Modern US Coinage needs more love from collectors

1884 & 1881 Morgan Dollars that were estate finds

While making a run through the local estate sales trying to find specific inventory for an upcoming show, I met JJ. We were searching the cases of jewelry and other higher value smalls when I noticed a pair of Morgan dollars buried under some necklaces. I asked to see the coins as JJ announced in mock protest that he saw them first.

The 1884 dollar was in good (G-4) condition with a rim ding while the 1881 coin could pass for an extra fine (XF). When the person behind the cases said that she would sell the coins for $20 each, I added them to growing list of items I was buying. JJ was jealous.

JJ considers himself a hoarder and collector. He likes to find Morgan dollars and hoards them. During our conversation, he said that he hoards all pre-1965 coins regardless of type and condition. As a result, we ended up discussing collecting “modern” versus “classic” coins.

JJ and I are about the same age. We grew up with clad coinage but continued to find silver coins in pocket change until the early 1970s. We filled blue folders from the pocket change we were able to find in our father’s pockets and we have our respective first folders of Lincoln cents. Even though the modern era has been going on for 53 years, there are a lot of people like JJ who gives these coins little to no respect.

Reverse of the 1884 & 1881 Morgan Dollars estate finds

There are very few rare coins to be found in circulation. Gone are the days when the 1914-D, 1922 no D, and the 1955 “Spoiled” Lincoln cents were circulation finds. Even with the conflicts around the world, there are no shortages or special production coins that caused the rarities of the 1921 half-dollars, especially since half dollars rarely circulate. Aside from being a sign of how the U.S. Mint has improved its processes, it is also a function of the better economy where there is a need to produce billions of coins every year. We do not want that situation to change!

During the first few years of the blog, I had provided extensive coverage and review of the State Quarters series. At the time, it was a novel idea that involved everyone as the states held competitions to decide how they will be represented forever. Some designs were really special and showed off the historical importance of their state. Others had great designs. Then there were those that were so ugly one could be excused if they were removed from their collections. The problem is that the state quarters were not rare (Philadelphia produced over 1 billion Virginia quarters in 1999) and the hucksters inflated their future value, especially on the television shopping networks turning people off to the hobby.

I have not said much about the America the Beautiful Quarter series. There seems to be a lack of interest in a lot of places. Collectors have shown a fatigue in yet another series and the public has not been involved with the designs as they were with the state quarters. In fact, the U.S. Mint, National Park Service and U.S. Forestry Service worked together to make the decision as to what National Parks or National Forests to feature without involving the public.

Of course, when you do not involve the public you get the infighting between the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee and U.S. Commission of Fine Arts regarding the design. We see the dance between the two as just annoying while the public sees more government bureaucracy causing problems.

It is possible that the dealers have been talking down modern United States coinage because of their business concerns. However, there are companies that are now making a good living fulfilling the needs of collectors putting together sets and selling non-circulating legal tender (NCLT) coins. While I think some of the coins are gimmicks, these companies are doing well selling the colored and other coins from the Royal Canadian Mint, Royal Australian Mint, and the countries that have had the New Zealand Mint produce their coins.

Just because I do not like those coins does not diminish their value as numismatic collectibles. Even though I will not collect many of these coins, there is nothing wrong with those who do. Maybe if the hobby stops disparaging modern and these alternative types of NCLT coinage it will inspire more collectors to use them as a gateway into the hobby. It would not hurt to try!

NOTE: I previewed this topic as part of the Numismatic World Newsletter that is sent to subscribers Sunday evening. The newsletter includes news about coins, currency, and precious metals from the regular media around the world and not the numismatic press. When I am not previewing what is on my mind, I write exclusive content newsletter readers. To receive the newsletter, subscribe here.

Look… up in the sky! What’s up doc?

2015 Canada Bugs Bunny $20 Silver Coin

2015 Canada Bugs Bunny $20 Silver Coin

Back in October I wrote about the Royal Canadian Mint’s “$20 for $20” series of .9999 pure silver coins being sold with a face value of $20.00 in Canadian funds. A few weeks after that post I bought the Bugs Bunny and Superman silver coins.

Even though both coins were ordered at the same time, they were shipped separately. Packaged in plain envelopes with a nondescript United States address, the Bugs Bunny coin arrived four weeks later and the Superman coin arrived 10 days later. It appears like the Royal Canadian Mint is either mailing them from the United States or using a fulfillment center to do the mailing. In either case, shipping was free!

Coins are placed in a plastic capsule, which I hope is archival safe, with that capsule placed in a clear plastic envelope. The envelop is “sealed” with a sticker and then glued to the card. The card has the information about the coin in both English and French. All of the extra paperwork was added to the Superman coin, but that was inconsequential to the presentation.

