The Coin Analyst: American Liberty Circulating Commemorative Proposal Aims to Revitalize Modern American Coinage
by Louis Golino for CoinWeek ………
If there is one idea for improving American coin designs that appears to command a broad consensus among collectors of American coins, it is that the U.S. should mint more coins with images of Liberty on them. That is a recurring them in recommendations from collectors that appear in online forums and elsewhere. It is also something I have suggested several times in my columns.
The U.S. Mint already issues bullion and collector coins with classic images of Liberty like the American silver, gold, and platinum eagles. This year’s proof platinum eagle is an especially striking depiction of the allegorical image of Lady Liberty.
But circulating coins are another matter. Many collectors believe that the use of the same images of former presidents on our commercial coinage for decades has inhibited interest in numismatics and resulted in coins with uninspiring designs, notwithstanding modifications like the changes to the profile of President Jefferson on the nickel.
But as Gary Marks, the Chairman of the Citizens’ Coinage Advisory Commission , explained in an interview with me, past efforts to remove presidential images “were halted due to concerns that presidential honor be preserved.”
The CCAC, which makes recommendations to the Secretary of the Treasury on what coins should be issued and what their designs should be, has gone public with an exciting proposal sure to set numismatic imaginations on fire and revolutionize modern American circulating coinage, if approved by Congress.
The commission unanimously approved a resolution on April 19th recommending the issuance of an American Liberty Commemorative Coinage Program that would start in 2015, and which would involve the issuance of dimes, quarters, and half dollars that depict modernized images of Liberty. As the resolution says, Liberty “remains a quintessentially iconic American image.” Moreover, the program provides an opportunity for the Mint’s artists and sculptors to use their talents to produce a wide variety of modern images of Liberty.
The resolution also notes that the success of the state quarter program, which is estimated to have been collected by 147 million people, shows that “the demand for circulating coins increases significantly when frequent and systemic changes are made through a multi-year commemorative design series.”
The Liberty series proposal is not new, as the committee has recommended the program in each of its five most recent annual reports, but so far the idea has not been approved by Congress, and legislation calling for the program does not yet exist.
According to an article in the May 13 issue of Coin World , three members of the CCAC met recently with members of congress to discuss the idea, and specifically to explain that the new proposal has dropped plans to issue cents and nickels since those coins cost more to produce than their face value. Members of Congress did not approve the proposal in the past in part because of concerns that taxpayer money would be needed to mint the small denomination coins.
The Liberty coins would co-circulate with, rather than replace, existing presidential coinage; they would be issued indefinitely; and each coin would have a new modern depiction of Liberty rather than reusing images from classic American coins like the Seated Liberty series. New Liberty dimes and quarters would be issued in alternating years as one-year only coins beginning in 2015 with a different design on each coin, and a Liberty half dollar would also be minted for collectors with a new design each decade.
CCAC Chairman Gary Marks said the proposed series would be structured to maximize the potential for increased seigniorage and numismatic sales profit. Collectors love one-year only coins so there would be great incentive to obtain and keep each year’s new Liberty dime or quarter. Moreover, those denominations produce seigniorage since they cost less to produce than their face value. In addition, the Liberty half dollar coin series for collectors would help increase numismatic sales and revenue. It was reported that the Mint has tentatively projected revenues of $57.8 million a year from the Liberty program.
Recently I had the opportunity to discuss the proposed Liberty coin program with Mr. Marks, who graciously provided more details about the concept.
Did the committee examine the important issue of how the circulating Liberty dimes and quarters will be distributed so as to avoid the problems encountered with the America the Beautiful program in which collectors had to purchase the coins at a premium because of their unavailability from banks?
GM: Extenuating circumstances have negatively impacted distribution of the America the Beautiful quarters. First, the economic recession has severely reduced the quantity of quarters the Federal Reserve has ordered from the Mint. Also, because the America the Beautiful program includes the issuance of five (5) different reverse designs each year the quantity of each design has been decreased to roughly 1/5th of the already diminished mintage in any of the recent years. Thus, these factors have made it difficult to find America the Beautiful quarters in circulation.
