By Hubert Walker for CoinWeek ….
UPDATE: Within five minutes after 12:00 pm Eastern Standard Time, both the West Point issue and San Francisco Mint issue of the 2016 American Liberty Silver Medal are listed as “Currently Unavailable” on the U.S. Mint’s online catalog. While not an official sell-out, this status means that all available inventory of the medals has been accounted for and no more orders can be placed at this time. More stock may be available in the future, but a date has yet to be determined. All potential customers are encouraged to visit the Mint’s website to sign up for reminders when such product is for sale once more.
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At noon Eastern Time today (Tuesday, August 23), the 2016 American Liberty Silver Medal will be available for order from the United States Mint. It is a rendition in silver of the 2015 American Liberty High relief Gold Coin. Demand is high, with a quick sell-out of available inventory possible, if not likely.
But how a silver medal version of a 2015 gold coin came to be made in 2016 is a relatively complicated story, offering insights into recent changes in how coin programs and coin designs are made.
CCAC Proposal Goes to Congress
On April 19, 2013, the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee (CCAC), under the leadership of now-former Chairman Gary Marks, unanimously passed a resolution recommending that the United States Mint issue a circulating commemorative coin program featuring Lady Liberty, starting in 2015. The plan, as approved by the CCAC, involved modern (not classical) images of Liberty on special-issue dimes, quarters and half dollars. 2015 would have seen the release of a Liberty dime alongside the year’s regular Roosevelt issue and 2016 would see the release of a Liberty quarter alongside the Washington. This release pattern was to repeat indefinitely, with Liberty coinage making up at least 50% of total dime and quarter mintages. A special Liberty half dollar design would accompany the release of each year’s Kennedy half until 10 years had passed, at which time a new Liberty design would be used.
Collector coins in .999 fine silver would also have been authorized.
As originally conceived, the CCAC’s proposal had included one- and five-cent pieces as well, but these were dropped in an attempt to assuage a balky Congress since the denominations cost more to produce than they’re worth at face value.
On June 27, U.S. Representative Garland “Andy” Barr (R-KY6) introduced the American Liberty Coinage and Deficit Reduction Act of 2013 (H.R.2535). This bill, which incorporated the CCAC’s proposals, was referred to the House Committee on Financial Services the same day but never received a vote. It died in committee.
The bill presented the same design specifications for each of the three denominations. The obverse was to feature designs “emblematic and allegoric of the concept of ‘American Liberty'”, while the reverse included an American bald eagle, a Roman fasces (a bundle of rods surrounding an axe head and bound with ribbons or strips of leather) to symbolize civil government and the “torch of knowledge”. Otherwise, motifs were to be “emblematic and allegoric” of “The Union” or “depict one or more of the American values and attributes of freedom, independence, peace, strength, equality, democracy, and justice”.
Ultra High Relief Gold Coin & Silver Medal
On July 22, 2014, the CCAC unanimously approved a proposal from the U.S. Mint to produce an American Liberty ultra high relief gold coin and a companion silver medal to be dated and released in 2015. The gold coin would contain one troy ounce of 24-karat gold and have a face value of $20 (a double eagle). The obverse would feature a modern depiction of Liberty and the reverse would be based on a design by Artistic Infusion Program (AIP) artist Paul C. Balan that the CCAC had recommended in April 2014 to replace the American Silver Eagle reverse designed by John Mercanti (View Designer’s Profile).
Changing the almost 30-year-old design had been another pet goal of the CCAC for several years, but the Mint decided against the current proposal to alter the highly-successful Silver Eagle bullion coin, thereby freeing up the new design for use on a different issue. The Mint therefore proposed to utilize it on the new, ultra high relief gold coin and silver medal.
Of course, many collectors had been waiting for such a program from the U.S. Mint ever since the 2009 release of the Ultra High Relief Double Eagle Gold Coin, which itself was the product of former Mint Director Edmund Moy’s vision to honor the original high relief design of Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ classic representation of Liberty on the 1907 $20 gold double eagle.
To everyone involved, producing a lasting legacy of beautiful design on modern American coinage was very much a priority.
Controversy & Uncertainty
On January 27, 2015, the CCAC discussed a portfolio of several potential designs for the American Liberty high relief coin, which notably, intentionally, and (to some) controversially included “ethnic” and non-white representations of Liberty. While an ethnically-ambiguous depiction created by AIP artist Justin Kunz was ultimately chosen, one of the runners-up–an explicitly African-American Lady Liberty–was singled out to be carried over into the next year’s batch of design prospects, should the program continue.
Also up in the air was whether or not a silver medal would be made.
While the Mint has general authority to issue gold coins (31 U.S.C. 5112 (i)(4)(C)) at the discretion of the Treasury Secretary, it does not have the same blanket permission when it comes to a silver medal; that authority rests entirely with the Secretary of the Treasury.
According to the CCAC, the issuance of silver medal versions of the American Liberty High Relief Gold Coin would be vital because gold is often too expensive for the interested collector.
But, just in case the silver medal aspect of the series fell through, Gary Marks had proposed a series of Proof silver medals featuring Liberty at the previous committee meeting in April of 2013. The medals would be dated, and bear a new design each year. Bronze and even gold medals would possibly have been issued as part of that program, as well.
Gold Release & “Sell-Out”
On July 30, 2015, the 2015 American Liberty Gold Coin was released. The obverse, designed by Justin Kunz, was engraved by Mint Sculptor-Engraver Phebe Hemphill (View Designer’s Profile). The reverse, designed by Paul C. Balan, was engraved by Mint stalwart Don Everhart (View Designer’s Profile). A mintage limit of 50,000 coins was set, and a household order limit of 50 units was in effect. It featured a face value of $100.
The coin was listed as “Currently Unavailable” within hours.
Still, even with the overwhelming popularity of the inaugural gold issue, no silver medal American Liberty product would be struck in 2015. The Mint had announced as much on July 13, 17 days before the gold coin’s release.
2016 Liberty Silver Medal
Good news came eventually, though, when the United States Mint released its 2016 product schedule on December 20, 2015. Not only was an American Liberty silver medal included on the Mint’s agenda for the upcoming year, but there would also be two versions available: one minted in West Point and another minted in San Francisco. Few other details were released.
Product specifications came later in the year. 12,500 pieces would be minted at each branch facility. The medals would have a proof finish and consist of one troy ounce of .999 fine silver (indeed, the medals would be struck on Silver Eagle planchets). The edges would be smooth and bear no inscriptions.
Each medal would be priced at US$34.95 retail.