2015 Canada Superman $20 Silver Coin

2015 Canada Superman $20 Silver Coin

Both coins are a little bigger than the U.S. quarter dollar. The quarter is 24.26 millimeters and the Canadian $20 coins are 27 millimeters. While the U.S. quarter contains 5.670 grams of a copper-nickel alloy, the Canadian $20 coins contain 7.96 grams of silver. At the current exchange rate (1 USD = 1.393 CAD), the coin’s face value is equivalent to 14.3584 USD. With the current silver value of $14.16, the melt value of these coins are $3.62.

Before you go unleash yourself on the costs, remember that the $10.74 “markup” also includes manufacturing and packaging costs, shipping, and license fees the Royal Canadian Mint has to pay to Warner Brothers.

Growing up watching Bugs Bunny on television on the weekends and the reruns of the The Adventures of Superman after school starring George Reeves makes these a special collectible.

These are also struck coins without color enhancements. Although the texture is similar to that of the U.S. Mint’s enhanced uncirculated coins, as sculptured works of art, they are very accurate images and beautifully made.

It may be too late to buy these for a holiday present, unless you put an “I.O.U.” in the box. Maybe if you are near the Royal Canadian Mint facility in Ottawa you can check out their physical storefront. You may want to call ahead before making the trip expecting to find these coins.

Packaging Images
2015 Canada Bugs Bunny $20 Silver Coin Packaging
2015 Canada Superman $20 Silver Coin Packaging

Royal Mint video show their striking standards

Royal Mint Striking Standards

Royal Mint Striking Standards

The Royal Mint, an institution that can trace its history back over 1100 years, has produced a video describing their striking standards for bullion coins. The video titled “What is the difference between Proof, Brilliant Uncirculated and Bullion coins?” interviews some of the people on the multi-step journey to create the dies and strikes for different bullion coins.

As part of the article and video they discuss the differences between the three types of uncirculated commemorative coin finish: Proof, Brilliant Uncirculated, and Bullion. For the Royal Mint, proof are the highest standards followed by brilliant uncirculated then bullion.

While this may be intuitive to experienced collectors, novice and new collectors may be confused by the difference. The Royal Mint does a very good job at explaining the difference in a short, well produced video. It should be interesting to the beginning and expert collector to see how another mint does their work.

Image and video courtesy of the Royal Mint.

I’ll do it, but I’ll probably hate myself in the morning!

Eh… What’s up, doc?

Hey bub… did ya hear dat de Royal Canadian Mint is going Looney Tunes?

$250 Looney Tunes Silver Kilo Reverse

$250 Looney Tunes Silver Kilo Reverse

Cashing in on the commercialism demonstrated by the New Zealand Mint, who produces coins of Warner Brothers rival Disney characters, and helping Warner Brothers celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Looney Tunes cartoons, the Royal Canadian Mint is now producing the Looney Tunes Collection.

I will admit to having grown up watching Bugs, Daffy, Porky, Tweety, and all of their friends on the weekend morning cartoons. I spent many mornings in my bedroom before my parents woke up watching on an old black and white television wondering if Wile E. Coyote would ever catch the Road Runner? Would Sylvester ever learn that he should not eat Tweety Bird? Or will Pépé Le Pew ever figure out why he could never find a girl to go with him to the casbah? Of course, at that age, I didn’t know what the casbah was!

I guess I also have to admit that I am intrigued by some of these coins. Not the ones that seem to be enameled for the design because I have this thing about using paint for the design of the coin. But there are some coins that are going to be really engraved coins that are somewhat affordable. Apparently, if I examine my own preferences, I do not mind enhanced color that enhances the designs but not just splashing paint on the metal disks.

$100 Looney Tunes 14-karat Reverse

$100 Looney Tunes 14-karat Reverse

For this series, the Royal Canadian Mint is producing a series of $10 coins that are all struck from engravings. These are fun designs based on the characters by Tex Avery and Chuck Jones and voiced by the man of a thousand voices, Mel Blanc. There will be eight different silver coins that will include a special presentation case, if you subscribe to the series. The presentation case will also include a space for the Royal Canadian Mint’s “20 for $20” silver coin that will feature Bugs Bunny. The Bugs Bunny “20 for $20” coin went on sale May 12, 2015.

For those not familiar with the Royal Canadian Mint’s “20 for $20” program, they provide a limited mintage silver coin with a $20 face value for $20 (note that all prices are in Canadian dollars). These coins are 7.96 grams of .9999 silver and available for direct purchase to buyers in Canada and the United States.

