US Coins

Monday Morning Brief for April 15, 2019

A century ago, Congress approved commemorative half dollars marked the tercentenary in 1920 of the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock aboard the Mayflower. Now the Mint is moving forward with a 400th anniversary coin without congressional approval.

Original images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

United States Mint officials just made a very wrong-headed decision. They have decided to issue a commemorative coin without a congressional directive to do so.

As Paul Gilkes reports, the Mint will issue a 2020 gold $10 coin commemorating the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ voyage aboard the Mayflower. Mint officials, issuing the coin under authority granted the Treasury secretary to issue gold bullion coins without further congressional approval, state that the planned coin is not part of the commemorative program and is unrelated to any legislation. 

State Historical Museum of IowaInside Coin World: How museums can use numismatic items to enhance exhibits: Features and columns exclusive to the April 29 issue of “Coin World” discuss the gold $3 coin, bronze 2-cent coin and museum exhibits featuring coins and medals.

That is true enough, and Mint officials can spin this decision any way they like, but essentially, law or not, the planned coin is a commemorative coin by definition, in that it celebrates — commemorates — an anniversary of a significant historical event, just like a multitude of congressionally authorized U.S. commemorative coins issued since 1892. It even commemorates an event already commemorated: the 300th anniversary of the Mayflower voyager was marked by the release of commemorative Pilgrim Tercentenary silver half dollars in 1920 and 1921.

Congress has always had sole authority for approving commemorative coinage. In fact, legislation seeking 2020 commemorative coins for the same Pilgrims 400th anniversary was introduced in the previous Congress, but failed to garner the necessary support to become law. 

The Mint’s decision to issue a commemorative coin (and yes, I am calling it a commemorative coin, even if the Mint is issuing it as a bullion coin, apparently) in 2020 circumvents the legislative process. Do Mint officials really want to take the position that they can issue coins of this kind even when Congress, through inaction, has rejected a coinage program commemorating the same anniversary? 

It is true that in recent years the Mint has issued several gold coins under its special authority, including the 2009 Ultra High Relief gold double eagle; the 2014 Kennedy gold half dollar, celebrating that coin’s 50th anniversary; the 2016 gold Winged Liberty Head dime, Standing Liberty quarter dollar and Walking Liberty half dollar, marking the centennial of the release of the original silver versions; and the various 2015, 2017 and 2018 American Liberty gold coins. Market reaction to these coins has been mixed. The key difference for these coins is that they either celebrate Liberty or pay homage to popular coin series; they do not commemorate historical events.

The Mint’s decision to issue a coin that is truly commemorative in nature and that Congress has rejected is taking that authority in a dangerous direction. It should rethink the idea. 

Connect with Coin World:  

Sign up for our free eNewsletter
Access our Dealer Directory  
Like us on Facebook  
Follow us on Twitter

Community Comments