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The Coin Analyst: Should the U.S. Mint Reissue More Classic Coins?

by Louis Golino for CoinWeek ……

As I have argued before, the U.S. Mint can learn from other countries’ mints. That does mean we should emulate all their practices, and I am well aware of the differences in the laws that our Mint has to follow, which tend to be more restrictive than those in other countries. That is why many foreign mints issue such a diverse variety of coins using innovative techniques. **

But the U.S. Mint’s legal regime clearly does not require the Mint to be static in the way it goes about minting circulating, bullion, and collectible coins. The Mint may have less latitude than foreign mints have, but it still has some room for maneuver. And recent mint surveys show the Mint is interested in exploring new approaches to coinage, such as by issuing high relief versions of some of its coins.

One approach the Mint has followed since 2006 is to mint reverse proof coins, in which the devices are mirrored and the fields are polished, the opposite of the way proof coins are made. That has been used to good effect on the 2006 reverse proof gold eagle and the 2006, 2011, and 2012 reverse proof silver eagles, which are all quite popular with collectors. Now there is talk of a possible 2013 reverse proof gold Buffalo.

But whether it was because the 2012 silver eagle sets were minted to demand, which dampened interest among speculators, or for some other reason, some collectors seem to be getting tired of the reverse proof concept and crave something different. For example, there are collectors who feel the silver eagle design has been used long enough, and that perhaps it is time to change it, either temporarily or permanently.

I do not think there is a groundswell calling for things like gilded silver eagles, or colorized commemoratives, which are widely issue by foreign mints. But I do believe there is a substantial segment of the coin buying community that wants to see something else, specifically, more classic U.S. coin designs. Such coins could either reproduce the original designs, or they could use the originals as templates, and then modernize the original in a tasteful fashion, as the obverse of the American silver and gold eagles do.

Reissuing the classics is another approach that many foreign mints have been following in recent years.

Examples include the 2012 Latvia folk girl silver coin that is a proof version of a classic Latvian coin issued from 1929 to 1932 , or the various modernized Sower and Hercules coins France has issued in recent years, which were sold at face value and distributed through post offices and the French Mint.

The Royal Canadian Mint has also issued many proof sets that reproduce classic Canadian coins, and recently they issued a set of 5 silver pennies that reproduce each design that has been used on the Canadian penny since its inception.

Also, the Mexican Mint has just started a new Numismatic Heritage series with a set of six bi-metal half ounce coins coming out every year for the next four years. The coins reissue classic Mexican coins like the Cap and Rays silver coin in a half-ounce silver coin with a bimetal ring around them. For more information on this new series, check out the Mexican Mint’s web site section on the heritage program:

The U.S. Mint has done something similar with the Liberty sub-set of the First Spouse $10 gold coins, and of course the obverse of the American gold and silver eagle coins. In addition, the planned American palladium eagle will use the Mercury dime as the obverse and a medal designed by Walking Liberty creator, Adolph Weinman for the reverse.

But my sense is that collectors are hungry for more such coins, especially when they can be tied to an anniversary, and issuing them would help inspire more people to buy and collect U.S. Mint coins.

2014 will mark the 50th anniversary of the beloved Kennedy half dollar, and many collectors seem interested in a special version of that coin. This would be a little different from reissuing the classics since the coin has been issued continuously since 1964, although it is now only issued for collectors and sold in rolls. Some people have called for making the 2014 coin a circulating piece, or doing something else to mark the anniversary.

Classic American gold and silver coins minted before 1933 are widely collected in large part for their timeless beauty, and reissuing more of them besides the obverse of the St. Gaudens double eagle on the American gold eagle would seem to be a winning move for the Mint. Of course legislation would be required, but the Mint could consult with the Congress and explain why such programs would be very popular with collectors and buyers.

A second approach the Mint may wish to consider, if the proper legislation is enacted, would be to mint circulating precious metal coins, as countries like France have done.

Of course the coins would not actually circulate. They would be eagerly saved for their metal content. Perhaps most importantly the coins should be given much higher face values than the America gold eagles, or the 5-ounce America the Beautiful silver coins, and they would be legal tender.

With many states moving to make precious metal coins non-taxable and legal tender, there will be a growing demand for such coins over time.

And the coins could be issued with classic American coin designs, but the higher denomination would make them easy to distinguish from the classic predecessors.

What do you think? Should the Mint reissue the classics, and mint precious metal coins that could be used as legal tender with denominations that corresponded to their approximate precious metal content at the time of minting?

** The recent announcement by the U.S. Mint of a limited edition silver proof set that includes the 2012 silver quarters, dime, and half dollar plus the 2012-W proof silver eagle, which will be released on November 27 , is an example of learning the wrong lessons from foreign mints.  This product has no unique coins, and costs about $22 more than the price of the previously available coins. 

Repackaging coins and saying they have a limited mintage in the new format is the type of practice followed by foreign mints that tends to turn off collectors because it increases the total mintage of the coins in the set. 

Louis Golino is a coin collector and numismatic writer, whose articles on coins have appeared in Coin World, Numismatic News, and a number of different coin web sites. His column for CoinWeek, “The Coin Analyst,” covers U.S. and world coins and precious metals. He collects U.S. and European coins and is a member of the ANA, PCGS, NGC, and CAC. He has also worked for the U.S. Library of Congress and has been a syndicated columnist and news analyst on international affairs for a wide variety of newspapers and web sites.

