US Coins

Monday Morning Brief for Nov. 7, 2022: 2023 could be historic

So far, Congress has failed to authorize any commemorative coins for 2023. One proposed bill seeks 120 different coins for 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.

Something is missing from the United States Mint’s newly released 2023 product schedule — release dates for 2023 commemorative coins. There is a very good reason for that; Congress has yet to authorize any commemorative coinage for the year.

If Congress fails to authorize commemorative coinage for 2023, the year will be the first since 1985 during which no commemorative coins will be struck.

The year 1985 was a gap year, placed between the 1984 coin program celebrating the Los Angeles Summer Olympics and 1986’s program celebrating the centennial of the Statue of Liberty.

The resumption of commemorative coinage in 1982 with a half dollar celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of George Washington was widely celebrated by U.S. coin collectors. The half dollars were the first commemorative coins since 1954 and were a big success for the Mint. It was also a modest program, comprising just a Proof half dollar and an Uncirculated half dollar. After the excesses of the 1930s, a modest program was perfect.

Then came the 1983–1984 program for the Summer Olympics. Private marketers sought a giant program that would require the dozens of coins to be turned over to them with the potential for huge profits to be made. Wiser heads in Congress prevailed and a more modest program became law. Mint officials, however, made the program larger than intended by striking the same coins at multiple Mints; collectors were somewhat disturbed by this as the act smelled of the excesses of 1936.

Congress saw nothing of interest to commemorate in 1985, so ... no program. The 1986 centennial of the Statue of Liberty was seen as the perfect subject for a coin program larger than the 1982 one but smaller than the Olympics program.

Every year after that, Congress found a “suitable” subject. Private and public institutions came to realize that they could earn surcharges if they could get Congress to authorize a commemorative coin program for them. Within a few years, the madness of the 1930s resurfaced until 1994 legislation passed limiting commemorative coin programs to no more than two a year. Since 1996, there have been two programs every year. But 2023 could be historic if Congress takes a breather.

I suspect collectors will welcome a year’s respite from commemorative coins. None of the proposed programs languishing in Congress seem that exciting or broadly appealing.

Let us hope that Congress continues to not act. We could use the break.
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