US Coins

Monday Morning Brief for Aug. 22, 2022: no support for coins

A total of 120 commemorative coins are sought for 2023 to recognize 20 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, 19 of whom were killed in a 2013 wildfire in Arizona.

Original images courtesy of City of Prescott, Arizona.

Absolutely no one has written Coin World in support of H.R. 8244, the Granite Mountain Hotshots Commemorative Coin Act, a monstrosity of legislation seeking 120 commemorative coins in 2023 honoring 20 firefighters trapped in a 2013 wildfire in Arizona, 19 of whom were killed.

Since our original news coverage and my Editorial in the Aug. 15 issue, we have received a number of comments from readers, all of whom agree with my assessment in the earlier Editorial that this bill is just plain nuts.

As I wrote earlier, the proposed program for 2023 seeks the usual three denominations — copper-nickel clad half dollar, silver dollar, and gold $5 half eagle — but departs from the usual, and from reality, in its approach.

It seeks 20 different designs, a portrait for each of the dead firefighters and their surviving comrade, in each denomination in both Proof and Uncirculated versions. In all, a minimum of 120 coins would have to be issued, at a current cost in the neighborhood of $30,400 (and probably more, accounting for inflation and any increases in metals prices).

As we reported earlier, the firefighters were from the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew, a contingent within the Prescott Fire Department, that had been deployed June 28, 2013, to assist with the containment of the Yarnell Hill Fire.

The fire was ignited by a lightning strike on June 18, 2013, on a ridge west of Yarnell, Arizona, a census-designated place of fewer than 700 residents in Yavapai County.

The team became trapped in the fire after changes in weather patterns caused the direction of the fire to change. Of the 20 Granite Mountain Hotshots deployed to contain the blaze, only the lookout, Brendan McDonough, survived.

The Wikipedia article on the fire states, “According to the National Fire Protection Association, it was the greatest loss of life for firefighters in a wildfire since the 1933 Griffith Park fire, the greatest loss of firefighters in the United States since the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001, and the deadliest wildfire of any kind since the 1991 East Bay Hills fire.” The losses were tragic, certainly, and maybe a smaller program with just six coins with generic designs might be acceptable to the collector community. Still, the proposal has the same problem as many of the 1930s commemorative coin programs, which ultimately led to the end of the classic era of commemoratives in 1954 — the theme is local in nature and not national.

U.S. commemorative coin programs should focus on national themes, not themes commemorating events and anniversaries of local significance. I do not wish to come across as callous or uncaring, but even with the deaths of so many firefighters, it was not an event of truly national importance, unlike the deaths occurring as a result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

So far, no commemorative coinage has been authorized for 2023, though several measures seek such coins. Most collectors would be perfectly happy having no 2023 commemorative coin program. No one that I know in the numismatic community would be happy with a 120-coin program.

If such a program were to be authorized, U.S. Mint officials could expect a collector boycott of it (not that the Mint would have any say in the matter; if the program is authorized, the Mint will have to strike the coins).

As of Aug. 16, the program has just two co-sponsors in addition to the congressman who introduced the legislation, all from Arizona, the state where the fire occurred.

Let us hope the bill never advances.

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