Paper Money Changes Great

Paper money changes great, but let’s now turn to our coins: From The Memory Bank

Let’s apply the lessons recently learned to renewed calls for coinage change
This article From the Memory Bank series was first published in Coin World available here.
Paper Money Changes
Donna Pope speaks before congress - Paper Money Changes Great

Then-Director of the United States Mint Donna Pope testifies before Congress in 1988 at a hearing about U.S. coinage designs.
Coin World file photo.

Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew’s April 20 announcement that for the first time in more than a century the face of a U.S. paper money denomination will feature the portrait of a woman — Harriet Tubman — marks a historic turning point in the way top government officials, especially within the Treasury Department, view the role of the subject matter portrayed on our money. In fact, the introductory statement at the Treasury Department’s website detailing the upcoming design changes for the $20, $10, and $5 Federal Reserve notes is revolutionary:

“America’s currency is a state­ment about who we are as a nation. Our modern money honors our history and celebrates our values.”

I have only one quibble. The last sentence should read: “Our modern money will honor our history and celebrate our values.”

We are not there yet. The announced design changes are four to five years from rolling off the BEP’s presses.

Twenty-eight years ago, when I and others from the hobby testified before the Senate Banking Committee urging Congress to approve legislation to authorize new designs for the five coin denominations in circulation, Mint Director Donna Pope initially espoused the view that the presidential portraits on the nation’s coins were “time honored” and need not be changed. Later she pivoted to “Treasury would have no objection” if Congress chose to change the designs.

In testimony before the Senate committee, I pointed out that our coins are our nation’s calling cards to the world, advocating that they should honor men and women who have played a role in our nation’s development or depict events that speak to our shared values and ideals. I noted that a thousand years hence, should our coins be the only survivors of our civilization, archeologists would likely conclude that America during the 20th century was a male-dominated society ruled by successive Caucasian kings. (A similar case could be made for 20th and early 21st century paper money. The paper money would be helpful in identifying the “kings” because the notes bear the names of those in the portraits, whereas circulating U.S. coins remain nameless.)

In announcing his decision, Lew acknowledged the role the Internet and social media played in Treasury’s decision, noting that he had received “more than a million responses via mail and email, and through handwritten notes, tweets, and social media posts.”

The drive to bring new designs to our coins in the late 1980s and early 1990s originated in the numismatic community and largely remained there. Had social media existed then, our circulating coins would likely today bear different designs. It’s not too late. Coins should be the next campaign!

Change U.S. Coin Designs

An ally in push to change U.S. coin designs: From the Memory Bank

Diane Wolf joins cause through Commission of Fine Arts
This article From the Memory Bank series was first published in the March 28, 2016 issue of Coin World available here.
Change U.S. Coin Designs
Diane Wolf, ally to change U.S. Coin Designs

Diane Wolf used her position on the federal Commission of Fine Arts as an advocate to change U.S. coin designs on circulating coins.
Coin World file photo.

As the numismatic community began to explore ways to attract more collectors and participants to the rare coin marketplace in the mid-1980s, a surprising ally and advocate emerged.

Diane Wolf was unknown to the numismatic community before President Reagan appointed her to the federal Commission of Fine Arts in 1985. The appointment was a reward for her work on Reagan’s re-election campaign staff and for her consulting role in a number of successful Republican congressional elections.

Established in 1912, the CFA’s role was to advise various government agencies on proposed buildings, landscaping, statues, fountains and monuments within the District of Columbia, as well as designs for coins, medals and insignias. At the time, the CFA was the only entity that reviewed and recommended coin and medal designs.

Given her lifelong interest in art, Wolf’s presidential appointment to the uncompensated federal panel seemed to be a good fit.

Almost immediately after joining the CFA she realized that most members were architects and had little interest in coins and medals. A quick study, she sought to learn everything she could about coins and medals and reached out to the numismatic community for help.

She called me and introduced herself. She had begun reading Coin World and commented on several editorials I had written, especially one I had written calling for new designs on the nation’s circulating coins… change U.S. coin designs.

