Twenty-five years ago, on June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagan stood in front of the Brandenburg Gate at the Berlin Wall and delivered a public message to Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev to remove the wall between East and West Berlin:
Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate!
Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!
The iconic message to Gorbachev was proven prophetic as the Berlin Wall was torn down by the people of Berlin two years later.
Although I am not a fan of Ronald Reagan, I am a fan of history and iconic moments in history. Reagan’s speech that day in Berlin has to rank one of the iconic moments of the 20th century and should be remembered.
So why don’t we have some type of commemorative coin honoring this history?
The main reason what we do not commemorate major historical events is congress. Congress has taken its authority in the Constitution “To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures” to a parochial degree. It does not say that congress designs the coins nor does it say that once the standards are set, the U.S. Mint could not issue different types of collectible coins based on those standard.
Maybe it is time to expand the role of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee to a real coinage advisory committee to recommend producing circulating and non-circulating legal tender coins. The concept of an advisory board to oversee this type of coin production is used in other countries like Canada and Great Britain. While the Royal Canadian Mint can be accused of abusing their authority, the Royal Mint does a better job at limiting the coinage and production to make real collectibles without too many gimmicks.
Using numismatics to honor history and those who made it is not a new idea. Educational Notes of the 1880s were printed with neoclassical allegorical images to represent themes that may have been out of reach for most people. While not popular at the time, the these notes are amongst the most desirable by collectors.
More recently, we have honored the 50 states; national parks and forests; the Louisiana Purchase and the Journey of Merriweather Lewis and William Clark; accomplishments of native Americans; and the Presidents of the United States on circulating coins. Lincoln was honored on the cent which bears his portrait before changing the reverse to honor the union he helped preserve.
Why not use our coinage to commemorate our history? Why not pick four significant events in history, one with a significant anniversary, and honor it on a circulating coin?
With the U.S. Mint looking for a way to increase coin collecting, which is their motivation for producing national parks business strike coins at the San Francisco Mint, why not use the reverse of the half-dollar as the canvas for a historical design series?
Prior to the production of the Kennedy Half Dollar, half-dollars were common circulating coins. Following the assassination of the popular president, people wanted to a souvenir of the slain president so when the new halves were released, the coins were hoarded and effectively ended the circulation of half dollars. Bringing back the half-dollar into favor would not only increase the number of people interested in collecting but the seignorage of these collectible coins would provide a windfall for the general treasury.
Rather than make just collectible business strikes at San Francisco, the new half-dollars struck at San Francisco would be added to the coins sold to the Federal Reserve for circulation. This could build interest in coins produced at the San Francisco Mint, increase production which will increase seignorage opportunities.
Adding the historical half-dollar reverse would introduce new themes that teachers could use to teach students about history, give collectors new outlets, and remind the rest of nation about the rich history that we pride as her citizens.
Of course the extra seignorage would not hurt, either.