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 Outside Activities  » Coin Advisory Report

Ganz & Hollinger partner David L. Ganz took the lead on the Citizens Commemorative Coin Advisory Committee, following his appointment by Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen (1993-1996) in proposing circulating commemorative coinage.

Here is the text of a report made by him to the CCAC in 1994

Report to the Citizens Commemorative Coin Advisory Committee on Circulating Commemorative Coins
- By David L. Ganz

At its first meeting in Washington on December 14, 1993, an issue raised before the Citizens Commemorative Coin Advisory Committee dealt with the issuance of circulating commemorative coinage as contrasted with the non- circulating legal tender commemorative coins that, in recent years, have been struck by the Mint as authorized and directed by Congress. Statutory Chair of the panel, Philip N. Diehl, executive deputy director of the United States Mint, requested that the Committee be briefed on the issues involving a circulating commemorative coin, consistent with the mandate of the committee to make formal recommendations to Congress by year's end. The Committee has viewed its mandate broadly, and from this directive by the Chair, it is hoped that legislation or Congressional rulemaking will result in diminished criticism of the existing commemorative coin programs, while simultaneously increasing the sales of existing and future programs. To some extent, in my judgment, the Committee must be a lightning rod, and be audacious enough to take the lead on an issue where, by doing so, they can ultimately benefit all commemorative coin programs for the future.

Brief History of Commemorative Coinage

Commemorative coinage has existed since at least the time of the Roman Empire. Coins of that era were utilized to pay homage to the Caesars, to celebrate victories on the battlefield, and indeed, to communicate with the populace utilizing the one means --money-- that every citizen utilizes for basic contact with the government. Indeed, these commemorative coins constitute a primary source for contemporary historical research as to what events took place in Roman times. Elements of coinage design -- circulating and non- circulating-- are closely regulated, and the design elements have historically been considered of paramount importance. Indeed, when the original Mint Act of April 2, 1792 was enacted, more time was expended in discussing the design elements on the coinage, and the portraiture that was to appear, than on the substance of the Mint's organizational structure. A review of the early editions of the Annals of Congress (1791) reveals a major debate as to whether George Washington's portrait, or that of an object merely representing Liberty, should be utilized. Many collectors are aware, and even collect, the pattern coins frequently described as "George Washington as King or Emperor," an allusion to the designs which were similar to that of King George III. Congress initially decided that circulating coinage would bear a design emblematic of Liberty, verbiage for which is found in the original minting act of 1792, continued in the seminal Coinage Act of 1873, and in the 1982 codification that is presently in effect. Coinage design, during the Mint's first 100 years utilized portraiture of a female symbol of Liberty, appearing in a variety of different styles and designs. The first American circulating commemorative coin was probably a counterstamped 1848 quarter eagle ($2.50 gold piece) struck at the Philadelphia Mint from California gold. Known as the "Cal" quarter eagle, the coin has punched into its field the abbreviation "CAL.", intended to call attention to the great gold rush that began at Sutter's Mill. A half century later, in 1892, promoters of the 1893 International World's Fair and Columbian Exposition in Chicago proposed issuance of a special commemorative coin that had a face value of 50 cents, and an initial sales price of $1. The following year, they proposed a woman's commemorative coin with a portrait featuring an alleged likeness of Queen Isabella of Spain, the patron of Cristobal Colon. The half dollar authorized was produced bearing 1892 and 1893 dates in its authorized quantity of five million pieces. It was intended to raise several million dollars for the sponsors, who had the exclusive right to purchase from the Mint and then to resell to the public. Beautiful in design, the coin was to be sold as a souvenir at the Fair, not an unreasonable expectation. As events turned out, the sponsors were unable to make their predicted sales and to recoup their investment, the sponsors placed hundreds of thousands of these Columbian exposition coins into circulation, where they eventually crept into pocket change. The coins circulated alongside regular issue pieces well into the 1960's, and I recall in my youth receiving circulated specimens in change. At the same time the Columbian Exposition coins were authorized, there were alternatives for commemoration, as well as for revenue. Numerous medals were produced. Some were the size of coins and are referred to today as so-called dollars; others were of larger, and smaller size, and are all conveniently catalogued for today's numismatist to collect and enjoy. In the 20th century, the first circulating commemorative was struck for the centennial of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, in 1909. The Annual Report of the Director of the Mintsimply noted that, "With the approval of the Secretary of the Treasury the new design for the bronze one-cent coin was adopted in April, 1909. On the obverse the head of Lincoln appears instead of the Indian head which this piece had borne since 1864. The engraver of the mint at Philadelphia was instructed to prepare dies and coinage of this piece was commenced in May...." In March, 1931, Congress enacted legislation overturning a portion of the Act of Sept. 26, 1890 (limiting design changes to no more frequently than once in 25 years on circulating coinage) and specifically authorized and directed the Secretary of the Treasury "for the purpose of commemorating the 200th anniversary of the birth of George Washington, to change the design of the 25 cent piece so that the portrait of George Washington shall appear on the obverse, with appropriate devices on the reverse...." In 1946, the Mint produced a Roosevelt memorial medal, and also introduced a new circulating commemorative coin design for the dime, bearing the portrait of the late president of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Cornelius Vermeule, a numismatic art historian, terms the coin "the logical memorial for Franklin Roosevelt in the regular coinage." A generation later, following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Congress enacted the law of December 30, 1963, directing that the Franklin half dollar be replaced with a design "which shall bear on one side the likeness of the late president of the United States John Fitzgerald Kennedy," a motif which Vermeule terms a "hasty, emotional advent" even though the design is "a tolerable, staidly handsome coin". At the start of the 1970's, another circulating commemorative coin was authorized, the Eisenhower dollar. The One Bank Holding Company Act of 1970 required a coin to "bear the likeness of the late President of the United States, Dwight David Eisenhower, and on the other side thereof a design which is emblematic of the symbolic eagle of Apollo 11 landing on the moon." In 1973, Congress passed Public Law 93-127, which directed the Treasury Secretary to commemorate the bicentennial of the American Revolution with a reverse design change for the quarter dollar, half dollar and dollar coin, all of which were intended for circulation but of which only the quarter dollar really achieved circulation. The colonial drummer boy on the quarter, dated 1776-1976 (and produced in 1975 and 1976 by the Mint) still can be found occasionally in circulation today, a unique reminder of our bicentennial celebration. The half dollar (bearing Independence Hall on the reverse), and the dollar (Liberty Bell imposed on the lunar surface) never really achieved circulation. Occasionally, examples of the half dollar are found in circulation. Collector versions of the coins were struck in silver-clad material, as required by law. Most recently, in 1979, a dollar coin commemorating Susan B. Anthony was produced by the Mint. The reverse was directed to have "a design which is emblematic of the symbolic eagle of Apollo 11 landing on the moon." Its design was identical to that of the Eisenhower dollar authorized in 1970. The coin did achieve partial circulation in some areas of the country, and in that sense is a circulating commemorative coin, but never achieved general circulation success.