As I type this $20 Canadian is worth $16.49 USD. A U.S. resident buying directly from the Royal Canadian Mint will have their credit card charged in Canadian dollars. Your credit card company will pay the Royal Canadian Mint at the rate at the time of the transaction plus an exchange fee. Exchange fees differ between credit card issuers.

Other options include:

Bugs Bunny $20 Silver coin reverse, part of the Royal Canadian Mint 20 for $20 program

Bugs Bunny $20 Silver coin reverse, part of the Royal Canadian Mint 20 for $20 program

  • A $20 “Merrie Melodies” silver coin featuring Bugs Bunny and the gang in a design that is reminiscent of the Looney Tunes’ end credits. The coin is cleverly packaged in a box that mimics the ACME crate.
  • A $20 silver four-coin set featuring Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Tweety. If you buy the set as a subscription it will include a free Looney Tunes wrist watch.
  • A 14-karat gold Bugs Bunny and Friends coin featuring Bugs Bunny, the Tasmanian Devil, Wile E. Coyote, Daffy Duck and Marvin the Martian. The Royal Canadian Mint claims that there is a “hidden surprise design element” in this coin. If you buy this coin you will also receive an “exclusive” pocket watch.
  • Finally, the Royal Canadian Mint will issue one kilo gold and silver coins. The gold coin will have a face value of $2,500 and the silver will have a face value of $250. The design will feature every major Looney Tunes characters. The design of both coins features selective colored enamel applied by hand to Bugs Bunny who serves as the central focal point. He is surrounded by the entire cast of Looney Tunes characters.

As this posting was saved as a draft for the last few days, I have been contemplating what I wanted to do. With my new found nostalgia and admitted mid-life crisis, I look back at the Looney Tunes fondly. Where I grew up, Bugs Bunny sounded like he could have been one of my neighbors! Mel Blanc, who gave Bugs his voice, wasn’t even from New York yet nailed the accent, cadence, and attitude perfectly. I will probably order the Bugs Bunny “20 for $20” silver coin and take some time before I decide on others. if I do decide to do the whole series, I would probably buy the silver $10 coins because they are coins without painted on designs.

Thats-All-Folks

All coin images courtesy of the Royal Canadian Mint.

Cook Island thermometer coins

Anders Celsius

Anders Celsius

Cook Islands will be issuing a coin with an embedded thermometer to commemorate the 270th anniversary of the death of Anders Celsius. While his name does sound familiar, the results of his work is known in most of the world except for the daily lives of most Americans.

Celsius was a Swedish physicist, mathematician and a professor of astronomy at Uppsala University. As one of Sweden’s premier scientists of his day, Celsius traveled extensively to research ways to measure degrees from the poles in order to improve mapping and navigation. He believed that by studying the stars we could learn more about the composition of the earth and its origins, something we are still doing today.

The research he is most known for was as the first scientist to experiment with temperature in order to define a definitive scale to be used by all scientists as the basis for their experiments. In 1742, Celsius published the paper Observations of two persistent degrees on a thermometer where he defined 100 as the freezing point of water and 0 as its boiling point with a scale of units in between. He called his scale “centigrade” derived from the Latin for “hundred steps.”

Independently, physicist Jean-Pierre Christin of France developed a similar scale with 0 as the freezing point of water and 100 as its boiling point. In 1743, Christin commissioned the building of the “Thermometer of Lyon,” a mercury thermometer based on his research.

Celsius died in 1744 at the age of 42 from tuberculosis. A year after his death, colleague Carolus Linneaus, a botanist interested in the effects of temperature on growing plants, reversed Celsius’ scale and improved on the design for the thermometer. In a paper published in 1745, Linneaus first used the Celsius to describe the temperature scale. He later convinced the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences to change the name of the scale to Celsius in memory of his late colleague.

To honor Celsius, the Cook Islands hired Coin Invest Trust of Balzers, Liechtenstein to design and strike a coin to honor Andres Celsius. The coin with a 5 Dollar face value will 50mm in diameter and proof struck using one troy ounce of .925 silver. Mintage will be limited to 1744 pieces.

The coin’s unique reverse design will include a thermometer that will be integrated around the center of the coin that will feature the portrait of Anders Celsius. Based on the images, the thermometer looks like it will be based on the same technology as those used in temperature strips. The area where the portrait will be features a little degree mark before the C in Celsius, the date 1744-2014, and a small depiction of a thermometer.

Since Cook Islands are under the sovereignty of New Zealand and New Zealand is a member of the Commonwealth Realm, Queen Elizabeth II is the legal head of state and appears on the obverse of the coin. The portrait is by British sculptor Ian Rank-Broadley whose work appears on all coins of the Commonwealth Realm.

