US Coins

Commemorative coin legislation plentiful in 2017

While a significant number of commemorative coin bills pending before Congress have military themes, three additional measures seek to honor a sports legend turned humanitarian, a schoolteacher who made history and then gave her life in service to the country, and a sport born in the United States.

We explored the military themed commemorative coin legislation in the Aug. 28 issue, one of which has passed the Senate and has strong support in the House of Representatives — a bill seeking coins to commemorate the centennial of the founding of the American Legion.

Muhammad Ali

Boxing legend Muhammad Ali is the subject of commemorative coin bills in both the House (H.R. 579) and Senate (S. 166). The two measures are slightly more modest than the other commemorative coin bills in that they seek just two coins, not three — a gold $5 coin with a maximum mintage of 100,000, and a silver dollar with a mintage limited to no more than 350,000 pieces. The gold coin would be of standard specifications; the silver dollar coin would be made of a composition of not less than 90 percent silver (the traditional composition would be 90 percent silver and 10 percent copper, but Mint officials now have authority to issues silver coins of a different composition as long as they contain at least 90 percent silver).

The Muhammad Ali Commemorative Coin Act seeks to honor Ali, “an Olympic gold medalist, 3-time World Heavyweight Champion boxer, and one of the most celebrated and well-known athletes in American history,” as the text describes. The bill would honor Ali for not only his contributions to boxing but his accomplishments outside of the ring, including his philanthropy and being “a strong champion of peace, equality, and freedom.” In addition, the House bill labels Ali “an icon of freedom of conscience,” who was an African-American man “of the Muslim faith, and was, and continues to be, a role model to the citizens of the United States of all races, ethnicities, and religions.” 

Designs emblematic of his life would be developed by the Mint in conjunction with the Muhammad Ali Center and after their review by the CCAC (the Commission of Fine Arts is not mentioned in the legislation).

After statutory requirements are met, surcharges of $35 per gold coin and $10 per silver coin would be paid to three entities: 80 percent to the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Ky.; 10 percent to the Muhammad Ali Institute for Peace and Justice at the University of Louisville; and 10 percent to Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center and Movement Disorder Clinic.

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The coins would be issued in 2020 in Proof and Uncirculated versions. “Only 1 facility of the United States Mint may be used to strike any particular quality of the coins minted under this Act,” according to the text.

The House bill has 17 co-sponsors and is referred to the Finance Services Committee.

Basketball Hall of Fame

Sponsors of the “Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Commemorative Coin Act,” H.R. 1235, probably seek to emulate the successful National Baseball Hall of Fame commemorative coin program of 2014.

The House bill (no Senate version exists) has garnered 291 co-sponsors. It was introduced Feb. 27 by Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Mass. 

The bill seeks a gold $5 coin, silver dollar, and copper-nickel clad half dollar, with the gold and copper-nickel clad coins of standard compositions and the silver dollar of a composition of not less than 90 percent silver.

The legislation notes, in describing basketball’s origins, that on “December 21, 1891, a young physical education instructor named James Naismith introduced the game of “basket ball” to his physical education class, in Springfield, Massachusetts.” The measure adds, “In 1959, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame was founded and dedicated to the game’s creator Dr. James Naismith, in Springfield, MA.”

The measure also describes the accomplishments and contributions of the hall of fame. 

Maximum mintages for the coins would be 50,000 for the gold piece, 400,000 for the silver coin, and 750,000 for the copper-nickel clad coin.

The program seeks to imitate some design innovation of the 2014 Baseball coins, each of which had a convex/concave shape. “The coins minted under this Act shall be in the shape of a dome,” according to the Basketball coin bill.

Also like the Baseball Hall of Fame program, the program requires the Mint to conduct a design competition for the common obverse, “with such design being emblematic of the game of basketball.” The contest would be open to artists, engravers and other employees of the U.S. Mint and from other government agencies, and from members of the general public. The winning design would receive payment of not less than $5,000. Designs would be selected in conjunction with the CFA and they would be reviewed by the CCAC.

Standard surcharges would be paid “the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame to fund an endowment that will enable increased operations and educational programming of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.”

Christa McAuliffe

The American space shuttle program was intended to make travel to low Earth orbit inexpensive and routine, although ultimately it was neither. NASA officials also sought to make space flight more accessible through two promotional efforts, one to send a journalist into space and another to send a teacher into space, with both open to public admissions.

The Teacher in Space Project was announced in 1984 and quickly garnered 11,000 applicants. After a prolonged period of review, New Hampshire teacher Sharon Christa McAuliffe was named the winner in 1985. She underwent months of training with other astronauts and was approved for a flight aboard the shuttle Challenger. The shuttle was launched Jan. 28, 1986, an abnormally cold morning, which proved disastrous. A leak in a seal in a solid-fuel rocket set off a fire that ignited the fuel in the spacecraft’s fuel tank, causing an explosion that destroyed the spacecraft and killed all seven crewmembers.

H.R. 2256, the commemorative coin bill in the House, seeks a single silver dollar, in Proof and Uncirculated versions,and limits mintage to 350,000 pieces. “The design of the coins minted under this Act shall bear — (A) an image of and the name of Christa McAuliffe on the obverse side; and (B) a design on the reverse side that depicts the legacy of Christa McAuliffe as a teacher,” according to the legislation. No specific Mint is suggested, though production would be limited to a single facility per finish.

Surcharges of $10 per coin would be paid “to the FIRST robotics program for the purpose of engaging and inspiring young people, through mentor-based programs, to become leaders in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.” 

FIRST, or For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, was founded in 1989 “to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology.” 

If authorized, the coins would be issued in 2020. The bill currently has just three co-sponsors.

For any of the proposed commemorative coins to be issued, both chambers of Congress would have to pass the legislation and the president would have to sign the bill into law.

Current regulation prohibits more than two commemorative coin programs per year, which would have a bearing on any congressional action. 

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