Foreign Country Experience

Foreign countries have long utilized commemorative coinage in circulation-- not intended primarily for collectors-- as a means of commemorating contemporary events. For example, Queen Victoria's portrait changed several times during her long reign, and Queen Elizabeth II also has had portraiture change. Victoria's Jubilee was celebrated with circulating commemoratives in 1887 (marking her 50th year on the throne). In 1965, the commemorate the passing of Sir Winston Churchill, a circulating Crown bearing his portrait on the reverse of the coin (Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II appeared on the obverse of the coin) was authorized. Long before modern, contemporary commemorative coin issues, there is a history of circulating commemoratives for a variety of other themes. For example, Albania commemorated the Marriage of King Zog in 1938 with a circulating 20 franc gold coin; Australia utilized a 1 Florin coin in 1927 to commemorate the establishment of Parliament (2 million pieces were struck); Argentina honored the centennial of San Martin in 1950 with the striking of 37 million 20 centavos pieces in nickel; for the centenary of the death of Franz Schubert, Austria struck 6.9 million two schilling coins in 1928; for the 175th anniversary of the Birth of Mozart in 1932, a half million two schilling coins were produced by Austria. In 1936, Brazil struck a series of eight coins (in nickel, aluminum-bronze and minor metals) honoring men of outstanding achievement in art, industry and science. All circulated (and went on to be produced for several more years). Canada commemorated the 1939 Royal Visit by King George VI with a silver dollar that was intended for circulation (1.3 million minted), while Egypt commemorated the 1956 nationalization of the Suez Canal Company with a 25 piastres coin (250,000 pieces produced). In 1910, Germany marked the founding of the University of Berlin (in 1809) with 200,000 three-mark coins (plus 2,000 proof pieces for collectors). Great Britain honored the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953 with a 5 million production run for a crown (40,000 proofs for collectors); Israel produced commemoratives for the Festival of Lights (Hanukkah) in 1958 (a 1 pound copper- nickel coin produced 250,000 for circulation, and 5,000 as proofs for collectors); New Zealand produced a 1 crown coin (1949) for a proposed Royal Visit that was ultimately cancelled (200,000 pieces entered circulation, anyhow). There are many others. Contemporary Olympic commemorative coinage, in the post-war period, was initially intended for circulation. The government issuers were content to make profits on the seigniorage alone (the difference between face value and the cost to produce the coin, including its metal content). For example, the Helsinki, Finland, Olympics of 1952 saw a 500-Markkaa coin issued (then worth a face of about $2). Just over 600,000 pieces were issued in 1951-2 (seigniorage: $1.027 million). In 1964, for the Winter Olympics, Austria struck a 50- Schilling piece (producing 2.9 million pieces with a seigniorage of about $3 million, based on a face value of about $2 and metal (silver) content and production costs of about 85 cents apiece). That same year, in 1964, Japan issued its first ever commemorative circulating coins for the Summer Games and produced 80 million 100 Yen coins in .600 silver (seigniorage of $14.5 million) and 15 million pieces in 1,000 Yen denomination (then valued at $3.35) for a seigniorage of about $36 million. For the 1968 Olympics, Mexico issued a silver 25 peso coin for circulation (30 million were produced, with a seigniorage of about $48 million). In 1972, for the Winter Games at Sapporo, Japan issued some 30 million copper-nickel 100 Yen coins, nearly all of the value of which was seigniorage. Germany issued silver coins for circulation (more than 100 million pieces were produced in six different series, produced at four different mints, including a proof-rendering for collectors). They yielded over $200 million in seigniorage. The coins circulated widely in Germany. By the time of the 1980 Summer Olympic Games, there was a substantial commemorative coin program utilizing gold, silver and platinum coins for the Soviet Union. There also were copper nickel coins issued for the public at larger at face value. A one rouble coin commemorating the XII Olympiad Moscow was issued (8.6 million struck and issued for circulation and issued at face value, for example, on the coin depicting the Olympic Games emblem; other copper- nickel coins had mintages in the four to six million piece range). Canada has issued circulating, legal tender commemoratives. In 1967, it celebrated its centennial with a series