No announcement has been made as to when it will be available and the purchase price.

Given my resistance to gimmicks on coins (with my own admitted hypocrisy), there is still something compelling about the proposed design for this non-circulating legal tender (NCLT) coin. I will wait to see how much the coin will cost before making a commitment one way or the other.

Image of Anders Celsius from Wikimedia Commons
Coin images courtesy of Coin Invest Trust

Why do colored coins bother me?

Whenever I comment on using design elements on coins that do not involve engraving I am reminded that one person’s gimmick is another’s innovation. I am also reminded that I have demonstrated a bit of hypocrisy by purchasing some of these coins for my collection including celebrating the innovation of one of these coins. So why do I have a near visceral reaction to the introduction of a coin whose purpose is to commemorate with a non-engraved design elements?

2014 Charlie Chaplin 1 oz lenticular commemorative coin from the Perth Mint

2014 Charlie Chaplin 1 oz lenticular commemorative coin from the Perth Mint

The question came to mind after the Perth Mint introduced the “Charlie Chaplin – 100 Years of Laughter 2014 1oz Silver Proof Lenticular Coin.” The coin is issued by the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu to honor the 100th anniversary of Charlie Chapin’s first movie appearance as The Tramp. The ingot-shaped coin features the Ian Rank-Broadley designed portrait of Queen Elizabeth II on the obverse and an image of Chaplin on the reverse.

The reverse does not use just any image. It is the iconic image of the waddling tramp walking away from the camera. Like the image on the screen, this is a moving image. Using lenticular technology, the image will shift as you move the coin making it appear that Chaplin is walking.

Chaplin was the nascent movie industry’s first megastar. Although Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks were the most recognizable of the time, Chaplin was the first actor whose movies were considered a success because he was involved with them. And while there were posters and booklets printed about other stars, Chaplin was the first to be fully merchandised around the world including a Chaplin doll that is one of the most prized toy and movie memorabilia collectibles today.

Even though Chaplin was the phenomenon of this time and I consider myself a fan, I am having a difficult time liking this coin.

In fact, I downright hate it!

I cannot explain why I hate this coin because I am interested in the Niue 2007 Van Gogh silver coin and the Andorra 2008 Renoir 10 Diners silver coin. All three coins are colored coins and ingot shaped, but the Chaplin coin really bothers me.

Niue Island 2007 Great Painters - Vincent Van Gogh $1 Rectangular Silver Dollar with Color and Zircon Crystal Gemstones

Niue Island 2007 Great Painters – Vincent Van Gogh $1 Rectangular Silver Dollar with Color and Zircon Crystal Gemstones

Andorra 2008 Great Painters - Pierre August Renoir 10 Diners Rectangular Silver Proof with Color

Andorra 2008 Great Painters – Pierre August Renoir 10 Diners Rectangular Silver Proof with Color

Although I did not like the Monnaie de Paris 2012 Yves Klein commemorative coin with the blue hand, I did not have this type of reaction. However, I still like the 2006 Canadian Breast Cancer commemorative and circulating quarter with enameled features.

2006 Breast Cancer Silver Coin with colored pink ribbon.

2006 Breast Cancer Silver Coin with colored pink ribbon.

2006 Breast Cancer Quarter was Canada's first colored circulating coin

2006 Breast Cancer Quarter was Canada’s first colored circulating coin

One of the differences between the colored coins that I like versus those that I do not are the ones I like do have some engraving involved. And even though I do not like the Yves Klein commemorative, I do not find it as objectionable because the blue hand is an enhancement and not the entire design on the coin.

Not counting the Somalia motorcycle and sports car coins, I seem to have this response where the coloring or design gimmick encompasses the entire design of the coin. Once the coloring or other design elements that are not engraved go beyond enhancements and are used to create the design is when I begin to object.

2007 Somalia Motorcycle Non-circulating Legal Tender Coins

2007 Somalia Motorcycle Non-circulating Legal Tender Coins

2010 Somalia Sports Cars

2010 Somalia Sports Cars

It could also be the subject matter. As a resurgent gear-head with an eye toward the classics, the Somalia classic motorcycles and sports car coins appeal to me while the coins with colored birds and flowers do not. As the surviving spouse of a cancer victim, I supported the use of coins to raise money for cancer research by the Royal Canadian Mint, but none of the current hologram coins would interest me if they did not have the holograms.

Color and other enhancements on coins are here to stay. If there were not a market for them then the various mints would not produce these types of coins. It may be something that will attract more collectors and grow the hobby, which is good.

Maybe I should think about these enhancements like I think about cars: I want a car that drives and feels like a car and a coin that is engraved art; I do not want to drive a computer nor a coin that seems gimmicky.