Louis Golino
Louis Golino
Louis Golino is an award-winning numismatic journalist and writer specializing on modern U.S. and world coins. He has been writing a weekly column for CoinWeek since May 2011 called “The Coin Analyst,” which focuses primarily on modern numismatic issues and developments at major world mints. In August 2015 he received the Numismatic Literary Guild’s (NLG) award for Best Website Column for “The Coin Analyst.” He is also a contributor to Coin World, where he wrote a bimonthly feature and weekly blog, and The Numismatist, the American Numismatic Association’s (ANA) monthly publication, where he writes a monthly column on modern world coins. He is also a founding member of the Modern Coin Forum sponsored by Modern Coin Mart. He previously served as a congressional relations specialist and policy analyst at the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress and as a syndicated columnist and news analyst on international politics and national security for a wide variety of publications. He has been writing professionally since the early 1980s when he began writing op-ed articles and news analyses.

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  1. Louis, while I do enjoy your writing and share many of your opinions, your suggestions are directed at the wrong institution. I commented before that the US Mint is restricted what it can do by the laws passed by congress. If the law specifies the design, then that is the design that the US Mint has to put on a coin–after it is vetted by the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee (CCAC) and the US Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) before being selected by the Secretary of the Treasury. This is the law and unless you can get congress to change the law, telling the US Mint that they need to include more classic designs is like telling a sales clerk a story policy is wrong or the price is too high.

    Creating reverse proofs and packaging sets, like the San Francisco 75th Anniversary Set, is something the US Mint can do within the law since the law only states that the US Mint can create bullion proofs, just not that it has to be a regular or reverse proof–as long as they do not change the design. Sets like the coins and chronicles, silver proofs, presidential dollars and first spouse medals sets, or the alternate packaging for the Start Spangled Banner Silver Dollar proof is something that the US Mint can do under the law.

    Another aspect of the law is the design of the First Spouse series gold coins. Under the law, the obverse first spouse gold coin was to represent a classic design from the era of the president if the president was not married or widowed at the time of being president–except for Chester Arthur, who was a widow, whose first spouse coin was required by law to honor suffragette Alice Paul who was born during Arthur’s term.

    By law, the American Eagle silver coin’s design is Adolph A. Weinman’s Walking Liberty design and the Gold Eagle uses the Saint Gaudens Double Eagle design. The law says that the $50 Gold 24-karat bullion coin is supposed to use James Earle Fraser’s design the first year only, what do you think people would say if the US Mint changed the design?

    Whether or not the US Mint should issue the classic designs is irrelevant–did you know that there is a las to issue a palladium coin with the Mercury dime design *if* a study showed there is a market for palladium bullion? It is giving the US Mint the free hand to issue those designs if it wants to. The issue is convince convince congress to do this because they think they have to micro-manage everything the US Mint does based on their constitutional requirement to coin money. Figure out how the US Mint can get around the issues in Title 31 Section 5112 of the United States Code in order to issue commemorative and bullion coins using more classic designs and without going through the costs and overhead of having to vet these designs through the CCAC and CFA, then you have something.

    Until then, you will have an easier time potty training a petulant child than changing the minds of congress!

  2. Mr. Barman apparently missed the point of my article, which was to stimulate debate on U.S. coin designs. The question “should the Mint reissue more classic coins” was directed at the collecting public and it in no way suggests that the Mint should somehow bypass the existing institutional process of coin issuance and congressional accountability, processes which Mr. Barman evidently does not like. I worked for the Congress for many years and can tell you it has neither the time nor the resources to “micro-manage” all the institutions under its purview. I really don’t think anyone reading my article would have the impression that Mr. Barman seems to that I don’t fully understand the process of coin issuance. In addition, as I said in my piece, only the obverse of the American silver and gold eagles are based on classic coins designs by Adolph Weinman and Augustus St. Gaudens. The reverses were prepared by U.S. Mint artists such as John Mercanti. I recommend that Mr. Barman consult Mr. Mercanti’s new book on silver eagles in which he explains not only the process of designing the reverse of the silver eagle, but also the subtle changes he made to the obverse. Not every law specifices the design of the coins being authorized. If they did, there would be no need for the CFA or CCAC. Take for example, the state quarter and ATB quarters. Many coin laws call for competitions in which artists submit designs that are reviewed by the Mint and the relevant committees (CFA and CCAC) and a final decision is made by the Treasury Secretary, not the Congress. It may not be a perfect process, but it is one that is rooted in the democratic process and one that allows different actors to have a role in the process, which is probably not a bad thing. But again, my article was not about process.

  3. One other point is that what I and a lot of other collectors like are not just coin designs that are replicas of classic coins, but designs that are similar to those coins and inspired by the same ideals. Examples include many of the American platinum eagle designs. Take a look at the designs currently being reviewed by the CFA for the 2013 platinum proof eagle and you will see what I mean. In fact, compared to say 10 years ago there are a lot more classic coin designs and coins that use the image of Lady Liberty and similar allegorical symbols.

  4. Me personally I am tired of seeing the same design year after
    year with our bullion coinage(American Eagle silver and gold).
    Why not use the School Girl design that was suggested for
    pattern coinage? How about the Indian Princess or the Amazonian
    designs? Many of the old pattern designs were just as nice as
    the “Walker or St.Gaudens”.The mint did such a good job with
    the “Indian Head /Buffalo” design a few years back!


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