US Coins

Monday Morning Brief for Sept. 30, 2019: Commemorative changes?

A congressional report states that themes are important when it comes to the success of a commemorative coin program. That is shown by sales for two 2019 coin programs; the Proof 2019 Apollo 11 50th Anniversary silver dollar, shown, is outselling the Proof 2019 American Legion Centennial silver dollar, not shown.

Original images courtesy of U.S. Mint.

Congress last imposed restrictions on the nation’s commemorative coin program in 1996, in a successful effort to reduce the number of programs issued every year and to prevent the payout of surcharges raised for programs whose sales were below the costs of producing and marketing the coins. 

Those changes were welcomed by the numismatic community, which warned that the increase in the numbers of annual programs in the early 1990s threatened to bring back the excesses of the 1930s in the classic commemorative coin series. 

Now, a congressional report issued earlier this year encourages Congress to think once again about how commemorative coin programs are selected and approved.

The report states, “To potentially maximize the appeal and sale of commemorative coins to support designated recipient organizations, Congress might consider whether the people, places, events, or institutions to be commemorated have a broad appeal and whether design elements might be specified that would make the coin more appealing to the general public.”

In recent years, multiple civic organizations have been honored with commemorative coin programs, and for most, sales have well below those for programs with more popular themes. Consider the two 2019 programs — one for Apollo 11 50th Anniversary coins and one for the American Legion Centennial. As of the Sept. 22 sales report, the Mint has sold 199,897 single Proof Apollo 11 silver dollars and 32,024 single Proof American Legion silver dollars — a huge difference.

The congressional report addresses questions of popularity in selecting themes. “As Congress considers the authorization of new coins to support designated recipient groups, consideration might be given to coins that could maximize sales and provide groups with the ability to earn as much money as possible for surcharges to support group activities. On the other hand, if Congress’s intent for a coin is to recognize a person, place, event, or institution, then smaller sales numbers might not factor into legislative decisionmaking.”

If high sales of coins is the most important goal, then Congress has to rethink what themes are approved. Clearly, not enough thought is going into those decisions today.

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