US Coins

Obama signs law regulating silver coin composition

Legislation signed into law Dec. 4 by President Obama would provide the Treasury secretary the discretion to permit the Mint leeway in the alloying metal or metals for 90 percent silver coins and commemorative silver dollars as long as the minimum silver content is 90 percent. The current composition also contains 10 percent copper.

Original images courtesy of dabbadoo on eBay.

Treasury Department and U.S. Mint officials now have authority to change the 90 percent silver and 10 percent copper alloy used for commemorative silver dollars and the coins in the annual Silver Proof sets.

They were granted the authority when President Obama on Dec. 4 signed into law H.R. 1698, also called The Bullion and Collectible Coin Production and Efficiency and Cost Savings Act.

The technical correction legislation was included in a large transportation bill signed into law by Obama.

The Roosevelt dime, America the Beautiful quarter dollars, and Kennedy half dollar currently produced in Proof at the San Francisco Mint for several annual Proof sets, all modern commemorative silver dollars, and various other special silver collector coins, are composed of 90 percent silver and 10 percent copper. That composition was first authorized to be used for U.S. silver coinage in the 1830s. While abandoned for circulation coinage under the Coinage Act of 1965, the alloy was resurrected with the resumption of commemorative coin production in 1982 and Silver Proof sets in 1992.

Under The Bullion and Collectible Coin Production and Efficiency and Cost Savings Act, the language “90 percent silver 10 percent copper” that has been a part of the United States Code has been replaced with “not less than 90 percent silver.” However, the technical amendment does not specify what the balance of the coinage alloy would be; it grants the U.S. Mint leeway in adjusting the silver content with the Treasury secretary's approval as long as the composition is not less than 90 percent silver.

H.R. 1698 was originally introduced in March by Rep. William P. Huizenga, R-Mich., chairman of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Monetary Policy and Trade, and passed by the House in June and forwarded to the Senate. The measure was one of several freestanding bills to be incorporated into the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act, also known as "FAST Act."

The pertinent sections for the U.S. silver composition modifications are under Title LXXIII of FAST Act, beginning on Page 1264 of 1301.

Special American Eagles

The measure also calls for the production of special American Eagle silver dollars in 2016.

The Title LXXIII language mandates that the edges of Proof and Uncirculated silver American Eagles with the W Mint mark of the West Point Mint issued in 2016 for the series 30th anniversary be smooth and be inscribed incuse with an anniversary designation. The law does not specify how the edge inscription should read. The edge inscription would not appear on the bullion versions.

Silver American Eagles produced to date have reeded edges and the legislation’s changes to the law are limited to the numismatic 2016 coins.

Additional provisions

Additional language from H.R. 1698 confirms the Treasury secretary's discretion to allow the Mint to produce Proof and Uncirculated palladium numismatic coins bearing the West Point Mint's W Mint mark. The approved language does not indicate moving forward with a bullion investment version. Production of a palladium U.S. coin is already authorized under provisions of the American Eagle Palladium Bullion Coin Act of 2010, Public Law 111-303

Also adopted are changes in packaging to authorized purchasers for the American Buffalo 1-ounce .9999 fine gold bullion coin. The packaging change could include moving to 20-coin tubes like those used for American Eagle 1-ounce gold and silver bullion coins. Current packaging for the American Buffalo gold coins is flat plastic sheets with individualized compartments, with the sheets stacked one on top of another in shipping cartons. The American Buffalo gold coins, made of pure gold and thus "softer," are potentially more susceptible to casual damage than the American Eagle gold coins, which are alloyed with other metals.

The approved legislation also establishes the American Buffalo as the permanent .9999 fine gold bullion coin from the U.S. Mint.

This version of the article was updated from an earlier version that incorrectly indicated that certain measures present in the original bill had been removed from the version of the bill that passed.

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