US Coins

All the medals and coins approved by last Congress

The 114th Congress passed seven pieces of numismatic legislation in 2015–2016, approving three commemorative coin programs, three congressional gold medals, and a bill granting authority to the U.S. Mint to make certain compositional changes to U.S. silver coins and requiring that 2016 American Eagle silver dollars bear lettered edges, among other things.

Much of the action occurred in the last weeks of the second session of the 114th Congress, in December 2016, with two medals and one commemorative coin program authorized by law during the month.

Several pieces of legislation that became law during the past two years continued recent congressional trends to recognize little known and previously overlooked military units with gold medals, and to create coin programs designed to recognize service organizations and to raise funds for national causes that are widely recognized.

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One commemorative coin program will recognize one of mankind’s greatest achievements on its 50th anniversary. 

Boys Town Centennial

The first commemorative coins authorized by one of those bills will go on sale in 2017 — H.R. 893, the Boys Town Centennial Commemorative Coin Act.

The act was signed into law by President Obama on July 6, 2015, after being passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate. It was presented to President Obama on June 26, 2015.

The bill was introduced in the House by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., on Feb. 11, 2015, and passed the House on June 23. The House bill then passed in the Senate without amendment by unanimous consent on June 25.

A companion bill, S. 301, was also introduced in the Senate, and it had passed in that chamber by unanimous consent on March 25.

As reported in Coin World previously, the law authorizes three different 2017 commemorative coins — up to 50,000 gold $5 half eagles, as many as 350,000 silver dollars and not more than 300,000 copper-nickel clad half dollars in Proof and Uncirculated finishes.

Approved designs for the three-coin Program were unveiled Aug. 23, 2016, by the U.S. Mint at ceremonies held at Boys Town Music Hall in Boys Town, Neb.

The gold coin’s obverse features a portrait of Father Edward Flanagan. The obverse was designed by United States Mint Artistic Infusion Program Designer Donna Weaver and sculptured by Mint Sculptor-Engraver Donald Everhart II.

The gold coin reverse depicts an outstretched hand holding a young oak tree growing from an acorn. As stated in the proverbial saying “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow,” this design represents the potential of each child helped by Boys Town to grow into a productive, complete adult. 

The reverse was also designed by Weaver and sculptured by Mint Sculptor-Engraver Jim Licaretz.

The silver dollar’s obverse depicts a young girl sitting alone and gazing upward into the branches of an oak tree looking for help. The empty space around the girl is deliberate and meant to show the child’s sense of loneliness, isolation, and helplessness.

The obverse was designed by AIP Designer Emily Damstra and sculptured by Mint Sculptor-Engraver Joseph F. Menna.

The coin’s reverse depicts an oak tree offering shelter and a sense of belonging to the family holding hands below it, which includes the girl from the obverse. 

The reverse was also designed by Damstra and sculptured by Menna.

The half dollar obverse depicts an older brother holding the hand of his younger brother in 1917. They walk toward Father Flanagan’s Boys Home and the 1940s pylon representing what would become Boys Town. 

The obverse was designed by AIP Designer Chris Costello and sculptured by Mint Sculptor-Engraver Renata Gordon.

The coin’s reverse depicts a present-day Boys Town neighborhood of homes where children are schooled and nurtured by caring families. Out of these homes come young adults who graduate from high school and the Boys Town program. The reverse, also designed by Costello, was sculptured by Mint Sculptor-Engraver Phebe Hemphill.

Boys Town is a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving children and healing families, developed from Father Flanagan’s Boys Home, which Flanagan founded on Dec. 12, 1917. 

Surcharges of $35 per $5 coin, $10 per dollar and $5 per half dollar are to be paid to Boys Town to carry out Boys Town’s cause of caring for and assisting children and families in underserved communities across America.

Breast Cancer coins

President Obama signed into law on April 29, 2016, the Breast Cancer Awareness Commemorative Coin Act, Public Law 114-148. The law authorizes the first U.S. coin in pink gold, to be issued in 2018.

In June 2015, U.S. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., and U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, introduced in the U.S. House H.R. 2722, the Breast Cancer Awareness Commemorative Coin Act, which authorizes the production and release of the commemorative coins in 2018. 

