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End congressional commemoratives

It is time to abolish the issuance of congressionally approved modern commemorative coins.

The current baseball program aside, recent issues simply leave modern collectors cold.

There is an impulse to try to fix something that seems broken, but I think it should be resisted in the case of this commemorative program.

When the modern series began in 1982, there had been no regular commemorative coin issues since 1954. Collectors were starved for them. The bought them in huge numbers.

If you look at the mintages of the 1982 George Washington half dollar, you might be astounded. The uncirculated coin sold 2,210,458. The proof sold 4,894,044. The combined total is over 7 million. Such was the coin’s appeal to collectors.

The 7 million figure was topped again by the proof and uncirculated 1986 Statue of Liberty silver dollar.

Now we ooh and aah over the sellout of 400,000 baseball silver dollars.

It is sad.

Sadder still is the less successful Civil Rights silver dollar, which hasn’t even reached 80,000 yet.

This is less than 2 percent of the Statue of Liberty total. Actually, it is hardly more than 1 percent.

If congressionally authorized commemoratives were the only Mint offerings beyond standard coin issues, it would be a different story. But they no longer are as they were when they appeared in the 1980s.

There was some success in shoring up the commemorative program in the late 1990s when Congress limited itself to approving two programs a year. But the barrier has been breached in another manner.

The 2009 Ultra High Relief Saint-Gaudens gold $20 was a commemorative in all but name. The same is true of the gold Kennedy half dollar.

There is a strong likelihood that the Mint will sell a new high relief design in 2015 and centennial coins marking the 100th anniversaries of the Mercury dime, Standing Liberty quarter and Walking Liberty half dollar in 2016.

This is a second, parallel commemorative coin program – and that is one too many.

Get rid of the commemorative program that runs through Congress.

End the surcharge tribute that collectors of these coins have to pay to obtain the coins.

Surcharges were not an issue with the Baseball Hall of Fame coins. The unique shape of the coins obscured any further look into the details of the commemorative coin issue.

But future Mint-inspired and created coins will not have $7, $10 or $35 surcharges on them.

These fees were the price collectors willingly paid in the 1980s to get commemoratives in the first place.

They started out going to causes most Americans got behind.

Support of the 1984 Olympics was a demonstration that America had returned after its decline in the 1970s.

The Statue of Liberty coins paid nearly half the cost of refurbishing the monument.

Most miraculous was there was no surcharge attached to the Washington half dollar at all.

But then the causes got less popular. Girl Scouts couldn’t catch a break and got no surcharge income at all even though collectors paid surcharges for the coins they bought.

Enough.

End the congressionally approved commemorative coin programs and limit the new “commemorative” issues to whatever the Mint comes up with from time to time in the future.

Buzz blogger Dave Harper is winner of the 2014 Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog and is editor of the weekly newspaper “Numismatic News.”

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