US Coins

Monday Morning Brief for May 9, 2022: No 2023 commemoratives?

Legislation seeking commemorative coins recalling the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history, the 1865 explosion and fire aboard the overcrowded steamboat “Sultana,” is introduced in the House of Representatives, but has not been approved.

Public domain images.

Something interesting is going on in Congress. We are in the second quarter of 2022 and the legislative body has yet to pass legislation authorizing commemorative coins for 2023.

We have not experienced a hiatus in commemorative coin production since 1985, giving collectors a gap year between the 1984 coins celebrating the Los Angeles Summer Olympics and the 1986 coins marking the centennial of the Statue of Liberty. A long hiatus separated the class commemorative coin series of 1892 to 1954 and the debut of the modern commemorative coin programs in 1982 with the half dollar celebrating the bicentennial of the birth of George Washington.

The 1955 to 1981 hiatus was the result of commemorative coin overload, culminating in 20 different commemorative half dollars being issued in 1936. A brief hiatus began in 1939 and commemorative coin production did not resume until 1946. Two 1950s programs resurrected the ugly practices of the 1930s, leading the Treasury Department, and the White House, to reject future programs after 1954. Promised vetoes of future legislation and strong opposition to even the concept of commemorative coins became official policy at Treasury.

Buoyed by the resumption of commemorative coin production in 1982 and the multi-coin program for the Los Angeles Olympics in 1983 and 1984, it did not take long for Congress to revert to its old ways by approving multiple programs for a single year. Collector opposition led to reforms that starting in 1998 limited programs to no more than two per year. Since then, like clockwork, Congress has authorized two programs per year — until now.

Several bills calling for 2023 commemorating await action in Congress, including one that would celebrate the 2022 centennial of the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in 1922. Celebrating a 101st anniversary is a bad idea and this legislation should not pass.

I suspect collectors would not be unhappy if commemorative coin production took a gap year in 2023. However, do not count on Congress doing the right thing.
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