By Louis Golino for CoinWeek …………
On June 27 Rep. Andrew Barr (Republican of Kentucky) introduced H.R. 2535, the American Liberty Coinage and Deficit Reduction Act of 2013. So far the bill has four co-sponsors and has been referred to the House Committee of Financial Services. If the bill continues to garner support in the Congress, at some point hearings will be held to discuss the bill and a vote will be held.
This legislation seeks to create an ongoing circulating series of Liberty-themed dimes and quarters plus half dollars for collectors for two purposes. First, it aims to reduce the deficit by using the increased seigniorage that would accrue to the government from the minting and circulation of these coins. Second, the bill aims to “revitalize the design of United States coinage and return circulating coinage to its position as not only a necessary means of exchange in commerce but also as an object of aesthetic beauty and symbol of core American values.”
The dimes and quarters would be issued concurrently with existing presidential-themed coins and would begin in 2015 with a Liberty-themed dime. In 2016 only regular Roosevelt dimes would be minted, but a new Liberty quarter would be issued alongside Washington quarters. In 2017 the process would begin all over. At the same time, half dollars would be minted for collectors beginning in 2015, and they would use the same design for ten years.
The three Liberty coins would be issued in quantities that would be “no less than 40%” and “no more than 50%” of their presidential counterparts. That is an important provision in light of the problems encountered in recent years with dollar coins and American the Beautiful quarters, which have not circulated as much as they should have. In addition, special .999 silver versions of each coin would be issued at the discretion of the Secretary of the Treasury.
It is important to note that the obverse of these coins would not simply reuse classical depictions of Liberty, which is the approach that was taken with First Spouse gold coins for presidents who were not married while in office. Instead, they would depict modern images of Liberty. In addition, the bill specifically notes that half dollar coins in the series may at some point use the 1977 Liberty dollar design by former U.S. Mint Chief Sculptor and Engraver Frank Gasparro.
The reverse designs for coins in this series would depict either an American bald eagle, “a fasces emblematic of civil governance,” the torch of knowledge, images “emblematic and allegorical of ‘The Union’,” and American core values and attributes, specifically, “freedom, independence, peace, strength, equality, democracy, and justice.”
The sequencing of the coins, with new dimes and quarters being minted in alternate years, is specifically intended to “continually renew collector interest” in the series and therefore increase demand for the coins, and that would have the effect of increasing the profits that would be generated by this coin series. One-year type coins, which is what the dimes and quarters would be, are eagerly sought after by coin collectors.
A key provision of the bill requires the Treasury secretary to prepare a report to Congress within 90 days of the bill’s enactment showing the impact of the program on the Federal budget deficit over a ten year period. Unless that estimate shows that the coins can generate at least $10 million a year in seigniorage profits, or $100 million over the first decade, the coins would not be produced.
As reported in this column in my May 2 interview with Gary Marks, the recently re-appointed Chairman of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Commission (CCAC) , the CCAC is the intellectual godfather of this program and has supported it for years. Over the course of this spring, the group has consulted with Rep. Barr on developing legislation that would implement the CCAC proposal.
During the CCAC’s April 19 meeting the group voted unanimously to push for a new Liberty coinage series that would only include the denominations that cost less to produce than their face value, namely, the dime, quarter, and half dollar.
By the CCAC’s initial estimate $57.8 million a year in deficit reduction savings would be generated by these coins, but they also developed some alternative models which project that the actual figure could be as low as $47.1 million a year, or as high as $60.6 million a year, according to a July 22 article in Coin World. Since the bill only requires a minimum of $10 million per year, it does not appear that this will be a problem unless the projections turn out to be way off.
The bill’s language mentions that the ten-year state quarter program generated $3 billion in profits over the course of that decade, though it should be added that there was greater need for circulating coinage in those years. That is because cashless transactions were less common than they are today, and because the economy was growing at a higher rate during most of those years than it is today, which increases the demand for circulating coins.
Coin collectors and numismatists who share the widely-held view that the best way to revitalize American coinage would be to issue coins with modern images of Liberty will surely welcome this news and look forward to passage of the bill and its enactment into law.
Writing in Numismatic News in a Viewpoint column posted online on July 23, Mark Lehman, president of Ancient Coins for Education, discussed an important aspect of the proposed coin series, which is that Liberty is a concept that unites Americans, whereas presidential-themed coinage and “the cult of personality” that surrounds those coins divides us because of our divergent political views.
As Mr. Lehman notes, Liberty is a theme that is valuable to all Americans, and “Americans of every possible political orientation and personal belief system are sincere in their revering of Liberty, or at least tell themselves they are.” Furthermore, “In short, Liberty unites, personality divides. We are in far more need of uniting circumstances and symbols than in more cults of personality.”
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.