Credits

  • Image of the 2014 Charlie Chaplin 1-ounce lenticular silver coin courtesy of the Perth Mint.
  • Images of the Van Gogh and Renoir coins courtesy of Talisman Coins.

Can we fix the U.S. Mint?

United States MintLast March, three members of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee met with Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY), a freshman member of the House Financial Services Committee that oversees the U.S. Mint, to pitch the idea of Liberty-themed coins.

Initially, the proposal was to issue a series of Liberty-themed coins for the five silver-colored circulating coins but dropped the 5-cent coins after Barr said that there must be no cost to the taxpayer. Currently, the U.S. Mint reports that it costs 10.9-cents to produce the Jefferson nickel and was removed from discussion. What the politicians fail to grasp is that coin production does not cost the U.S. taxpayer anything because all of the money used to operate the U.S. Mint comes from the seigniorage collected on all coins, commemoratives, and tokens sold including circulating coinage to the Federal Reserve. Since the Federal Reserve does not use taxpayer money in its operation, the purchase of circulating coins generates a profit for the government.

Although removing the 5-cent coins from consideration is a wise political move, it demonstrates the illogic and dysfunction of the politics. It also illustrates why the current system of how congress controls the U.S. Mint is unsustainable and needs to be changed.

No other mint in the world is under the same legislative control as the U.S. Mint. Every other major mint are autonomous entities running under the authority of the government required to produce circulating coinage for the country’s central bank and must obtain approval from the central bank to create any legal tender coin. A government can decide that it should produce certain denomination or stop producing a denomination and the autonomous entity must comply.

People who want to discontinue the use and production of the one-cent coin looks to Canada as an example of how a country to stop producing their lowest denomination and be successful. While it is too soon to judge the success and failure of this move, what is lost on people is how the Royal Canadian Mint, a Crown corporation of Canada, is required to comply with the laws passed by the Canadian Parliament. If the Canadian Parliament passes a law that says the Royal Canadian Mint is not to produce any more one-cent coins, than the Royal Canadian Mint does not produce one-cent coins.

The 2004 Poppy Quarter was the Royal Canadian Mint’s first colorized circulating coin.

The 2004 Poppy Quarter was the Royal Canadian Mint’s first colorized circulating coin.

While parliament does prescribe that certain coins be made, the Royal Canadian Mint is free to produce coins of its own designs to sell to the public. They work with the Bank of Canada on the approval of designs and the Bank of Canada allows the Royal Canadian Mint to strike coins with a denomination so that these have legal tender status. Most of these coins are bullion and non-circulating legal tender (NCLT) issues sold to investors and collectors for the sole purpose of generating revenues (seigniorage).

Nearly every mint operates in the same manner. while the Royal Mint is more conservative in their issues, the Perth Mint, the Mint of Poland, and Austrian Mint operate in a similar manner.

Some countries do not operate a mint even as a public corporation. Countries like Niue, Somalia, and Isle of Man that have produced popular NCLT issues contract their minting to other mints, such as the New Zealand Mint, or to private corporations like the family-owned Pobjoy Mint. Even the government of Israel thought it was best to privatize their mint. After being established in 1958 by then Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, the Israel Coins & Medals Corp was privatized and sold in 2008 where they continue to operate under the authority of the Israeli government and the Bank of Israel.

2007 Somalia Motorcycle Non-circulating Legal Tender Coins

2007 Somalia Motorcycle Non-circulating Legal Tender Coins

Although it could be successfully argued that some of the mints have gone overboard with their bullion and NCLT programs like the Royal Canadian Mint and Perth Mints, it could also be noted that other mints have show great constraint in what they have produced. An example of showing restraint would be the Britain’s Royal Mint and Australian Mint who have concentrated on producing quality and not quantity. These are all models to learn from for the future.

Those who would be against privatizing the U.S. Mint immediately point to Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution that says “The Congress shall have Power… To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof,” as the reason not to privatize the U.S. Mint. While the Constitution gives congress this authority, it does not say that the government has to own the means of production nor does it say that congress has to dictate the design of that money. In its most basic term, “to coin money” means to authorize production of and make legal tender of coins used in commerce (for a full description based on case law, see this section).

2013 Niue Monopoly Coins struck by the New Zealand Mint. Is this too much?

2013 Niue Monopoly Coins struck by the New Zealand Mint. Is this too much?

An argument used against privatizing the U.S. Mint is to compare what could happen to the U.S. Postal Service. However, the Postal Service is not a government-owned corporation. According to 39 U.S.C. § 201, it is “an independent establishment of the executive branch of the Government of the United States.” While it has many independent powers, it still regulated by congress and subject to insipid rules no private company could ever meet.

