As current coin series end, what should the Mint do in the future?

?The introduction of the State quarter dollars program in 1999 changed how we collected coins from circulation, in a good way. After decades in which coin designs remained static, collectors finally had five new designs to look for in circulation every year. The program was a huge success. At its peak, as many as 140 million individuals were collecting the series, many of them noncollectors who had previously shown little interest in collecting. I remember acquiring rolls of each new design and then sharing them with noncollectors who eagerly awaited each new release.

The method of distribution for the series made it easy to find each new issue. The authorizing act required the Mint and the Fed­eral Reserve to work in tandem to ensure any bank in the country could order quantities of each new issue. Once local banks recognized the level of interest from their customers, most made sure that they kept their clients happy by ordering each new design.

The follow-up quarter dollar programs  did not fare as well since no provisions were made to make it easy for banks to order specific designs. Similarly, the program featuring four different cents in 2009 to celebrate President Lincoln’s 200th birthday was only a moderate success, and the Presidential dollars series was a circulation failure since few Americans want to use a dollar coin in commerce. Which brings us to the present and the U.S. Mint’s Oct. 13 Stakeholders Forum in Philadelphia.

The Presidential dollar series is now done. The America the Beautiful quarter dollars program will run through 2020, with one coin scheduled to be released in 2021. However, the legislation authorizing the America the Beautiful quarters program gives the Mint authority to do a second series if it chooses.

At the Oct. 13 forum, Mint officials asked a team whether they should issue a second series of quarters, and the team made several recommendations.

One was a return to the original designs at the end of the first series. However, the legislation authorizing the America the Beautiful series requires the Mint return to the original obverse and a new reverse showing Washington crossing the Delaware River at the conclusion, so the Mint’s options are limited.

An American Innovators theme was discus­sed (legislation before the current Congress seeks an Innovators dollar coin program) but the team warned against the danger of showing double-headed designs (President Washington on the obverse and an inventor on the reverse), suggesting instead a series showing inventions and not inventors.

Finally, the team suggested using the Kennedy half dollar for any future multi-design, multi-year series. Team members felt that such a series could help the 50-cent coin circulate, which it does not do now.

No matter what the Mint does, the key to the success of any program is Mint promotion of the series beyond the numismatic community. That means advertising in general media and making it easy for collectors and noncollectors to find the coins at face value in circulation. Otherwise, the public may not even know a new series of coins exists.