Rep. Esteban E. Torres, D-Calif., took the reins as chairman of the
House Banking Subcommittee on Consumer Affairs and Coinage at the
beginning of the 102nd Congress and immediately began to identify
issues and problems that needed to be dealt with relating to coinage.
During my first interview with him in May of 1991, Chairman Torres
and his staff said they were already being courted by various special
interest groups seeking commemorative coin programs that could
generate millions of dollars in surcharges from coin sales to fund
The new chairman also noted that he had begun to hear from the
numismatic community as various individuals and groups expressed their
concerns about the proliferation of commemorative coin programs, the
need for a dollar coin, desires for new designs on the nation’s
circulating coins, and the need for long-range planning and more
efficiency in the marketing of the U.S. Mint’s numismatic products.
He patiently responded to all of the questions I put forth about
these topics and more. Just as I thought the interview was coming to a
close, he said he had some questions for me. Essentially, he wanted to
know what I thought the most pressing issues were.
Drawing upon topics I had recently written about in Editorials
published in Coin World, I led with the need for a formal way
to channel ideas to Congress and the Treasury Department regarding
appropriate subjects to be commemorated and design approaches for
By that point, the modern commemorative coin program was entering
its 10th year and the collecting community felt it had no way to
advance ideas about the U.S. Mint’s coins they were expected to
purchase. I noted that the Commission of Fine Arts, although charged
with the responsibility to review coin and medal designs, was
populated with presidential appointees whose training and interests
were directed toward the architecture of new buildings and monuments
within the capital district, not coins and medals.
Mint officials, as directed by law, were making proposed coin
designs available for the CFA to review, but at the last stage of the
design process. Even if the CFA were so inclined, its suggested
changes were often dismissed due to time constraints or technical difficulties.
I suggested to Chairman Torres that a citizens’ committee with the
authority to advise on the selection of subjects and to review
proposed designs early in the artistic process could be a significant
means of creating commemorative coins that would be more appealing and
marketable to the buying public. He probed with questions such as: How
many people should be on such a committee? What expertise should they
have? Should the committee report to Congress or the Treasury?
I suggested seven would be a good working number and that a least
half of the committee should comprise people with training or
expertise in art or art history, museum curation, and numismatics. He
offered that he thought there should also be representatives from the
general public. And we agreed that the U.S. Mint should have at least
Although Chairman Torres made no commitments, I could tell he was
intrigued by the idea of a citizens advisory committee.