US Coins

Monday Morning Brief for Sept. 18, 2023: Get 'political' for 2026

In 2026 for the nation’s 250th anniversary, new obverse portraits of George Washington and John F. Kennedy will replace these now appearing on circulating U.S. quarter dollars and half dollars. Further changes are outlined under the redesign law.

Images courtesy of the United States Mint.

We now know much more about themes that could be explored in 2026 on the nation’s Semiquincentennial coinage as the United States Mint has opened an online survey and is calling for comments, and segments of American society are going to have widely different views on some of the suggested themes.

Mint officials seem to be aiming at a coin program that not only will celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence but also major achievements occurring since, including the passage of key amendments to the Constitution. For many Americans, that approach will be seen as appropriate. The United States of America is, after all, a work in progress, striving to be better. Defining “better,” however, in this age of ultra-partisan politics is tough, since one person’s “progress” is another person’s “atrocity.”

In preparing to write this Editorial, I took the Mint’s online survey, also described in Paul Gilkes’s news coverage. One of the questions asked is labeled this: “Struggle and Progress: Two Sides of the Same Coin.” Under this approach, “this thematic concept would feature key historic figures central to meaningful American progress.” The survey then lists some possible figures, as follow:

➤ George Washington and the American Revolution

➤ Alice Paul and the Declaration of Sentiments

➤ Frederick Douglass and the 13th Amendment

➤ Elizabeth Peratrovich and the Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945

➤ Rosa Parks and Civil Rights

➤ Harvey Milk and LGBTQ+ rights

Most of these themes, of course, are in the daily news as candidates for the presidency in the 2024 national election jockey to express their personal views on what America should be like.

Some readers of this particular column will complain the themes are “political” and will say, “Politics should play no role in coin collecting.” However, the process of selecting designs of coins celebrating America’s past is, by its very nature, political. Politics is driving the entire program.

Here is the thing. The Mint wants to know your views on what the coins should honor and asks for your recommendations. If you think that, say, the theme of “Harvey Milk and LGBTQ+ rights” is an appropriate topic for Semiquincentennial coinage, say so. If that theme offends or upsets you, then tell the Mint that. That goes for every one of the suggested themes in the Mint’s presented list. If a theme makes you say “Yay” or “Nay,” say so. Take the Mint survey and let them know your views. Voicing your opinion on governmental politics is your right under the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights (a possible theme itself).

Under the theme “Fundamental Freedoms Protected by the First Amendment,” the Mint lists the following possible themes: “Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Press, Right to Assemble, Right to Petition.” These again are themes reported on by the media on a daily basis, and on which Americans hold different positions.

Another theme, “Knowledge-Based Democracy,” is equally political and in the news, and includes a quote from Founding Father James Madison: “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.”

Not all of the themes suggested are likely to be considered controversial by some collectors. One possible theme that likely will gain strong support from readers is “Depictions of Liberty”; it could be less political than some of the other possible themes, though that is not guaranteed, based on collector reactions to recent depictions of Liberty on U.S. coins and medals. Still, do not be surprised if this theme garners the most support from readers.

The Mint survey suggests a lot of other possible themes — too many to address here. You owe it to yourself to take the survey and register your views. Designing the 2026 coins is a political process. Get political and vote your views, whatever they may be.

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