In a huff, those who argue against government-owned corporation point to Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae as examples of the dangers of making critical government functions private. Unfortunately, these people are reading the headlines and not the reasons for Freddie and Fannie’s problems caused by the recent fiscal crisis. While both companies can be blamed for their parts in the failure of the markets, a lot of their blame can be traced to the laws that congress passed giving them a complicated deregulated environment from which to try to accomplish their goals. Rather than find a way to fix the issues, congress wants to end the programs Freddie and Fannie support and close those entities even though new regulations have been working.

The problem with making the U.S. Mint a government-owned corporation would be the 535 member board of directors (congress) whose knowledge of what it would take to do this right is suspect. This is the same congress that has forced the Postal Service to over pay into its pension fund while forgetting that it has to the power “to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States” by shutting down the government or preventing the payment of debt by manipulating the artificial debt ceiling.

It would be possible to make the U.S. Mint a government-owned corporation using the lessons learned from the governance of the Postal Service, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and any number of other world mints. A charter would be established to make the government-owned Mint corporation the sole provider of circulating coins to the federal reserve and that its operations would be managed by a board with representation from the executive branch, legislative branch, and the Federal Reserve. The board would have oversight power over the Mint corporation and work within the parameters set up by the charter.

Provisions of the charter would be that congress would regulate coinage in that nearly every part of 31 U.S.C. § 5112 would be eliminated except for paragraph (a) that describes the denominations and their size specifications. All laws regarding weights, composition, and design with the exception of the first sentence of paragraph (d), would be eliminated.

2013 American Eagle West Point Two-Coin Silver Set with reverse proof and enhanced uncirculated coins.

2013 American Eagle West Point Two-Coin Silver Set with reverse proof and enhanced uncirculated coins.

So that coin series are maintained, all current programs like the American Eagle, Presidential dollar, National Parks quarters, and Native American dollars would be maintained until they are completed as described in the current law.

A new charter would allow congress to designate two commemorative coins per year with a surcharge to be paid to an organization as it does today, but the Mint corporation could create additional non-circulating legal tender coins with its own designs that are made legal tender by following the specifications of the law (e.g., 31 U.S.C. § 5112(a)(10) allows for “A five dollar gold coin that is 16.5 millimeters in diameter, weighs 3.393 grams, and contains one-tenth troy ounce of fine gold.”) and approved by the design board, the Mint charter board, and the Federal Reserve.

The design board would be the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee. Rather than have two design groups, one that whose purpose outside of reviewing coins is to review architecture, only the CCAC would continue as the approved design board. This way, the Mint corporation would have artistic oversight by a dedicated organization and not have to worry about whether the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, whose purpose is to oversee the architecture of Washington, understands design and the issues with striking those designs.

We should keep the 24-karat gold Buffalo coins, too!

We should keep the 24-karat gold Buffalo coins, too!

This charter can be written in a way to create a special inspector general that would work with the Department of the Treasury to help the executive branch maintain oversight over the new corporation.

Freeing the U.S. Mint to be more autonomous and provide them the ability to create new products will not cost the taxpayer anything. In fact, it has the potential for the new corporation to earn more than it does now with new products on the market because if you notice, I never said to get rid of the U.S. Mint Public Enterprise Fund (31 U.S.C. § 5136). On the contrary, the new Mint corporation should be required to set an operations budget and leave the budget plus 25-percent in the Public Enterprise Fund for emergencies. The rest should be deposited in the account of the company’s shareholders: the General Treasury of the United States of America.

In this scenario, it will not matter that it costs more than face value to manufacture the cent and 5-cent coins. The losses can be made up by selling other products to a world that trusts the U.S. Mint—a world that buys more bullion and collectibles from the U.S. Mint than any other country. Imagine how much the new Mint corporation could help reduce the deficit if allowed to be run more like a commercial enterprise than an over regulated government agency.

If it is said that the private sector can do better than the government, here is one way to put that rhetoric to a test!

Today’s Poll

What do you think? In addition to writing a comment below, how about participating in a poll. Do you think that the U.S. Mint should become a government-owned corporation?

Should the U.S. Mint become a government-owned corporation?







View Results

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U.S. Mint logo courtesy of the U.S. Mint.
Image of the 2004 Canadian Poppy Quarter courtesy of Talisman Coins.
2013 Niue Monopoly Coin images courtesy of the New Zealand Mint.
All other images are property of the author.

POLL: Should the U.S. Mint be allowed to make colored coins?

It seems that the biggest trend in modern collectibles are colored non-circulating legal tender (NCLT) coins. You have seen these coins from various countries including Canada, Somalia, New Zealand, and Australia to name a few.

