What will they think of today’s coins

The “they” I am talking about are the collectors 50 and 100 years from now.

By that time, those of us who remember non-clad coins will be long gone or elderly. But what would our successors in this hobby say about us?

For the last few years, I have been putting together a set of Barber coinage to cover the 20th century. From the Liberty Head Nickel, to the Barber dimes, quarters, and half-dollars, these coins had an interesting sameness whose aesthetic roots appear to be from Victorian culture. Even the dollar designed by George Morgan had a similar look to those Barber coinage.

While there are fans of Charles Barber’s coin design, we tend to concentrate on Theodore Roosevelt’s “pet crime.” Roosevelt was not fond of Barber’s designs. In fact, he called the “atrociously hideous” and “conspired” with Augusts Saint-Gaudens to design coins that would be considered more artistic.

Judging the aesthetics of any coin design is subjective, but a closer and more objective look at Barber’s designs do have a lot of character for the time they were produced at the height of the Victorian era. When TR took office in October 1901, Queen Victoria had passed 9 months earlier and Roosevelt, whose was not a fan of Victorian Era designs, wanted something different.

Barber’s designs appear to be a victim of Roosevelt’s efforts rather than being a sign of its times. It has produced a general opinion that Barber was not a good artist or that his designs were lacking without considering the times in which he worked.

So how will today’s coins be thought of in the future?

The “modern era” of U.S. coinage started with the introduction of clad coins. This marked the end of silver circulating coinage with the exception of the half-dollar, which was silver-clad until 1970. Forty-eight years later, modern coinage does not have the same appeal to many collectors as its silver predecessors mainly because of the impression from older numismatist that these coins are not silver or copper. Some believe that the only excitement generated by clad-coinage in the last half of the 20th century were the bicentennial designs of 1975-1976.

Even though the 50 State Quarter program started in 1999, the 21st century has been the century of the circulating commemoratives. The introduction of the Sacagawea Dollar introduced a new dollar coin in an attempt to “fix” the problems caused by the Susan B. Anthony dollars (too much look a quarter) while new designs representing four states were issued each year. During that program, we were treated to the 2004-2006 Westwood Journey Nickel Program honoring the “Corps of Discovery Expedition” lead by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to the far reaches of the Louisiana Purchase. There was also the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Cent Program honoring the 200th birthday of our 16th president. All have been seen as positive programs.

Then there are what some consider failures, such as the Presidential Dollar and Native American programs. These failures are not because of their designs but because they are based on the one dollar coin that does not circulate in the United States. In fact, most of the presidential portraits are well executed and the reverse designs of the Native American dollars are inspiring. But numismatists, collectors, and the public are more focused on the politics surrounding the use of dollar coins rather than the designs.

Similarly, the National Parks Quarters have not lived up the expectations that it would be as popular as the 50 State Quarters program. Some have even seen the program as jumping the shark on circulating commemoratives, but the designs have been very interesting and even well representative of the site which is being commemorated.

Again, how will today’s coins be thought of in the future?

As new, younger collectors enter the hobby, the stigma of clad versus silver coinage has waned since clad coinage is all these collectors know. They have seen world coins made of base metals dating back to times earlier than the United States change to clad coinage and do not wax nostalgic for “simpler times.” These are their simpler times!

While speaking with some younger collectors, many of whom started collecting state quarters, they like the new programs. State quarters have helped them learn about the states and some have said it helped them learn the history of the United States and its geography. Some like the Presidential Dollars not as circulating coins but as a collectible representing the democratic succession of peaceful leadership represented by the office. And they wish that the National Parks Quarters would see better circulation to add to the history behind the United States coins.

Looking at the short history of 21st century coinage, some might not believe it will be well thought of but the future numismatic leaders are more accepting of these coins meaning the future is bright. Older numismatists may not like what has been happening to U.S. coinage, but years down the road the future for their popularity seems bright, albeit without the values of pre-modern coinage because of the differences in metals used and their ample supply.

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