Significant Legislating Effecting Numismatics

There has been a lot of legislation passed by Congress that affects the coin and currency production in the United States. While some of it has been as mundane as changing the composition of coins or the approval of a commemorative coin, there are some that has had a significant impact on coin and currency production. Here is a list of those laws that had a major impact.

Coinage Act of 1792
The first coin-related law passed by congress and signed by President George Washington on April 2, 1792, establishes a mint, says that congress is the regulating authority of coins, and establishes the dollar as the unit of money. It made the United States one of the first countries to use a decimal system for currency and established legal tender laws. It is the foundation for the creation of the money production in the United States.
Act of April 10, 1806
This act regulates the legal tender value of foreign coins used in the United States.
Act of April 21, 1806
This act establishes the penalty for counterfeiting coins to be between three and five years of hard labor. Although there was no law regarding counterfeiting coins before this act, it was assumed that penalty was death because of the statements printed on colonial currency.
Coinage Act of 1834
This act changed the ratio of silver-to-gold weight from 15:1 that was established in the Coinage Act of 1792 to 16:1, setting the price of an ounce of gold to $20.67. This was done to strengthen the financial system after the Panic of 1833 and stem the tide of paper currency in favor of “hard money.” President Andrew Jackson signed this bill into law on June 27, 1834.
Coinage Act of 1849
Signed into law by President James K. Polk as one of his last acts as president on March 3, 1849, it established the use of gold for a $1 coin and the $20 gold double eagle coin. This act also refined the variances that were permissible for United States gold coinage. This act came largely because of the California Gold Rush.
Coinage Act of 1857
Signed into law by President Franklin Pierce February 21, 1857, this act repealed the legal tender status for foreign coins in the United States. It required the Treasury to exchange foreign coins at a market rate set by Treasury. This act discontinued the half-cent and reduced the size of the one-cent coin from 27mm (large cent) to the modern size of 19.05mm (small cent) that is still being used today.
National Bank Act of 1863
Originally known as the National Currency Act and signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on February 25, 1863, it created a single currency standard for the United States where the notes would be backed by the United States Treasury and printed by the federal government. The result of this act lead to the establishment of the National Currency Bureau which was later rename to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
Coinage Act of 1864
This act changed the composition of the one-cent coin to bronze (0.95 copper, 0.05 tin and zinc) from 0.88 copper and 0.12 nickel. It authorized the minting of the two-cent coins with the motto “In God We Trust” to appear the first time on a United States coin. President Abraham Lincoln signed this act into law on April 22, 1864.
Coinage Act of 1873
Sometimes referred to as the “Crime of ’73,” demonetized silver and set the standard for gold as the backing of the national currency. This act placed the U.S. Mint under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Treasury and officially established four branch mints at Philadelphia, San Francisco, Carson City, and Denver. Two assay offices were established in New York and Boise City, Idaho. The act also ended the production of the half-dime, silver three-cent piece, and two-cent coin. President Ulysses S. Grant signed this act on February 12, 1873.
Bland-Allison Act
Named for Rep. Richard P Bland (D-MO) and Sen. William B. Allison (R-IA), the act required the Treasury Department to buy silver from western mines and put them into circulation as silver dollars. The act authorized the striking of the Morgan Dollar. President Rutherford B. Hayes vetoed the bill but congress overrode his veto on February 28, 1873.
Sherman Silver Purchase Act
Signed into law by President Benjamin Harrison on July 14, 1890 and named for Sen. John Sherman (R-OH), the law increased the amount of silver the government was required to purchase from western silver mines.
Federal Reserve Act of 1913
President Woodrow Wilson signed the Federal Reserve Act into law on December 23, 1913 that allowed the creation of the Federal Reserve System as the central bank of the United States. It also granted the Federal Reserve authority to issue Federal Reserve Notes and Federal Reserve Banknotes.
Pittman Act
Named for Sen. Key Pittman (D-NV) and signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson on April 23, 1918 authorized the conversion of up to 350 million silver dollars into bullion for sale or to be used to strike subsidiary coinage. The act required the government to buy all silver mined in the United States at a fixed price of $1 per ounce above market rate.