The U.S. Mint has already begun the process of securing a vendor or vendors to supply the planchets for the up to a combined 50,000 Proof and Uncirculated $5 half eagles in pink gold with a composition not less than 75 percent pure gold.

The act also mandates the production and release in Proof and Uncirculated versions of up to 400,000 silver dollars on planchets of not less than 90 percent silver, as well as up to a maximum 750,000 copper-nickel clad half dollars.

The enabling legislation provides for conducting a public design competition juried by three members each from the Commission of Fine Arts and Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee, with the Treasury secretary as chairman.

The competition is being conducted in two phases.

The Phase I application process opened Aug. 1, 2016, and closed Oct. 17. Applicants in Phase I were to submit a portfolio of past work examples for consideration.

Up to 20 artists evaluated from Phase I were selected to participate in Phase 2, which will require submission of proposed designs or final plaster models for the Breast Cancer Awareness coins.

Artists selected to participate in Phase 2 were to be notified Nov. 14 of their selection.

Final submissions must be received by Jan. 31, 2017; winners will be announced in June 2017.

Invited artists in Phase 2 will be compensated $1,000 for their work and be eligible for an additional $10,000 if their obverse or reverse design is selected to appear on a coin.

The initials of each winning artist will appear on the coin bearing their design.

The final designs approved will be sculptured by members of the U.S. Mint’s engraving staff.

Apollo 11 50th Anniversary

President Obama on Dec. 16, 2016, signed into law H.R. 2726, the Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Act, Public Law 114-282.

The bill was passed by voice vote in the full House on Dec. 5. The Senate approved the same measure by voice vote on the evening of Dec. 10. 

The measure authorizes the most ambitious commemorative coin program in years in that it approves four coins. No commemorative program has featured more than three coins since the 1985–1986 program for the Atlanta Summer Olympic Games. The 2019 program would be the first U.S. commemorative coin program to offer two silver dollars of different specifications.

The law authorizes:

??A gold $5 half eagle of standard specifications, with a mintage limited to 50,000 coins.

??A silver dollar of standard specifications, limited to a mintage of 400,000 coins.

??A copper-nickel clad half dollar of standard specifications, limited to a mintage of 750,000.

??A silver dollar of the same specifi­cations as the current America the Beautiful 3-inch 5-ounce .999 fine silver bullion coins, limited to a maximum of 100,000 pieces.

The three standard coins can be issued in both Proof and Uncirculated versions, while the 5-ounce silver dollar can be struck only with a Proof finish.

The Apollo 11 commemorative coin program will emulate the 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame coin program in that all four coins are to be concave/convex in shape. 

Furthermore, “It is the sense of Congress that, to the extent possible without significantly adding to the purchase price of the coins, the coins minted under this Act should be produced with the design of the reverse of the coins continuing over what would otherwise be the edge of the coins, such that the reverse design extends all the way to the obverse design.”

These special provisions will challenge the United States Mint’s technical depart­ments, especially for the 5-ounce silver dollar. While the Mint now has experience in striking copper-nickel clad half dollars, silver dollars, and gold half eagles with a concave/convex shape, and years of experience striking 3-inch 5-ounce silver coins, it has not produced a concave/convex 5-ounce coin. The suggestion that the reverse design continue over the edge to the obverse side will also require experimentation and testing by the Mint.

The House legislation stated, “The design on the common reverse of the coins minted under this Act shall be a representation of a close-up of the famous ‘Buzz Aldrin on the Moon’ photograph taken July 20, 1969, that shows just the visor and part of the helmet of astronaut Buzz Aldrin, in which the visor has a mirrored finish and reflects the image of the United States flag and the lunar lander and the remainder of the helmet has a frosted finish.” 

The measure also dictates how the designs are to be selected: “The Secretary shall hold a juried, compensated competition to determine the design of the common obverse of the coins minted under this Act, with such design being emblematic of the United States space program leading up to the first manned Moon landing.

“Proposals for the obverse design of coins minted under this Act may be submitted in accordance with the design selection and approval process developed by the Secretary in the sole discretion of the Secretary. ... As part of the competition described in this subsection, the Secretary may accept proposals from artists, engravers of the United States Mint, and members of the general public, and any designs submitted for the design review process described herein shall be anonymized until a final selection is made.”

