though a bit crowded with all of the inscriptions it features - some legally required and some included for commemorative reasons. I think the Raleigh portrait side is the coin's stronger design side.
Were there other designs considered for the Roanoke? Simpson did prepare a preliminary set of plasters that were a bit different, though they still featured Raleigh on the obverse and Ellinor/Virginia on the reverse.
I would rank the Norfolk half dollar design number three among the Simpson-designed group. For me, it's hard to get beyond the text-heavy design - it doesn't leave much room for the coin's graphic elements to tell their story. (On a side note, I wonder how recognizable the unlabeled Royal Mace was to the average viewer in 1937 when the coin was issued? I'm referring to "Royal Mace" in general terms, not specifically the one given to Norfolk by Lieutenant Governor Dinwiddie. I don't find that many folks today understand the purpose or significance of a mace.)
Let me know if that addresses your question. If not, I'll try again.