Not all colored coins are made of precious metals. My set of Somalia Motorcycle and Classic Sports Cars coins are silver-plated copper-nickel coins. In fact, most of the Somalia-shaped coins are not made from precious metals. But the shaped coins are so cool that they find buyers around the world, including with me.

Amongst the newest shaped NCLT coins are the New Zealand Mint’s new Star War set and Monopoly coins—that cost more than you would get passing Go!

In addition to making commercial collectibles, coins have had art imprinted on them, enhanced designs, and even commemorate something based on the country of issue.

So what do you think? Should congress give the U.S. Mint permission to produce colored coins? Rather than pay for a third-party colored coins, what if the U.S. Mint produced a colorized American Silver Eagle coin? Or maybe a bi-metalic coin where the coin is silver and Adolph A. Weinman’s Walking Liberty design is struck in gold on specially made planchets?

Vote in the current poll and let me know what you think below.

Should the U.S. Mint be allowed to make colored coins?

No, the coins are just fine the way they are. (41%, 11 Votes)
No, but maybe they can do something cool with different metals. (30%, 8 Votes)
Yes, colored coins are cool. (15%, 4 Votes)
Yes, and while we are at it, how about special shapes. (15%, 4 Votes)

Total Voters: 27

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2013 Will Be Interesting

We end numismatic 2012 almost the same way as we began, discussing what to do about the one-dollar coins. The over production lead to a quite a number of bills introduced in congress to try to fix the perceived problem but none ever made it to a hearing, let alone out of a hearing. Rather, the U.S. Mint hired Current Technologies Corp. (CTC) to perform an alternative metals study required by congress.

When the U.S. Mint finally published the report and a summary they made a recommendation to study the problems further because they could not find suitable alternatives to the current alloys used. While reading the summary gives the impression that the request is reasonable, the full 400-page report describes the extensive testing and analysis that the U.S. Mint and CTC performed leaving the reader curious as to why they were unable to come to some sort of conclusion—except that there is no “perfect” solution. This is a story that will continue into 2013 and be on the agenda for the 113th congress when it is seated on January 3, 2013.

The other part of the discussion is whether or not to end the production of the one-dollar Federal Reserve Note. It was the last hearing before the House Financial Services subcommittee on Domestic Monetary Policy and Technology for Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) and the 112th congress that will certainly carry over into 2013.

This does not mean the Bureau of Engraving and Printing is without its controversy. In order to comply with the court order as part of American Council for the Blind v. Paulson (No. 07-5063; D.C. Cir. May 20, 2008 [PDF]) and the subsequent injunction (No. 02-0864 (JR); D.C. Cir. October 3, 2008 [PDF]), the BEP has been working to provide “Meaningful Access” to United States currency.

Secretary of the Treasury Timothy F. Geithner approved the methods that will be used to assist the blind and visually impaired to U.S. currency on May 31, 2011. In addition to examining tactile features, high contrast printing, and currency readers, the BEP issued a Request for Information for additional information to implement their plan. The BEP will be participating at stakeholder organization meetings to socialize and refine their plans. There will probably be few announcements before the conventions of the National Federation of the Blind and American Council of the Blind this summer.

Another building controversy from the BEP is whether the redesigned $100 notes will find its way into circulation. Introduced in April 2010, full production has been delayed because of folding during the printing process. The situation has to be so severe that the BEP has not announced a new release date and delayed releasing the 2011 CFO Report [PDF] to the end of Fiscal Year 2012 while finding a way to bury the scope and costs of the delays. Will the redesigned $100 Federal Reserve Note be issued in 2013? Stay tuned!

Staying with currency issues, there should be a new series of notes when a new Secretary of the Treasury is appointed. It is known that the current Secretary Timothy F. Geithner wants to pursue other options. If the BEP follows its past practice, notes with the new Secretary of the Treasury’s signature would be Series 2009A notes. There have been no reports as to whether Treasurer Rosie Rios will continue in her position.

As for other products, the BEP will continue to issue specially packaged notes using serial numbers that are either lucky numbers (i.e., “777”) or ones that begin with “2013” as part of their premium products. Of course they will continue to issue their sets of uncut currency.

Another carry over from 2012 will be whether the U.S. Mint will issue palladium coins that were authorized by the American Eagle Palladium Bullion Coin Act of 2010 (Public Law No: 111-303 [Text] [PDF]). The law requires that the U.S. Mint study of the viability of issuing palladium bullion coins under the Act. That report was due to congress on December 14, 2012 but has not been made public at this time.

Bibiana Boerio was nominate to be the Director of the U.S. Mint.

Bibiana Boerio was nominated to be the Director of the U.S. Mint.