of design changes. On the quarter, for example, a walking wildcat replaced the familiar caribou with the dates 1867-1967; some 49 million pieces were produced. The 1973 centennial of the founding of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on the 25 cent coin is another example. Some 134 million pieces were minted for general circulation before the caribou reverse returned (about 243,000 collector coins were also produced in special sets). Again using the Canadian quarter dollar in 1992, the caribou was replaced utilizing a daring approach: "During each month of 1992 the Royal Canadian Mint issued a 25-cent coin bearing a unique design to represent one of the 12 provinces and territories. Each coin was launched at a special event... The designs for the 13 coins [were] issued to celebrate the 125th birthday [of Canada] (a one dollar coin was issued for Canada Day 1992)..." The average mintage for each of these circulating issues was above 7 million coins; proof issues were also produced and sold at a modest price of under $10 apiece). Each of these instances had a common goal: to popularize the coins themselves by producing a circulating counterpart. The circulating counterpart did not detract from the sale of the collector coins. On the contrary, it heightened the interest. Circulating coinage for various events such as centennials of independence, or other similar anniversaries, are well-known throughout the world. As of 1973 (before the modern era of commemorative coin explosion), more than 57 countries had in fact taken this approach to commemorative coinage, though many also produced precious metal versions for collectors. Simply by way of example, in 1969 Albania issued aluminum coins in 5, 10, 20, and 50 quindarka and 1 Lek commemorating the 25th anniversary of liberation; Algeria did a 10th anniversary of independence and FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) coin in copper nickel (1 dinar, 1972) and brass (20 centimes). Argentina struck a 10 pesos coin in nickel-clad steel for the sesquicentennial of independence in 1966, as did Brazil in 1972 (1 cruzeiro in nickel, 20 cruzeiros in silver, and 300 cruzeiros in gold). More contem poraneously, the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, oldest of the independent United Nations agencies (founded in 1945), sponsored a program that ultimately encompassed more than 100 countries in issuing circulating coinage with a common theme: Grow More Food and for All. The FAO coin program started with the premise that coins are the sole means that every citizen of every country in the world has in maintaining contact with their government. By utilizing an important message (for example, grow more food) the government had the means of apprising its population of the perceived importance of this concept. Ultimately, diverse governments produced circulating commemorative coins with this theme.

Concluding Comments

It would be naive to suggest that the only commemoratives worthy of circulating in pocket change ought to be produced by the United States Mint or indeed any world minting authority. However, as the evidence shows, many countries outside the United States utilize coinage as a medium of expression to the population as a whole for certain commemorative themes. It is suggested that as a guidepost, the Citizens Commemorative Coin Advisory Committee adopt as a recommendation a resolution providing that at least one (1) coin issue each year be produced as a circulating commemorative coin issue; that a sufficient quantity be produced to effectively circulate the coin; that a special collector version (in precious metal, as a proof issue; or in base metal, as a proof issue, or both) be produced; and that any design or theme chosen be of a character of sufficient importance as an event to warrant its introduction into commerce as a circulating commemorative coin. The recent Canadian experience with its quarter dollar (and, indeed, the American experience with its bicentennial quarter) suggest that the 25 cent denomination could be utilized for this. If a small-sized dollar coin were to circulate (in substantial quantity), it would also be an appropriate vehicle for this commemoration.

Suggested Motion

RESOLVED that the Citizens Commemorative Coin Advisory Committee recommends to the Secretary that at least one coin issue each year be produced as a circulating commemorative coin issue; that a sufficient quantity be produced to effectively circulate the coin; that a special collector version be produced as well for sale to the Mint list, and to others; and that any design or theme for such coin be of a character of sufficient importance to warrant its issue.

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