By Bullion Shark LLC ……
Two commemorative coin programs for 2024 recently passed the Senate and the United States House of Representatives on August 3 and were signed into law by President Joseph R. Biden (D).
One is the Harriet Tubman Bicentennial Commemorative Coin Act that was introduced in the House in March 2021 by Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY5), while the other is the National World War II Commemorative Coin Act introduced in the House in February 2021 by Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH9). Both of them took some time to gain the necessary support of two-thirds of the House and Senate required by law for commemorative coin programs, and then both passed the House on July 26 and the Senate the very next day.
Both programs involve the full trio of coins the United States Mint often issues – clad half dollars, silver dollars and $5 gold coins with the usual maximum mintages of 750,000, 400,000 and 50,000, respectively for two versions of each coin – one struck in Proof and the other in Mint State.
Collectors often point out that in recent decades almost no program has sold all of those amounts – apart from the 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame $5 gold coins and the 2019 Apollo 11 50th anniversary coins. But those mintages are only the maximum amount that can be struck. It does not mean the Mint produces that many coins. In fact, as was the case in the past couple of years, the Mint produces these coins to demand based on the orders received during a certain period, which is why, for example, this year there was a delay of several months from the time buyers orders the 2022 Negro Leagues and Purple Heart coins until they began shipping.
For the World War II Memorial coins, H.R. 1057 and its companion Senate bill state that the design of the coins shall be emblematic of the memorial and the service and sacrifice of American soldiers and civilians during World War II. And all surcharges received from the sale of such coins shall be paid to the Friends of the National World War II Memorial to support the National Park Service in maintaining and repairing the memorial, and for educational and commemorative programs.
The National World War II Memorial was dedicated on May 29, 2004, and is located on the east end of the Reflecting Pool on the National Mall, opposite the Lincoln Memorial and west of the Washington Monument. The bill’s creator, Rep. Kaptur, noted that the coins are a way to recognize the many sacrifices of the “Greatest Generation” during that war.
In 2020, the Mint issued a $25 gold coin and silver medal for the 75th anniversary of the end of the war that was not authorized by Congress because it has the existing legal authority to strike gold and platinum coins and silver medals whenever it chooses.
As for the Harriet program, H.R. 1842 states that the designs of the coins minted under this Act shall be emblematic of the legacy of Harriet Tubman as an abolitionist. At least one obverse design shall bear the image of Harriet Tubman. All surcharges add to the price of each coin are to be paid to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, and The Harriet Tubman Home, Inc. in Auburn, New York, for the purpose of accomplishing and advancing their missions.
Prior to the sending of any such funds, each program must first recoup all of the costs involved in creating and marketing the coins. There have been several programs in recent years that did not meet that threshold, such as the 2013 Girl Scouts centennial silver dollar. By law, commemorative coins are produced at no net cost to the taxpayer.
Tubman was born in 1822, making the issuance of the coins in 2024 as a bicentennial of her birth two years late as a result of the time needed to build support for the bill plus competition from other programs. However, there are currently no programs that have passed either chamber for 2023, which raises the question of why they did not specify the coins could be issued then. This is not the first time Congress has created a commemorative program that will be issued later than it should have been in terms of the anniversary being recognized.
Tubman, who freed herself from slavery in Maryland, became a legendary abolitionist and worked to free at least 70 former slaves using the famous Underground Railroad network that ran from Maryland to Pennsylvania. After 1850, this work became especially dangerous because of the Fugitive Slave Act but she continued her efforts and brought the slaves to Canada to achieve their freedom.
Later she helped abolitionist John Brown recruit supporters for the famous raid on Harper’s Ferry, became a spy, cook, and nurse in the Civil War, and was the first woman to lead an armed expedition in the war. In 1860, she became an activist for women’s rights working with people like Susan B. Anthony. And she transferred a 25-acre parcel of land to a church that was later used to create the Harriet Tubman Home for aged and indigent negroes.
In these and other ways, Tubman had a very large impact on the history and culture of the United States and is a historic figure who is long overdue for recognition on our coinage. There are plans to issue a $20 bill bearing her image to replace bills with Andrew Jackson, but they are delayed by the Treasury Department’s efforts to first make our currency more secure. Last year, the Biden administration said it would work to speed up issuing the bill, but nothing has happened since then at least that is public.
120 Coins in 2023?
Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ4) recently introduced H.R. 8244, a bill that calls for the issuance of coins to honor Arizona firefighters known as the Granite Mountain Hotshots who died in 2013. Nineteen of them perished while putting out the Yarnell Hill fire – the deadliest in the state’s history — with just one of them surviving.
The bill calls for issuing 20 different coins – one for each firefighter – in six versions: clad half dollars, silver dollars, and $5 gold coins in Mint State and Proof in 2023 for the 10th anniversary of the fire.
Surcharges would go towards wildfire prevention and sale, but the bill only has its original two co-sponsors now. With only five months left in the year, it remains unclear whether the bill will get very far, especially since numismatists widely agree that it does not make sense to issue 120 different coins.
One silver dollar might work, but as it is written the bill represents a classic case of Congress overreaching wildly with these commemorative coin programs as a means to raise funds. And that is why many numismatic experts and some members of Congress argue that the entire practice of adding surcharges to the price of these coins should simply be abolished.