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President authorizes new 2007 coins

GW Medal.jpgA new series of circulating $1 coins bearing presidential portraits will start in 2007 under terms of legislation signed into law Dec. 22 by President George W. Bush. With the stroke of a pen, the Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005 became Public Law 109-145. A companion bill calling for a commemorative silver dollar honoring the golden anniversary of the ending of public school segregation in Little Rock, Ark., in 1957 became Public Law 109-146.

The Presidential $1 Coin Act calls for striking four presidential dollars each year until all presidents except those still living have been so honored. An interesting provision is the requirement that the Mint strike Sacagawea dollars in an amount equal to at least one-third of the total of the presidential coins each year.

Also in the new law was a provision that calls for a parallel First Spouse half-ounce $10 gold bullion coin and four Lincoln cent special commemorative cents for 2009, together with a fifth non-circulating legal-tender cent made of the original cent alloy of 1909. Also included: a special one-ounce 99.99 percent gold bullion coin bearing the Buffalo nickel design on a $50 denomination. A bronze medallic version of the first spouse coin is also required.

Originally, the legislation introduced by Rep. Michael Castle, R-Del., called for all non-incumbent presidents to be honored with the portraiture, which will come out four times a year starting in 2007. There have been 43 presidents, including one, Grover Cleveland, who served non-consecutive terms as the 22nd and 24th Presidents.

However, the final version contemplates only specifically deceased presidents who are, by the time their coinage portrait becomes due, are dead for at least two years. The program will likely last at least 10 years, during which time at least two more Presidents will likely be elected. The program could, absent unusual succession, have as many as 45 coins.

Castle is the former chair of the House coinage subcommittee and is widely viewed as the legislative father of the state quarter program that started in 1999 and terminates in 2008 after a 50-coin continuity program.

The new Presidential dollars will also have the Statue of Liberty on the reverse, a design element that Castle was publicly known to have preferred to the Sacagawea design that was adopted for the golden dollar.

Since the new Presidential dollar coins are intended to circulate, they will bear mintmarks from the Philadelphia and Denver mints. A proof version will be made available to collectors.

Not to be included, unless they are dead at least two years when their turn comes, will be former presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush (Bush 41), Bill Clinton and incumbent President George Bush (Bush 43) and his eventual successors. That means the set will include 120 coins at a minimum.

The first spouse gold program has no such limitation. For example, if the Lyndon B. Johnson were currently in production (he died in 1973), Lady Bird Johnson (still alive having just celebrated her 93rd birthday on Dec. 22) would go on the first spouse coin. So would Nancy Reagan.

There is no legal prohibition against depicting live Presidents, or other living individuals, on American coinage. Calvin Coolidge appeared on the sesquicentennial half dollar of 1926. Eunice Shriver appeared on the 1995 Special Olympics commemorative silver dollar. Some American presidents have also appeared on foreign coinage during their lifetimes.

Contemporary American presidents have appeared on a number of foreign coins. Jimmy Carter appeared on the Dominica $20 and $50 commemoratives in 1979 (KM-17 and 18), and the Isle of Man crown for the U.S. Constitution.

The Philippines depicted President Reagan on the 25-piso issue of 1982 (KM-235) with then-President Marcos. Reagan appeared again in 1986 with President Aquino on the 25 piso and 2,500 piso coin (KM-246 and 247).
Other Americans who thought they should be President have also appeared on coins during their lifetimes. The Arkansas-Robinson half dollar (1936) bore the portrait of Sen. Joseph T. Robinson, then-Senate majority leader, though he died the following year; Sen. Carter Glass, one of the founders of the Federal Reserve System was honored on a Lynchburg sesquicentennial half dollar, also of 1936, just as Gov. Thomas E. Kilby had earlier been honored on the 1921 Alabama centennial half dollar during his tenure.

In keeping with the educational theme established by the 50-State quarter program, one President would have two coin designs, as he served non-sequential terms ? Grover Cleveland. Two Presidents would have two spouse coins, as they were both married and remarried while in office (Tyler and Wilson) and several would have no spousal coins, as a they were not married while in office.

For all of those nonspousal coins, except that of Chester A. Arthur, the coin would feature on the obverse the image of Liberty as represented by a circulating coin of the period; in the case of President Arthur, the image on the face would be that of Alice Paul, a suffragette strategist born during his term.
The law also requires the Sacagawea dollar coin design to be simultaneously circulated using the Glenna Goodacre design of the Indian explorer who assisted Lewis and Clark in their exploits of 200 years ago.

Bronze copies of the new first spouse bullion coins would be made available at a nominal cost for those who wanted to collect sets of First Spouses or Presidents and their spouses, but did not wish to pay for the cost of a half-ounce of nearly pure gold (.9999 fine), plus processing and marketing costs.
The first spouse coins are required to be issued in proof and uncirculated qualities.

The reverse of the Presidential coins will be different than other American circulating coinage. It will have a common design element, ?a likeness of the Statue of Liberty extending to the rim of the coin and large enough to provide a dramatic representation of Liberty, while not being large enough to create the impression of a ?2-headed? coin, together with the inscription ?$1? rather than the spelled out ?One Dollar?; and the inscription ?United States of America?.?

This is also a rim-inscription coin in an unusual way: ?The inscription of the year of minting or issuance of the coin and the inscriptions ?E Pluribus Unum? and ?In God We Trust? shall be edge-incused into the coin.? The late John Jay Pittman used to call this the ?third side of a coin.?

Congressional designers also mandate that ?The edge-incusing of the inscriptions … shall be done in a manner that preserves the distinctive edge of the coin so that the denomination of the coin is readily discernible, including by individuals who are blind or visually impaired.?

