Interview with CCAC Member Dr. Michael Bugeja Part I: “I Am There to Promote the Hobby”
by Louis Golino for CoinWeek
Dr. Michael Bugeja was appointed last year to serve on the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee, which advises the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury on U.S. coin and medal designs and themes.
He is also a columnist for Coin World magazine, where he writes the “Home Hobbyist” column, and writes the “Coin Capsule” feature for Coin Update News that deals mainly with graded coins. He is very active in the numismatic arena, and has served as president of the Ames Iowa Coin Club, helped organized Coin-A-Rama,” a large Midwestern coin show, writes a blog about the auction platform Proxbid, and buys and sells coins at a local shop in Iowa.
In addition, Dr. Bugeja is Director of the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University and a former journalist and editor for United Press International. He is the author of numerous books and articles on issues such as ethics and poetry, among many others.
The CCAC was established though a 2003 law to advise the Secretary of the Treasury on the themes and designs that appear on all U.S. coins and medals, including circulating coins, bullion, commemoratives, and Congressional Gold Medals and other medals. It also advises on what people, events, or places should be honored with commemorative coins and makes recommendations on mintage levels.
The Treasury secretary makes the final decision on coin designs, but the recommendations of the CCAC play a critical role in informing those decisions.
After each of the committee’s meetings, it sends a letter to the Secretary with the minutes of the meeting. According to its web site (http://www.ccac.gov), “The CCAC serves as an informed, experienced, and impartial resource to the Secretary of the Treasury and represents the interests of American citizens and collectors.”
In my view, the CCAC is a critical link between the numismatic community and the U.S. Mint.
Dr. Bugeja serves in a position on the committee that is reserved for someone specially qualified in numismatics. The CCAC also has members who are numismatic historians and researchers, sculptors, experts on medallic arts, and so forth.
By serving on the CCAC, Dr. Bugeja plays an important role in promoting the hobby we all love so much and representing the views and interests of coin collectors.
I recently interviewed Dr. Bugeja about his work with the CCAC and his views on modern commemorative coins, circulating coins, coin design and artistry, the state of the U.S. coin market, and his interest in coins.
LG: 1.) Last year you were appointed to serve on the CCAC. Please briefly describe your work with the committee.
MB: I was chosen for knowledge of numismatics, after responding to an open call for applications. Because of my work for Coin Update News and Coin World, in addition to my love of the hobby, I was chosen in a very informative application process. I was asked pertinent questions, and I addressed them in part by recalling U.S. Mint history, especially as it related to coin design. The research and interview process prepared me well for the design critiques that we routinely do in our public sessions. I remember that I also am there to promote the hobby. As a collector, that always helps in the critiquing of designs for US coinage. We have a very good group of experts and a proactive, engaged and committed chair in Gary Marks. He prepares an agenda, the Mint sends designs in advance of the meeting–often with pertinent background information on legislation or commemorative occasions–and we analyze at home and then share in committee. Often, you’ll see preconceived ideas change during discussion. That’s the exciting part about being on the committee.
LG: 2.) Do you agree that the maximum authorized mintage levels for many recent U.S. commemorative coins have been far too high, which has depressed secondary values for many issues? It almost seems as if the Congress and the Mint have forgotten that these coins no longer have anywhere near the level of demand they did in the 1980′s, when they sold in very large numbers.
MB: As you know, often mintage is legislated and the Mint does what it can to fulfill obligations. But yes, I think mintage levels have been too high on some modern commemorative coins. I recently did a column for Coin World on privy marks and how Canada, for instance, uses them rather than mint coins commemorating one occasion in different coin denominations.
LG: 3.) I thought the Mint was working with the Congress to set lower mintage levels, but I noticed that the authorized level for many releases in the next couple years is still much too high, such as for the Marshall Service commemorative half dollar at 750,000. The most recent commemorative halves, the 2011 Army coins, only sold a total of about 108,000 pieces. Is the committee making an effort to suggest to the Treasury Secretary that these levels be set more realistically?
MB: In the meetings that I attended, that topic had not been debated or discussed at length with respect to commemorative coins. We have discussed mintage levels with presidential [$1] coins because of the recent news stories about the backlog of coins in storage. Personally, I think hobbyists want presidential coins to continue, but at lower levels, perhaps just in mint and proof sets, as we did with the Kennedy half dollar.
LG: 3.) Do you agree with the view some people have expressed that there have been too many military-themed commemorative issues in recent years (Army and Medal of Honor coins last year, infantry soldiers this year, five-star generals next year, etc.)?
MB: I really don’t have a personal position on that. I have great respect for those who serve our country in the armed forces. Also, since ancient times, military symbols and icons traditionally appear on coins. I believe we need more women on our coins. And I would like iconic women, such as Lady Liberty, to look like real women of different ethnic backgrounds, rather than media images of female beauty.
LG: In the second part of this interview Dr. Bugeja discusses coin artistry, the use of classic images of liberty on our coinage, and other issues.
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.