Two headlines dominated the cover of the May 20, 1981, issue of
Coin World. Both had to do with new commemorative coins. One was on
the collecting community’s radar screen. One was not.
The story on the minds of most collectors had to do with resuming
the striking of U.S. commemorative coins after more than a quarter
century of absence. The banner headline at the top of page 1
announced: “Subcommittee unanimously approves Washington commemorative
coin.” The subcommittee vote was the much-hoped-for first step.
Few had predicted such dramatic and swift action of the House
Consumer Affairs and Coinage Subcommittee after testimony during a May
7, 1981, hearing on a proposal to honor the 250th anniversary of
George Washington’s birth with a commemorative coin in 1982.
George D. Hatie, then president of the American Numismatic
Association, and Anthony Swiatek, a commemorative specialist and
author, had been invited to testify by Subcommittee Chairman Frank D.
Annunzio, Democrat, of Illinois. Both Hatie and Swiatek had done their
homework, and they tapped their professional training to deliver sound
and persuasive testimony. Hatie was a lawyer. Swiatek, before becoming
a professional numismatist, had been a classroom teacher. Both not
only backed the Washington commemorative proposal but also built a
powerful case for the resumption of commemorative coinage.
As customary at congressional hearings, witnesses representing the
sitting administration are accorded the honor of testifying first.
Thus, the lead witness was the new treasurer of the United States,
Angela “Bay” Buchanan.
Prior to Buchanan taking the witness chair, no one knew what
position the Reagan administration’s Treasury Department would take.
Members of the numismatic community sitting in the audience
assumed Buchanan would espouse the opposition Treasury Department
officials had stated for more than 25 years and cite abuses in the
early commemorative coin programs. Hobbyists were prepared for a long,
uphill battle. However, they were encouraged that key members of
Congress had suddenly begun to take interest in the idea of a new
As Buchanan began to speak, hearts began to pound.
“While the Department of the Treasury has a history of objecting
to the issuance of commemorative coins for the benefit of private
sponsors and organizations, it has not objected to special coinage
authorized by Congress for the government’s own account.” She cited as
examples the Eisenhower silver-copper clad dollar in 1970 and the
American Revolution Bicentennial silver-copper clad set approved in 1973.
Then the historic statement: “The Treasury Department believes
that the 250th anniversary of the birth of the ‘father of our country’
is an occasion which justifies the issuance of a special
non-circulating commemorative coin,” Buchanan said.
Hearing the Treasury Department’s support, Swiatek recalled
recently, “We knew it was a done deal!”
But both Swiatek and Hatie calmly and professionally delivered
their prepared testimony and happily witnessed the unanimous
Next month: The off-radar headline.
beth deisher was editor of Coin World for 27 of the 31
years she was on the publication’s staff. She may be contacted at email@example.com.