The ?Little Rock Central High School Desegregation 50th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Act,? marks the 50th anniversary in 2007 of the desegregation of Little Rock High School by the issuance of up to 500,000 silver dollar commemorative coins.

Surcharges on the sale of the coins would be paid to the Secretary of the Interior office for use in efforts to protect, preserve and interpret resources and stories associated with the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site.

The House Report on the measure says, ?The legislation seeks to recognize one of the crucial moments in the efforts to desegregate public schools through the sale of a commemorative coin.? Federal troops were sent to Little Rock by President Eisenhower to enforce the desegregation order that originated from the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court case ending ?separate but equal? schools.

On Sept. 25, 1957, the Little Rock Nine entered Central High School when Eisenhower ordered the 101st Army Infantry Division (Airborne) to escort them and to enforce the order of the Supreme Court.

The integration of Central High School by the Little Rock Nine in 1957 was the most prominent national example of the implementation of the Brown decision, and served as a a catalyst for the integration of other, previously segregated public schools in the United States.

The Lincoln cent Title III to the Presidential Dollar Coin Act calls for the elimination of the familiar Lincoln Memorial reverse and replacement with four designs depicting various stages of the life of Abraham Lincoln which, not coincidentally, is comprised of three states and the District of Columbia: Kentucky, where he was born; Indiana, the home of his youth; Illinois, where he practiced law and went to Congress from, and Washington, D.C., where he served as 16th President.

In the law?s text, this is referred to as ?(A) his birth and early childhood in Kentucky; (B) his formative years in Indiana; (C) his professional life in Illinois; and (D) his presidency, in Washington, D.C.?

The kicker to the legislation says, ?The Secretary of the Treasury shall issue 1-cent coins in 2009 with the exact metallic content as the 1-cent coin contained in 1909 in such number as the Secretary determines to be appropriate for numismatic purposes.? So there will likely be a fifth design, perhaps struck as a proof and in uncirculated condition, as non-circulating legal tender. This means that a bronze alloy that was used in 1909 would be utilized.

In the year 2010 and beyond, ?The design on the reverse of the 1-cent coins issued after Dec. 31, 2009, shall bear an image emblematic of President Lincoln?s preservation of the United States of America as a a single and united country,? an unspecified design that could arguably be the Lincoln Memorial, yet again, a partial rendering, or even something entirely new.

A partial interior inscription of the Gettysburg Address, pinioned off the Daniel Chester French statue of the Great Emancipator, is another possibility, but fortunately for all except Mint engravers and sculptors, that is still years away.
James Earle Fraser?s buffalo nickel was an astonishing artistic achievement when it was issued in 1913, and it has already gained new life with recent commemorative coinage. The new law?s Title II, Buffalo Gold Bullion Coins, adds to the historic legacy as a a a new $50 gold one-ounce coin slated for issuance within six months of enactment into law, i.e., by June 2006.

Vermeule?s Numismatic Art in America (1971) and Taxay?s The U.S. Mint and Coinage (1966) make clear that the design that emerged on the Buffalo nickel was not without its controversy and issues. At one point, Fraser and his lawyer had a meeting on the issue with the Mint director and Secretary of the Treasury over modifications of a few thousandths of an inch. Multiple reductions, several patterns and many sketches were made.

The design is required by the terms of the bill. The ?obverse and reverse of the gold bullion coins struck … during the first year of issuance shall bear the original designs by James Earle Fraser, which appear on the 5-cent coin commonly referred to as a the `Buffalo nickel? or the ?1913 Type 1?.?

As might be expected, there are variations or exceptions. The new coin will ?have inscriptions of the weight of the coin and the nominal denomination of the coin incused in that portion of the design on the reverse of the coin commonly known as the ?grassy mound?; and bear such other inscriptions as the Secretary determines to be appropriate.?

Remaining unresolved is the residuary rights that the Fraser estate (he died in 1953) may have in the original designs, which would be altered under the terms of the legislation.

Coins will be .9999 fine (four nines fine) and must come from newly mined American gold. ?The Secretary shall acquire gold for the coins issued under this subsection by purchase of gold mined from natural deposits in the United States, or in a territory or possession of the United States, within 1 year after the month in which the ore from which it is derived was mined.?

That could very well create a new market, since existing gold is generally not discriminated against by origin or place of refinement. That is, gold is gold ? except now for these Buffalo gold coins, which could well make them more expensive to produce.

But for their requirement, ?The Secretary shall pay not more than the average world price for the gold mined,? which could well mean that there?s no metal available to assist in production.

It will also change some of the Mint?s practices. According to its annual accounting statement, ?The U.S. Mint?s Public Enterprise Fund occasionally uses gold and silver from the custodial reserves to support its numismatic operations. The PEF later replenishes the reserves with newly mined gold.? Now, only newly mined gold could be used for the Buffalo coins.

Evidently, the original intent from an earlier draft was to limit the number of pieces to 500,000, but the final version allows for the Treasury Secretary to make that determination initially, and thereafter on an annual basis ? which he may also do concerning the design after its initial fling.

What is left from the law is that America now has a convoluted bullion system.
A $10 half-ounce presidential first spouse coin that is .9999 fine and a half-ounce $25 American Eagle coin (Saint-Gaudens design) that is .9167 fine. There?s also a $50 one-ounce Buffalo gold bullion coin .9999 fine and a $50 Saint-Gaudens American Eagle design that is .9167 fine.

It gets better. The $25 American eagle coin has a 27mm diameter. The first spouse coin is legislatively mandated to be the same size as the dollar coin ? the slightly smaller 26.492mm diameter.

The Dec. 22nd signing was conducted without fanfare. The Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee and Fine Arts Commission will have design input. Just as the state quarter program goes into its final phase, these new programs will start.

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