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Do commem sales reflect historical punch?

Photographs don’t do justice to the beauty of the design of the John Marshall commemorative silver dollar.

The proofs have a nice mirror-like finish and the uncirculateds have matte surfaces. Both are gorgeous, but you cannot truly appreciate them unless you see them – and few have so far.

According to the mintage statistics tallied to this point, sales of the Marshall dollar are rather sluggish. It did not help that, in order to make more individual Marine dollars available to collectors, the number of American Legacy Collection sets was cut in half from 100,000 to 50,000. That is no problem for Marine sales. Individual collectors will appreciate the opportunity to purchase those proofs. It will probably be harder for the Marshall offering to make up the potentially lost sales.

After all, it is clear that the Marine dollar is in rather high demand, while the Marshall piece is going more to collectors who want to stay current with Mint offerings out of a sense of achieving completeness rather than a passion for the subject matter.

That is probably as it should be. The Marines have sacrificed much in the history of the United States and many collectors were Marines making sacrifices for all of us.

Comparative mintage ceilings show that expectations for Marshall coin sales were only two-thirds that of the Marines, 400,000 versus 600,000. But even more to the point, while Marshall has been available since late April, the Marine dollar went on sale in late July and sales went rapidly.

As a consequence, it is not difficult to write that the Marshall coin may not even sell out its 400,000 authorized mintage. Check the Mint Statistics page and do your own calculations and then decide whether they will all be gone by the end of the year.

It is a shame that the coins will not sell out. Marshall was a giant in American history. He is the one who made the Supreme Court a truly co-equal third branch of the federal government. What he and his court decided set precedents that come down to us today. As we discuss what the Supreme Court was, is and should be as the President and Congress decide who should replace Chief Justice Rehnquist and Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, it is important to note that there would be little reason for the current political battles had not Marshall and his court’s opinions given shape and weight to the Supreme Court itself.

Marshall was considered a great man in his time, though we can imagine what President Thomas Jefferson thought of him as he went toe-to-toe with Marshall and the court on some issues. But Marshall’s tenure endured for over three decades, 1801-1835. When he died, the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia tolled for him. Nowadays, we remember Marshall less and more the fact that the Liberty Bell cracked at his funeral. However, it was Marshall who helped defend the very Liberty that the Bell symbolizes.

Will this sell more Marshall silver dollars? I doubt it. But Marshall fans should not feel slighted. We seem to be giving many American greats less than their due. After all, last year we collectively said, sure Edison invented the lightbulb, but why should we be excited by his coin? Two years ago we celebrated 100 years of manned flight and the Wright Brothers, but with less than overwhelming coin demand.

Should every American achievement garner a sellout for a coin with that theme? Perhaps not. But isn’t it interesting that when Americans know the true significance of something from first-hand experience, such as for the Marine coin, demand is high. Where that significance needs to be communicated through our history books, the message does not seem to have the same punch and coin sales are lower.

If another country claimed the lightbulb and manned flight, we would be terribly indignant. If John Marshall had been a pushover for every occupant of the White House, the nature of the country and its constitutional law would be quite different. Would that matter? Not if coin buying is any indication.

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