Gold Reserve Act of 1934
Even though Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of Executive Order 6102 ordered the withdrawal of gold from the economy on April 5, 1933, there was one challenge and one reissue of the executive order. Congress felt that the executive order needed codification and passed this act on January 30, 1934. Roosevelt signed the law the same day. The law withdrew all gold and gold certificates from circulation and outlawed most private possession of gold with the exception of some jewelry and collector coins. This act established the nominal price of gold to $35 per troy ounce.
Public Law 84-851 (70 Stat. 732, H.J.Res. 396)
On July 30, 1956, this law established the national motto of the United States to be “In God We Trust.” While the motto appeared on most coins of the time, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing phased it in on currency between 1957 and 1965.
Coinage Act of 1965
In response to the coin shortages caused by the rising silver prices, the act eliminated silver from circulating dimes, and quarters while reducing the amount of silver used to strike half-dollars from 90-percent to 40-percent for five years. After five years, the half-dollar would be struck using the same copper-nickel clad composition as the lower denominations. The act forbade the striking of silver dollars for five year ending an experiment with the striking of Peace Dollars in 1964. Finally, the act made all coins and currency produced in the United States and certain bank issues as legal tender–which reversed the 1876 demonetization of the Trade Dollar. Signed into law on July 23, 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, it is seen as the dividing line between “classic” and “modern” coinage.
Hobby Protection Act of 1973
Signed into law by President Richard Nixon on November 29, 1973, this act requires that replica collectibles, including coins, be marked “plainly and permanently” with the word “COPY” to indicate that the item is not genuine. This act grants the Federal Trade Commission permission to take action against manufacturers and suppliers who violate this act. The Collectible Coin Protection Act was signed by President Barack Obama on December 19, 2014 to strengthen the Hobby Protection Act by allowing distributors and sellers of non-genuine collectible coins to be subject to civil action.
Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Commemorative Coin Act—Title II: Liberty Coins
Signed by President Ronald Reagan on July 9, 1985, Title II of this act allowed for the U.S. Mint to establish the American Eagle Silver Bullion Program.
Gold Bullion Coin Act of 1985
A few months after the passage of the act to allow for silver bullion coins, this act was enacted on December 17, 1985 that lead to the establishment of the American Eagle Gold Bullion Program.
50 States Commemorative Coin Program Act
Considered one of the most significant act affecting circulating coinage since the Coinage Act of 1965, this act lead to the very successful 50 State Quarters Program. Section 4 of the act, named the “United States $1 Coin Act of 1997” changed the composition of the one dollar coin to be “golden in color” which lead to the creation of the Sacagawea “Golden” Dollar. President Bill Clinton signed this bill into law on December 1, 1997.
American 5-Cent Coin Design Continuity Act of 2003
Aside from establishing the Westward Journey Nickel Program, this law established the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee “to advise the Secretary of the Treasury on the selection of themes and designs for coins.” Its 11 members with varying areas of expertise are citizens appointed for four-year terms. The Secretary of the Treasury with appoints seven of the committee members who have specific backgrounds. The other four are appointed by the party leaders from both the House of Representatives and Senate. President George W. Bush signed this law on April 23, 2003 (Public Law 108-15).
Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005
Signed by President George W. Bush on December 22, 2005 (Public Law 109-145), Title I established the President $1 Coin program to honor all departed past presidents. Presidential $1 coins were the first modern circulating coins that included edge-incused inscriptions to include the date, mintmark and the mottos E Pluribus Unum and In God We Trust. Later, the In God We Trust motto was relocated to the coin’s obverse.

Title II established the American Buffalo 24-Karat Bullion Gold Coins program. The law required the coin to be struck from .9999 put gold using the design of the 1913 Type 1 Buffalo Nickel as designed by James Earle Fraser. After the first year of issue, the U.S. Mint could change the design after vetting the design with the Commission of Fine Arts and the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee. This law allowed the U.S. Mint to produce the 2009 High Relief gold coin and 100 anniversary tributes to the Mercury dime in 2016.

Page last updated: June 4, 2016

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