Frustrated by congressional inaction on its coin proposals, members of the Citizen Coin Advisory Committee have decided to push one of the group’s long-cherished coin ideas more aggressively.
Meeting in Washington April 19, the committee voted unanimously to press the panel’s argument for a new Liberty-themed circulating commemorative coin series.
The committee has included the proposal in its annual report for five years, but the idea, along with several other committee ideas for new coins, has failed to win the support of lawmakers.
After three members of the CCAC met March 19 with Rep. Andy Barr, R-Ky., the trio decided to go public with the idea of a committee push to get Congress to consider the series.
A key point in the argument that three committee members placed before the rest of the committee is that the series could produce large profits for the U.S. Mint and could help reduce the federal deficit through gains in seigniorage.
Barr, a freshman member of the House Financial Services committee, stressed to CCAC Chair Gary B. Mark, Erick Jansen and Michael Moran in their meeting that any plan for new coinage must involve no cost to taxpayers.
The CCAC had initially proposed issuing a series of Liberty-themed designs for each of the five circulating coins — cents, 5-cent coins, dimes, quarter dollars and half dollars. One of the coins would be issued each year, with continuing issuance of the current circulating designs for the same denominations.
Citing the high costs of cents and 5-cent coins, the committee agreed to drop them from the latest proposal.
Instead they called for a Liberty-themed dime to be the first coin to be issued in 2015 with a continuation of the Roosevelt dime. The proposed dime would be issued for one year and would be retired at the end of the year.
A Liberty quarter dollar would be issued in 2016 along with the five coins in the America the Beautiful quarter dollar program.
In 2017 a second Liberty dime would be issued, also for one year, and it would be followed by another Liberty quarter dollar.
The committee said it wants to place a Liberty half dollar in the program as a numismatic product; the coin would be given a new design every 10 years.
Congress would have to approve annual design changes to the coins. While technically the secretary of the Treasury has the authority to change the designs of the Roosevelt dime and Kennedy half dollar without congressional approval, the Treasury Department in recent years has been reluctant to initiate coinage design change without congressional support. Under existing statute, the designs on the dime and half dollar could be changed by Treasury unilaterally, but then could not be changed again until after 25 years, unless Congress otherwise dictates.
The beauty of Liberty
The committee’s resolution pointed out that Liberty-themed coins with allegorical images were featured on American coins from the early 1790s into the mid-20th century.
Among those coins were “some of the most inspiring, uplifting and beautiful coins ever created by the U.S. Mint,” the committee said in its resolution for the program. They are “among the most sought after collectibles,” it added.
The three collectors who worked on the program said they had no doubt that a series of such coins would be a huge boon to the Mint.
Moran estimated that profits from the coins would be $57.8 million a year or $579 million over 10 years.
He said the three men had reached those numbers using figures from the Mint’s public reports.
But the group also did two other “sensitivity cases” in case their sales estimate were off.
The first scenario called for a 20 percent lower sales level, which would cut 10-year profits to $471 million. The second called for a 5 percent increase above their projections, which would boost U.S. Mint profits to $606 million.
The three members wanted to formally ask the Mint to verify their projections, but Greg Weinman, a Mint lawyer who advises the CCAC, urged that request not be made formal. He said it might be “questionable” if the CCAC was empowered to make such a request of the Mint.
Weinman has insisted that the committee must restrict itself to advising the Mint on coin designs and not stray into other policy issues.
“It’s compelling that we take a serious look at this program,” said Moran, who is a friend of Rep. Barr and lives in his district.
“There is no reason not to consider this,” agreed Michael Olson, a collector from Iowa.
Donald Scarinci, a medals specialist from New Jersey, has argued in the past that the U.S. needs more modern designs on its coins and medals.
This program could reinvigorate U.S. coin design, he said.
“Let’s face it: Augustus Saint-Gaudens is dead,” Scarinci said. “Let’s get over it.” Coin designs by Saint-Gaudens, who died in 1907, are often cited as among the most beautiful in U.S. coinage history.
“What an opportunity to bring new art to our coinage,” Jansen said.
Presumably the next step is to convince Rep. Barr and some of his colleagues to introduce legislation for the series and then to push it through the House as a deficit reduction measure.
The three CCAC members who pushed the project stressed that they took their initial step in meeting with Barr as individuals and not in the committee’s name.
With the unanimous passage of the resolution favoring such a series, the CCAC is empowered to move on the project.
Before its vote to press Congress to approve the Liberty-themed coins, the committee voted 9 to 0 to recommend Congress approve a coin for 2017 to mark the 150th anniversary of the Alaska Purchase.
That coin would replace a proposed 2017 coin to commemorate the National Firefighters Memorial in Maryland. The CCAC will consider where to place a Firefighters coin in its five-year list of suggested coins at its next meeting. ■