One final bit of unfinished business from 2012 is the nomination of Bibi Boerio to be the 39th Director of the U.S. Mint. The former Chief Financial Officer of Ford Motor Credit and Managing Director of Jaguar Cars Ltd. has recently been a Special Advisor to the President of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce while waiting for the Senate to confirm her nomination. The Senate will have quite a few presidential nominations on its agenda that will he taken up in the new congress.

Other than the higher prices for silver products, the U.S. Mint should not generate controversies for its 2013 coin offerings. There will be no changes for the cent, nickel, dime, and half dollar with the half dollar only being struck for collectors since it has not been needed for circulation since 2002. These coins will be seen in uncirculated and proof sets with silver versions for the silver sets.

For the sets with the changing designs, the reverse of the 2013 America the Beautiful Quarters Program will honor:

There has been no confirmation from the U.S. Mint whether they will strike San Francisco “S” Mint quarters for the collector community as they did in 2012.

The 2013 Presidential $1 Coins ends the 19th century and begins the 20th century with some of the more interesting Presidents of the United States in history:

If we honor the Presidents we have to honor their spouses. In 2013, the First Spouse Gold Coins will honor:

  • Ida McKinley
  • Edith Roosevelt
  • Helen Taft
  • Ellen Wilson (died 1914)
  • Edith Wilson (married Woodrow Wilson 1915)

The U.S. Mint has not released designs for these coins at the time of this writing.

2013 Native American Dollar Reverse Design

2013 Native American Dollar Reverse Design

The 2013 Native American $1 Coin will feature a reverse commemorates the Delaware Treaty of 1778. Since the dollar coin does not circulate, only collectors have enjoyed the great designs of this series since it began in 2009.

Congress has authorized two commemorative coin programs for 2013:

American Eagle coin programs will continue with the bullion, collector uncirculated, and proof coins for both the silver and gold. The American Eagle Platinum bullion coin will continue to use its regular reverse while the American Eagle Platinum Proof will continue with the Preamble Series. The Preamble Series is a six year program to commemorate the core concepts of the American democracy as outline in the preamble of the U.S. constitution. For 2013, the reverse will be emblematic of the principle “To Promote the General Welfare.” The U.S. Mint has not issued a design at this time.

Currently, there are no announced special products or sets using American Eagle coins and no announced plan for special strikings such as reverse proofs or “S” mint marks.

Finally, we cannot forget the American Buffalo 24-Karat Gold Coins that will be available as an uncirculated coin for the bullion/investor market and a proof coin for collectors.

And I bet you thought that 2013 would be a mundane numismatic year!

Are We Selling Cars or Coins?

A few weeks ago I started to receive email advertisements from several coin companies offering to sell 2012 coins. One note was found in my Junk folder from the end of October. I began to wonder if we are selling coins are cars?

Those of us living in the United States cannot engage in any media without seeing one advertisement for next year’s newly redesigned, sleeker, faster, shiny, new four-wheeled wonder from Detroit, Japan, Korea, or Germany with better handling, more fuel efficient, and technology that will do everything but brew your coffee but will tell you where you can find a cup. Anyone old enough can remember when the next model year would come out in the fall of the previous year—and in those days, you could order a car to your specification for delivery in November or December.

Although it started a few years ago, it seems that many of the world’s mints are not only beginning to advertise their next year’s offerings, but are striking them, too. I have seen advertisements from the Royal Australian Mint, Perth Mint, Royal Mint, the Royal Canadian Mint, the People’s Bank of China, and Tuvalu. These 2012 coins, mostly commemorative issues, are gilded, enameled, and painted on designs with crystals, diamonds, and even rub-and-sniff coins—new, shiny, and better than last year’s versions.

“Order now! Operators are standing by!”

Has the numismatic market become too gimmicky that these mints and central banks are resorting to car selling techniques?

I have bought my share of gimmicky collectibles, but that was at a time when these were novel. Now, it seems that many of these world mints have come up with various gimmicks in order to sell more non-circulated legal tender coins. It seems as if the metal and design are not enough any more.

Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your view, this could not happen in the United States. The U.S. Mint is the most regulated of all the world mints. Every coin and medal manufactured by the U.S. Mint must be allowed by a law passed by congress. Unless congress authorizes the use of color, crystals, gilded, or other non-engraved design elements, they will not appear on a U.S. coin. Even though the U.S. Mint is allowed to strike coins early, the law prevents them from issuing the coins dated in the future.

I am not going to ask if the gimmicks are good for the hobby because these new issues have the potential to introduce coins to new collectors. But how far will it go? Does the hobby really need to create contrived collectibles to generate interest?

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