US Coins

Congressional report studies commemorative coin programs

Commemorative coins with popular themes or unique features have the ability to draw more buyers.

Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

A report prepared by the Congressional Research Service suggests that the nation’s legislators should consider the sales potential of contemplated commemorative coin programs beyond the numismatic community when undertaking review of proposed bills.

The 33-page report prepared by Jacob R. Strauss, specialist on the Congress, said, “Evidence from the coin collecting community suggests that a coin with unique design features may be more attractive for coin collectors and noncollectors alike,” Strauss wrote.

Among the programs he cited was the 2014 National Baseball Hall of Fame program offering coins with a concave obverse and convex reverse which sold out the maximum mintage of two of the three coins in the program.

Strauss examined approved modern commemorative coin programs from the George Washington 250th Anniversary half dollars in 1982 through the Breast Cancer Awareness Program in 2018 which introduced the nation’s first pink gold coin.

Strauss notes that the primary considerations for legislators are the validity of themes to be commemorated as well as the beneficiary recipients of the surcharges outlined in the legislation and the purpose or purposes for which the funding will be used.

Mint reform legislation signed into law in 1996 restricts Congress to passage of two commemorative coin programs annually.

If proposed legislation is introduced in the Senate, Senate rules require a minimum of 67 co-sponsors before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs will take up consideration of the measure.

Commemorative coin bills introduced in the House receive oversight from the House Financial Services Committee.

For the 116th Congress, the House Committee has not adopted rules specifically addressing committee consideration of commemorative coin bills.

Past sessions of Congress have required 290 out of 435 House members as co-sponsors before a bill receives committee consideration.

Once commemorative coin legislation is approved by both the House and Senate and signed into law by the president, the U.S. Mint’s engraving staff and Artistic Infusion Program complement of outside artists generate design proposals.

Two advisory panels, the Commission of Fine Arts and Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee, review proposed designs and make recommendations to the Treasury secretary for final approval.

Approved designs are then put into the process for executing necessary tooling, including dies, for testing and full-scale production.

Issues that Congress must consider, according to Strauss, are the popularity of subjects to be commemorated, disbursement of surcharges and specification of design elements.

For maximizing sales potential and generating sufficient surcharges for designated beneficiaries, Congress needs to consider the themes being proposed.

No surcharges are disbursed to a beneficiary until the Mint recovers its production and associated costs.

The beneficiary must also privately raise matching funds, and is also subject to annual audits to ensure the surcharges are spent for the legislated purpose.

While an audit would uncover whether funds were properly spent, no penalties are specified in any proposed legislation for such infractions.

If a specific design element or treatment is desired by proponents of commemorative coin legislation, Strauss said it is necessary for those wishes to be spelled out in the bill’s provisions.

“Should a member wish to have a specific design element incorporated into a future commemorative coin, the authorizing legislation would likely need to contain that language either as a sense of Congress or as part of the coin specification section,” Strauss wrote. “Including language that would require a certain design element would likely ensure that the Member’s vision for the commemorative coin would be incorporated into the design and minting process.

“Such specification, however, could serve to limit design choice for the commemorative coin and might alter the cost structure of striking a coin, if the required element diverges from standard coin minting practices.”

The complete 33-page report can be accessed online here

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