The Landscape Coin Project

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Thanks to Mark Horn for blogging the coin project in May of '07.

Coin Drop of the Month for August, 2006

View of Preston Castle, Ione, California


The small and picturesque town of Ione, California is dominated by the hilltop profile of the abandoned Preston Castle. The "castle" is the former Preston School of Industry, a work camp for wayward youth. We attempted to reach it by car, and entered the manicured grounds that surround it by the main driveway. The grounds are dotted with modern and well-kept cottages. But our progress was halted by a chain-link fence that bisected the grounds: on the other side of the fence the grounds immediately surrounding the "castle" were weedy and overgrown. The sign on the fence read "California Youth Authority." It turns out that the hundreds of acres of grounds that encircle the abandoned gothic structure are still part of the state youth control and discipline infrastructure. The "castle" was impossible to photograph from the proximity of the chain-link fence because of the trees that surround it. It is clearly visible for miles around, when viewed from a greater distance. I reached a viewpoint the next day on the grounds of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention Academy, which neighbors the Preston/California Youth Authority property. The coin was left at that viewpoint, where I took the picture on the left. The north side side of the chain-link fence can be seen in the middle ground of the picture.

Through the densely wooded hills that characterize the region, it was possible to tell that the Preston grounds are covered with contemporary youth-containment fencing. Yet none of the inmate housing or other facilities were directly visible from any angle: the cottages we drove past on our way to the chain link fence were administrative headquarters only. I found it noteworthy that while the spectre of a frightening history was embodied in the highly visible public landmark of the "castle," the contemporary iteration of that imprisonment is nearly invisible. The town of Ione is filled with framed photographs of its most visually impressive landmark, which is described non-ironically as a Castle on many posters and postcards. The picture of the framed portrait was taken in a local coffee shop. --MSP

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Previously featured coin drops of the month 2006    2005    2004   2003  2002    2001

Project Status

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Description of the Project

In Spring 2000, we began to place coins of our own design at various sites we traverse as we lead our lives. In doing so, we are attempting to recognize and mark places that we believe deserve our attention and thought.

Some sites have been chosen because they are rich with memory. Some mark the location of major or minor (but significant) historical or cultural events. Other sites are contested places - places where people have fought for ownership or control of land, resources, or communities. And we have chosen some places simply because we think they might reveal something about the evolving relationship between human beings and the world they inhabit or once inhabited.

The coins are meant to be found by anyone - residents, explorers, workers, tourists, and people who play at the sites where we have left them. We leave them in the hope that finders will reflect upon their meaning, contemplate the landscape where they were found, and ponder what hidden histories might be mapped there. We also hope that in future years, as the coins bounce in peoples' pockets and are twirled in their fingers, they will inspire reflection about landscape and history that is not limited to the site where the coin was found.

Like many observers, we see "landscape" neither as the work of artists or architects nor as a scene necessarily marked by the beauty of nature. Landscape to us means more than just natural landscape. It also means human landscape - the living, ever-changing, four-dimensional record of human life, work and leisure. "Landscape is history made visible," said J.B. Jackson (1909-1996), a cultural geographer who wrote many thoughtful things about how people relate to the places where they live, work, and travel. Our everyday landscape is largely unplanned and accidental. It may not be orderly or beautiful to every eye, but that does not give us an excuse to ignore what we are facing and move on. We are makers of the landscape around us, and the landscape we inhabit influences the shape of our lives and our view of ourselves.

We ask those who find a coin to value it in their own way, and at the same time consider how the place where they found it has been valued by others. Are land and landscape ultimately properties, commodities to be bought and sold? Or, in the final analysis, do they belong to all of us? How does an ordinary, everyday landscape like a highway or an abandoned industrial tract compare in value to a venerated historical site or a pleasant suburban neighhorhood? And who is it, anyway, that decides the value of the money we carry in our pockets and purses?

The phrase "Value Me As You Please" first appeared on tokens minted well before the American Revolution, in 1737. Samuel Higley, M.D., owner of the Simsbury copper mine in East Granby, Connecticut, minted copper tokens that carried the text "THE.VALUE.OF.THREE.PENCE." According to legend, local taverns started to dispute the value of his "coinage," as his pieces contained only as much copper as British halfpence. Dr. Higley responded by minting tokens inscribed: "VALUE.ME.AS.YOU.PLEASE / I.AM.GOOD.COPPER."

Megan Shaw Prelinger and Rick Prelinger collaborated to produce the coin, and plan to distribute it over a 10-year period, at the rate of approximately 1,000 coins per year. Megan made the drawings, which were then engraved into dies that stamped out the coin. Rick conceptualized the coin and wrote the text. We gratefully acknowledge the thoughtful and elegant contribution of Diane Bertolo, who designed the type and integrated it with the images. We also thank Marina McDougall and Awest for creating early drawings of what the coin might look like. We appreciate their help and kindness.

The coin is manufactured of "alloy 230," which is 85% copper and 15% zinc. It is 30.6mm in diameter, close to the size of the U.S. fifty-cent piece, and weighs 10.2 grams. It was minted in Monterey, California.

We dropped the first coin in Monterey on April 28, 2000.

We are keeping an ongoing record of the sites where coins have been dropped. This record documents our everyday activities and travels, and hopefully will trace our process of learning to become better observers of the human landscape.

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About the Artwork

About the places depicted on the faces of the coins. They are not particular places. They are abstractions that were designed to connote landscapes so commonplace that they often go unseen, yet are packed with meaning. On the obverse side, a road disappearing into the horizon. On the reverse side, an empty industrial yard.

The road image is (to us) dense with associations: the conquest of the west; the power of roads to frame our images of landscape; Americans' preoccupation with cars; manifest destiny; the cultural motif of the road trip; the symmetry and beauty of a commonly received image; the slicing in two of a previously whole desert; the quest for empty space.

The industrial yard image is perhaps a little more abstract. Our associations with it include: deindustrialization; economic narratives writ large on landscape; devalued space; wasted space; the relation between human living space and working space; "invisible" space. I think of the water tower as an icon of uninterpreted landscapes.

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Contact us

If you have found one of our coins, or if you have any comments regarding the project, we would enjoy hearing from you. Thank you for visiting. --Megan Shaw Prelinger and Rick Prelinger

Go to Megan's main page.

Go to Rick's main page.