The Senate passed the measure Dec. 10.

The prices for each of the three standard coins bear standard surcharges: $5 for the half dollar, $10 for the dollar and $35 for the half eagle; and the 5-ounce silver dollar bears a surcharge of $50.

The surcharges raised through sales of the coins, once statutory requirements are met, are to be distributed to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum’s “Destination Moon” exhibit, to the Astronauts Memorial Foundation, and to the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. 

Selma Foot Soldiers

The first congressional gold medal approved during the 114th Congress honored the Selma Foot Soldiers, whose protests in 1965 helped lead to passage of the Voting Rights Act. The civil rights advocated were recognized Feb. 24, 2016, on Capitol Hill with the presentation of the congressional gold medal.

The enabling legislation, Public Law 114-5, was signed into law by President Obama on March 7, 2015, the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, so named for the protesters’ blood spilled by Alabama State Police. It was the first of three marches attempted from Selma, Ala., to the state capital to Montgomery, in search of equality in the voting process.

The marchers had assembled on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma to begin their quest. The hundreds of protesters were led by John Lewis, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which attempted to register African-Americans to vote throughout the state of Alabama, and the Rev. Hosea Williams, of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Lewis is currently a U.S. congressman who has represented Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District since elected to Congress in November 1986. Lewis is senior chief deputy whip for the Democratic Party in leadership in the House.

Williams, who continued his civil rights efforts and community service for decades, died at age 74 in 2000.

The obverse design of the congressional gold medal was created by U.S. Mint Artistic Infusion Program artist Donna Weaver. Weaver is a former sculptor-engraver for the U.S. Mint who retired from government service in 2006 after six years on the Mint’s staff. The design was sculptured by U.S. Mint Medallic Sculptor Phebe Hemphill.

The design captures the Selma Foot Soldiers with arms locked as they march en masse across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

The adopted obverse is slightly modified from that recommended June 16 and June 18, 2015, respectively, by the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee and Commission of Fine Arts.

The top and bottom border inscriptions are switched from the reviewed design. The wide rim from the original sketch of the recommended obverse design was removed, with that element moved to the reverse.

Weaver also designed the reverse, which was sculptured by U.S. Mint Medallic Sculptor Michael Gaudioso. The design’s central device depicts an individual’s left hand placing a completed ballot into a ballot box, all superimposed over an American flag. 

Three-inch and 1.5-inch bronze duplicates of the congressional gold medal are offered for sale to the public by the U.S. Mint.

Filipino Veterans

S. 1555, introduced in the Senate on June 11, 2015, by Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, calls for a congressional gold medal to recognize Filipino veterans who honorably served at any time during the period beginning July 26, 1941, and ending Dec. 31, 1946.

The measure passed the Senate on July 13, 2016, and the House approved the measure on Nov. 30. It became Public Law 114-265 when President Obama signed the bill on Dec. 14, 2016.

As stated in the legislation, “Filipinos participated in the war out of national pride, as well as out of a commitment to the Allied forces struggle against fascism. 57,000 Filipinos in uniform died in the war effort. Estimates of civilian deaths range from 700,000 to upwards of 1,000,000, or between 4.38 to 6.25 percent of the prewar population of 16,000,000.”

The legislation added, “The Filipino Veterans of World War II fought alongside, and as an integral part of, the United States Armed Forces. The Philippines remained a territory of the United States for the duration of the war and, accordingly, the United States maintained sovereignty over Philippine foreign relations, including Philippine laws enacted by the Philippine Government. 

“Filipinos who fought in the Philippines were not only defending or fighting for the Philippines, but also defending, and ultimately liberating, sovereign territory held by the United States Government. ... The United States remains forever indebted to the bravery, valor, and dedication that the Filipino Veterans of World War II displayed. Their commitment and sacrifice demonstrates a highly uncommon and commendable sense of patriotism and honor.”

The legislation adds: “Following the award of the gold medal in honor of the Filipino Veterans of World War II, the gold medal shall be given to the Smithsonian Institution, where it will be available for display as appropriate and made available for research. ... It is the sense of Congress that the Smithsonian Institution should make the gold medal received ... available for display elsewhere, particularly at other appropriate locations associated with the Filipino Veterans of World War II.”

