US Coins

Monday Morning Brief for Jan. 23, 2023: A century apart

A century ago, hobby officials reported that they had been unsuccessful in persuading the Mint to strike 1922 silver coinage in denominations of less than a dollar. Will a new proposal be accepted?

Original images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

A hundred years ago, in the first days of 1923, hobby leaders were lamenting that 1922 would remain a gap year for most circulating coins, with just a few denominations struck.

As December 1922 opened, Bureau of the Mint facilities had struck just three denominations: the Lincoln cent, all produced at the Denver Mint; the Peace dollar, at the Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco Mints; and the Saint-Gaudens $20 double eagle, at the Philadelphia and San Francisco Mints. No Indian Head 5-cent coins; no subsidiary silver coinage (denominations less than a dollar); no $2.50, $5 or $10 coins.

Collectors were not happy, including officials of the American Numismatic Association, the largest coin club in the United States.

The February 1923 issue of The Numismatist, the monthly ANA journal, featured commentary on the disappointing year just concluded.

ANA officials had been proactive on the subject. In December 1922, ANA President Moritz Wormser wrote to the Bureau of the Mint, imploring the director to strike copper-nickel and subsidiary silver coinage before the end of the year that was rapidly approaching.

Wormser wrote on Dec. 16: “One of our members writes that from the collector’s point of view it will prove quite a loss not to be able to continue the dates in rotation and that he, with many other collectors, would like to order a quantity of each of the dollar, fifty-cent, twenty-five-cent and ten-cent pieces dated 1922, if struck off and sold to members of the Association and other collectors interested in them.”

The ANA president assured the Mint official that collectors would be willing to pay a sufficient premium over the face value to ensure the Mint lost no money on the transactions.

The Mint had ceased catering to collectors years earlier. No Proof coins had been produced for public sale since 1916. Most gold denominations had not been struck in years. Production of silver dollars, which had ended in 1904, had resumed in 1921, neither because of hobbyists nor commercial need, but instead to fulfill a new law requiring the melting of existing stocks of silver dollars and their replacement in equal quantities with new ones. Indeed, the need to strike millions of silver dollars in 1922 was one factor in the decision to limit coinage production to a few denominations that year.

Acting Mint Director M.M. O’Reilly responded to the ANA’s letter on behalf of the director, stating, with regret, “that on account of the large amount of subsidiary silver coins of all denominations now in the Treasury, for which there is no demand, he does not feel justified in having additional stock manufactured.”

Collector efforts at lobbying the Mint were thus unsuccessful, and collectors had to accept that their collections of many denominations would be forever missing coins dated 1922.

Now, a century later, a new hobby effort is in progress, this one to convince Congress to avoid a gap year in commemorative coinage in 2023 by hastily passing new legislation authorizing such coins.

The Numismatic Industry Coinage Advisory Committee on Jan. 10 called on Congress to authorize two commemorative coin programs for 2023 so as to avoid having the first gap year since 1985 for which no such pieces were struck.

NICAC officials recommend two specific themes for 2023: the 50th Anniversary of Passage of the Endangered Species Act and the 75th Anniversary of the Founding of the National Association for Stock Car/Auto Racing (NASCAR). The organization recommends that both programs be limited to silver dollars only, with a maximum of 300,000 pieces for each. The panel also recommends doubling the surcharges added to the price of each coin, from $10 to $20.

We have gone on record as welcoming a gap year for commemorative coins in 2023 and we still take that position. None of the programs considered in Congress during the 2021–2022 session attracted any support from legislators.

Of the two programs recommended by NICAC for 2023, the group’s leadership states, “We expect both programs to have strong support among collectors and to draw broad interest beyond the collecting community.” There is reason to doubt the validity of that latter point, based on past experience. Furthermore, collectors have always resented the inclusion of a surcharge on modern commemorative coins; I cannot imagine collector support for doubling the surcharge in 2023.

We wait to see what Congress does for 2023, but for now, we still welcome the lack of any 2023 commemorative coins.


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