During our conversation, she asked for my suggestions for reading and research. Topping my recommendations was Cornelius Vermeule’s Numismatic Art in America. I also sent her a copy of our newly published fourth edition of Coin World Almanac, which contained a chapter titled “First the Book,” that listed and gave brief descriptions of books pertaining to U.S. coins as well as those about ancient and foreign coins.

About six weeks after her first phone call, Wolf called with another question. I was amazed because it was obvious that since our first conversation she had read — indeed studied — not only Vermeule’s book, but many of the standard references cited in the almanac.

Armed with knowledge, she began challenging the status quo.

At the time, Mint officials were opposed to changing U.S. coin designs for circulating coins. And some senior Treasury officials, who appeared sympathetic to the cause, were not about to rock the boat or risk their careers on an issue like coinage redesign.

So Wolf set her sights on Congress and legislation to force the Mint into action.

Please share your comments on this article. I’d love to hear from you.

What Are These Coins Worth? – Ask Beth

What Are These Coins Worth?

A website visitor recently contacted me to see if I could help her value some coins. You can read her question and my response below:

Glynis D. wrote:

I have two 50p coins dated 1994, one 50p dated1982 and three 2-pound coins dated 1986 and 1989. What are these coins worth please?

My response:

More information is needed in order to determine the value of your coins.

Continue reading

New Designs for Circulating Coins – The Road to Change

Road to change circulating coin designs begins: From The Memory Bank

Commems paved way for changes, but Congress lacked the will to make them
This article From the Memory Bank series was first published in the February 22, 2016 issue of Coin World available here.

New Designs For Circulating Coins

New Designs For Circulation Coins - Cash In Your Coins

Secretary of the Treasury James A. Baker III, seen on his official U.S. Mint medal, was reluctant to engage in a political fight to remove presidents from coin designs.
Images courtesy of Coin World, eBay seller stst201212 and the United States Mint.

Ironically the 1982 George Washington and 1983 to 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Coin commemorative programs launched a collector campaign for new designs for circulating coins.

During congressional hearings in 1981, the resumption of commemorative coins after a 28-year hiatus was hailed as the much-needed stimulus to bring new collectors into the market. But after the highly successful first two programs were completed, Coin World’s analysis of sales uncovered a surprise.

More than 90 percent of all of the commemorative coins had been purchased by collectors. Precious few were reaching the general public; thus, the hoped-for boost in coin collecting was proving to be a pipe dream.

It was time for a new approach. Continue reading

Elizabeth Jones’ gold Lady Liberty design proves popular

Elizabeth Jones’ gold Lady Liberty design proves popular
1986 gold $5 coin sells out in pre-release
This article From the Memory Bank series was first published in the January 25, 2016 issue of Coin World available here.

Gold Lady Liberty

Gold Lady Libety - 1986-W Statue of Liberty Gold $5 Half Eagle

The 1986-W Statue of Liberty gold $5 half eagle holds a record that still stands. The entire mintage of 500,000 sold out in pre-issue. Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

No U.S. commemorative coins would be issued in 1985, but the collector community was teeming with excitement over the prospect of coins to celebrate the approaching centennial of the Statue of Liberty in 1986.

Mint sculptor-engravers secretly began work on Statue of Liberty designs shortly after introduction of the authorizing legislation on Jan. 3, 1985. The legislation sought a gold $5 half eagle, a silver dollar, and a copper-nickel half dollar.

The House acted quickly, approving its version March 5. But the Senate bill was bogged down in political maneuvering. The bill did not gain approval until late June. Continue reading

FUN Show 2016

2016 FUN convention bourse floor (photo compliments of FUN)

FUN Show 2016

I will be attending the Florida United Numismatists show, which is being held Jan. 7-10 at the Tampa Convention Center, 333 S Franklin Street, downtown on the waterfront.

The January FUN show is one of the largest coin shows in the United States and will likely set the direction of the coin market for at least the first three months of 2016.

I will be at Whitman Publishing’s author’s table on the bourse both Friday and Saturday (Jan. 8-9). The second edition of my book, Cash In Your Coins – Selling the Rare Coins You’ve Inherited, will be available for purchase and I will be happy to autograph your copy. Even if you already have a copy of my book, stop by to say hello.