The medal is to bear “appropriate designs” and the Mint is permitted to issue collector versions in bronze.

Office of Strategic Services

As part of the flurry of legislative activity near the end of the 114th Congress, S. 2234, the Office of Strategic Services Congressional Gold Medal Act, became law.

S. 2234 was introduced Nov. 4, 2015, by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., to recognize with a congressional gold medal the services of representatives of all branches of the U.S. armed forces attached to the OSS during World War II. The bill passed the Senate on Feb. 22, 2016, and the House gave its approval on Nov. 30. President Obama signed the act on Dec. 14, creating Public Law 114-269.

The OSS, according to the legislative text, was “America’s first effort to implement a system of strategic intelligence during World War II and provided the basis for the modern-day American intelligence and special operations communities. The U.S. Special Operations Command and the National Clandestine Service chose the OSS spearhead as their insignias.”

Following the public presentation of the approved congressional gold medals, each is to be delivered to the Smithsonian Institution for future display and research.

The Treasury secretary has the discretion to authorize the U.S. Mint to strike 1.5-inch and 3-inch bronze duplicates of each congressional gold medal for sale to the public.

Silver composition changes

Treasury Department and U.S. Mint officials now have authority to change the 90 percent silver and 10 percent copper alloy used for commemorative silver dollars and the coins in the annual Silver Proof sets.

They were granted the authority when President Obama on Dec. 4, 2015, signed into law H.R. 1698, the Bullion and Collectible Coin Production and Efficiency and Cost Savings Act.

The technical correction legislation was included in a large transportation bill signed into law by Obama.

The Roosevelt dime, America the Beautiful quarter dollars, and Kennedy half dollar currently produced in Proof at the San Francisco Mint for several annual Proof sets, all modern commemorative silver dollars, and various other special silver collector coins, are composed of 90 percent silver and 10 percent copper. That composition was first authorized to be used for U.S. silver coinage in the 1830s. While abandoned for circulation coinage under the Coinage Act of 1965, the alloy was resurrected with the resumption of commemorative coin production in 1982 and Silver Proof sets in 1992.

Under The Bullion and Collectible Coin Production and Efficiency and Cost Savings Act, the language “90 percent silver 10 percent copper” that has been a part of the United States Code is now replaced with “not less than 90 percent silver.” However, the technical amendment does not specify what the balance of the coinage alloy would be; it grants the U.S. Mint leeway in adjusting the silver content with the Treasury secretary’s approval as long as the composition is not less than 90 percent silver.

H.R. 1698 was originally introduced in March of 2015 by Rep. William P. Huizenga, R-Mich., chairman of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Monetary Policy and Trade, and passed by the House in June and forwarded to the Senate. The measure was one of several freestanding bills to be incorporated into the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, also known as “FAST Act.”

The pertinent sections for the U.S. silver composition modifications are under Title LXXIII of FAST Act, beginning on Page 1264 of 1301.

The measure was also responsible for ordering changes to the edge of collector versions of the American Eagle silver dollars issued in 2016.

The Title LXXIII language mandated that the edges of Proof and Uncirculated silver American Eagles with the W Mint mark of the West Point Mint issued in 2016 for the series 30th anniversary be smooth and be inscribed incuse with an anniversary designation. Since the measure became law in December of 2015, Mint officials were forced to delay release of the collector versions of the 2016 American Eagle silver dollars until experimentation on creating an inscribed edge was completed. 

Additional language from H.R. 1698 confirms the Treasury secretary’s discretion to allow the Mint to produce Proof and Uncirculated palladium numismatic coins bearing the West Point Mint’s W Mint mark. The approved language does not indicate moving forward with a bullion investment version. Production of a palladium U.S. coin is already authorized under provisions of the American Eagle Palladium Bullion Coin Act of 2010, Public Law 111-303. 

Also adopted are changes in packaging to authorized purchasers for the American Buffalo 1-ounce .9999 fine gold bullion coin. The American Buffalo gold coins, made of pure gold and thus “softer,” are potentially more susceptible to casual damage than the American Eagle gold coins, which are alloyed with other metals.

The approved legislation also establishes the American Buffalo as the permanent .9999 fine gold bullion coin from the U.S. Mint.

This article includes text excerpted from earlier reporting by Paul Gilkes and Steve Roach.

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