US Coins

Monday Morning Brief for March 6, 2023: 50 years ago

Fifty years ago, in the March 21, 1973, issue of "Coin World," the lead headline on Page 1 had some exciting news: “Treasury Seeks Congressional Okay for U.S. Bicentennial Coin Change.”

Coin World file image.

Fifty years ago, in the March 21, 1973, issue of Coin World, the lead headline on Page 1 read: “Treasury Seeks Congressional Okay for U.S. Bicentennial Coin Change.” The other two articles on that issue’s cover also reported on the movement to change the designs on the three biggest denominations of U.S. coins then in circulation.

Mint Director Mary Brooks announced a Bicentennial coin program on March 5, 1973, to great acclaim in the hobby.

For readers not alive at the time and who have not perused news coverage of the early 1970s, this was big news ... exciting news. For years, hobby leaders had been pleading with Bureau of the Mint officials to change the designs of all the circulating coinage in 1976 in celebration of the Bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence. It took some persuading, but Mint officials finally agreed to the modest changes announced on March 5: new designs on the reverse of the Kennedy half dollar and Eisenhower dollar. (The Washington quarter dollar would be added to the program later.)

Brooks’ announcement on March 5 had been long awaited by the collecting community. Collectors were hungry for new designs, even though the Kennedy half dollar was just nine years old in 1973 and the Eisenhower dollar had been introduced into circulation just two years earlier.

There were no commemorative coins, no bullion coins, no gold coins (collectors were still restricted as to the kinds of gold coins they could own) — a complete set of all coins and sets offered by the Mint in 1973 cost all of about $30 (Proof set, Uncirculated Coin set, Proof and Uncirculated Eisenhower silver-copper clad dollars). The Mint’s numismatic program was modest in comparison to what is available today.

Inside the March 21 issue, Editor Margo Russell in an unsigned editorial threw her support behind the Bicentennial coin program, though she lamented the decision to redesign only the reverses of the half dollar and dollar, both of which barely circulated.

In the weeks and months that followed, collectors closely watch the news unfold as approval was granted by Congress and the quarter dollar was added to the program, but those are stories for a later time.

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