Ultimately, I believe the American Liberty Commemorative Coinage Program (as proposed by the CCAC) would be successful from a distribution perspective for a few reasons. First, as economic recovery continues to build the demand for new coinage will also generally increase. Second, as proposed by the CCAC, mintage of circulating “Liberty” coins will be required to be at least 50 percent of the total mintage for the dime or quarter denominations produced in any given year. And, finally, the American Liberty program is proposed as an ongoing perpetual program with no sunset date. In other words, they will be issued in tandem with the presidential coins with no ending date. Thus, over time widespread distribution of the Liberty coins will, by necessity, have to occur.
Based on press reports there appears to have been a change over the past few months since the initial proposal also involved issuing Liberty cents and nickels. Is that correct?
GM: Yes, there was a recent change. A big selling point for passage of a potential “American Liberty Commemorative Coinage Program” bill is the fact that recent experience with the 50 State Quarter program and the Westward Nickels program shows that circulating commemorative programs significantly increase the Mint’s seigniorage. Ultimately, the Mint’s seigniorage results in net income that is transferred to the U.S. Treasury to, as a matter of long-standing policy, offset annual budget deficits. Thus, one way to increase the political appeal of the American Liberty bill would be to structure it in a way that emphasizes seigniorage. In this way, an American Liberty bill can be viewed as a bill that will help reduce the Federal Government’s annual budget deficit in a way that does not increase taxes or cut spending. Thus, that fact that the penny and nickel no longer produce seigniorage (and, in fact, cost more to produce than their face value) caused the Committee to eliminate these denominations from the proposal. As a result, the proposal, in its current form, includes circulating dimes and quarters and a numismatic half dollar.
Assuming the proposal is approved by Congress, would the coins be included in annual proof and mint sets?
GM: Yes, the CCAC proposal envisions the production of numismatic grade Liberty coins in tandem with the presidential designs. This would also include production of such coins for numismatic purposes in .999 fine silver.
Would only modern images of Liberty be used, or would some of the old designs be reproduced?
GM: The emphasis for the American Liberty program, as proposed by the CCAC, is to create new and modern conceptions of “Liberty”. The only possible exception is a provision that former Chief Sculptor/Engraver Frank Gasparro’s 1977 mini dollar “Liberty” design (inclusive of both his obverse and reverse designs) be “considered” along with new “Liberty” designs for the numismatic half dollar that would be first issued in 2015.
Would all the coins be designed by the Mint’s team of artists and medallic sculptors, or would the Mint periodically open up the design process to the public as they are doing with the baseball coins?
GM: To-date, the CCAC’s American Liberty proposal has not considered the issue of public design processes.
Could you elaborate on how the program would work?
GM: Each year, one denomination, either the dime or quarter, would be issued with a new image representing Liberty, alongside the regular presidential design for that denomination.
The series is proposed to begin with a Liberty Dime issued alongside the Roosevelt Dime in 2015. At the end of that year, the Liberty Dime would be retired as a one-year issue. In 2016, a Liberty Quarter would be issued alongside the Washington Quarter. As with the Dime, the Liberty Quarter would be retired at the end of the year and the Washington Quarter would continue on as the regular quarter dollar design. The process would begin again in 2017 with the introduction of a new one-year Liberty Dime (bearing a new Liberty design) that, once again, would be co-issued alongside the regular issue Roosevelt Dime. In 2018, a new one-year Liberty Quarter would be co-issued and the process would continue on a perpetual basis into future years.
The sequencing of new Liberty designs each year is an important aspect of the program designed to continually renew collector interest and, therefore, promote demand for the coins in an ongoing manner. The result of this process will be higher seigniorage, or profit, for the Mint.
The program also envisions creation of a new Liberty Half Dollar, with each design serving for a ten year term. After ten years, a new liberty design would be introduced. Similar to the Dime and Quarter, the new Liberty Half Dollar would be co-issued along with the non-circulating Kennedy Half. The new Liberty Half Dollar would help increase the Mint’s numismatic profits and bolster the bottom line for the overall American Liberty program.
Louis Golino is a coin collector and numismatic writer, whose articles on coins have appeared in Coin World, Numismatic News, and a number of different coin web sites. His column for CoinWeek, “The Coin Analyst,” covers U.S. and world coins and precious metals. He collects U.S. and European coins and is a member of the ANA, PCGS, NGC, and CAC. He has also worked for the U.S. Library of Congress and has been a syndicated columnist and news analyst on international affairs for a wide variety of newspapers and web sites.