US Coins

Coin review panel floated: From the Memory Bank

Rep. Esteban E. Torres sought advice from the author, who was then Coin World editor.

Coin World file photo.

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 their projects.

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 commemorative coins. 

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 one representative. 

Although Chairman Torres made no commitments, I could tell he was intrigued by the idea of a citizens advisory committee.

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