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Lady Liberty may be back on U.S. coinage

Are you one of the thousands of coin collectors who would love to see Lady Liberty restored to her rightful place on America’s circulating coinage? Would you also welcome new and exciting images of the American Bald Eagle and other inspirational national themes on our coins? If these ideas seem refreshing to you, then I have exciting news about a new proposal forwarded by the U.S. Mint’s Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee (CCAC) through the committee’s latest annual report.

Now, before I tell you about this exciting proposal I need to acknowledge what many of you are thinking – efforts to restore Lady Liberty to our circulating coinage never succeed. If that is your thought, numismatic history shows that you are correct. Lincoln has been on the cent since 1909. Jefferson has been on the nickel since 1938. FDR has endured on the dime since 1946, and the bust of Washington has occupied the quarter since 1932. Finally, the image of JFK has remained on the half dollar since 1964. The era of presidential portraiture on U.S. coinage is clearly alive and well with no end in sight.

The reality is that it will never be politically acceptable to remove the father of our nation – George Washington – or any other president from our permanent circulating coinage in favor of any other design theme – not even Lady Liberty.

Actually, it is how the CCAC’s new Liberty proposal deals with the issue of existing presidential designs on our coins that makes the proposal so interesting and, yes, plausible. So, how exactly can Lady Liberty make a come back on our coinage? Let me explain.

The CCAC proposal envisions a new Liberty-themed program of circulating commemorative coins – let’s call it the Liberty Commemorative Coinage Program – that would rotate annually between the cent, nickel, dime, quarter and half-dollar. In 2010, the first year of the Liberty program would see a new “Liberty” half dollar, with completely new obverse and reverse designs, released into circulation.

But, let’s not even try to take JFK off the half. Let him stay. That’s right – while the new Liberty half is introduced the Kennedy half would also be produced. Both coins – bearing the same date – would be made available to the public for that year at roughly equal mintage levels. After that year is over, the Liberty half would be retired – as a one-year commemorative issue – and the Kennedy half would continue into future years unabated. Then, in 2011, a new “Liberty” quarter would be introduced alongside the Washington quarter. Again, at the close of the year the Liberty quarter would be retired and the standard Washington quarter would continue into the future. The process would continue each succeeding year as the dime, nickel and cent would all see a one-year Liberty design introduced and subsequently retired. By 2014, each of the five denominations – half, quarter, dime, nickel and cent – would have carried a liberty design and the circulating Liberty Commemorative Coinage Program would come to an end.

Well, maybe it would end. There just might be good reason to believe the program – if successful – could be renewed for at least one more five-year rotation through the denominations.

Given the widespread popularity of recent circulating commemorative series, such as the 50-State Quarters Program and the Westward Journey Nickel Program, it is highly likely that Americans would eagerly welcome and snatch up millions of beautiful new “Liberty” coins for keepsakes and collections.

As these coins are sought after and saved away, the federal government would be the beneficiary in terms of added seigniorage. Seigniorage is the financial gain realized when the Mint provides coins to the banking system at face value even though the overall production and delivery of new coins – on net – costs the Mint less than face value. In a sense, seigniorage is the profit the Mint accrues from the production and sale of coins to the marketplace. With new financial gains bolstering the Mint’s bottom line and thus providing much sought-after funds for the federal government, renewing the program for the years beyond 2014 would be a simple and very attractive option for Congress to consider.
But even if the circulating Liberty Commemorative Coinage Program only existed for an initial five-year run, it would still provide the Mint’s talented art staff and the members of the Artistic Infusion Program a valuable opportunity to create modern renditions of Lady Liberty – a distinctly American coinage icon – that would actually circulate on five denominations of U.S. coinage. New and exciting reverse designs depicting the American Bald Eagle and other uplifting national themes would also be enabled. Even though our existing and seemingly never-ending presidentially-themed coinage designs would continue under this program, new liberty coins would allow modern American artistic expressions to finally be asserted in the ongoing history of United States circulating coinage.

The circulating Liberty Commemorative Coinage Program offers a way to finally break through the deadlock of presidential designs on our coins by not replacing them, but rather by circulating with them. The program follows the age-old advice that if you can’t beat them – join them. It’s a win-win for the presidential and liberty design themes alike. We can continue to honor our outstanding presidents while also re-introducing Lady Liberty – albeit in a limited fashion – to our circulating coinage.

As a life-long coin collector and an advocate for the advancement of modern American numismatic art, I want to see legislation enacted by Congress to authorize the circulating Liberty Commemorative Coinage Program. If you would also like to see this program enacted into law, consider writing a letter to Numismatic News and to your senators or congressional representative expressing your support.

If you would like to learn more about this exciting coin program, go to www.coinchatradio.com and listen to my interview with Dave Harper on this subject as part of the archived recording of the Aug. 7 Coin Chat radio program.

Thank you for your support. Together, we just might be able to make numismatic history by bringing new and inspiring images of Lady Liberty to our circulating coinage.

Gary Marks is a lifelong coin collector, a member of the Citizens Coin Advisory Committee, and a resident of Ketchum, Idaho.

Viewpoint is a forum for the expression of opinion on a variety of numismatic subjects. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of Numismatic News.
To have your opinion considered for Viewpoint, write to David C. Harper, Editor, Numismatic News, 700 E. State St., Iola, WI 54990. Send e-mail to david.harper@fwpubs.com.

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