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High on commemoratives?

Did you watch the Beatles on Ed Sullivan Feb. 9, 1964.

I did.

Like many others, I wonder where the last 50 years have gone.

But thinking along numismatic lines, I wonder if the Mint needs to strike out in a new direction with its commemorative coin program.

Coin sales have gone from many millions with the 1982 George Washington half dollar, the 1983-1984 Olympic program and the 1986 Statue of Liberty program to selling only 118,067 Girl Scout silver dollars, far less than half of the 350,000 authorized and less than 2 percent of the number of Statue of Liberty silver dollars sold.

The Girl Scout program did not even cover its expenses, so no surcharge income was paid out to the organization.

While it might be perceived as a humiliation for the Girl Scouts, it is more a humiliation for anyone who supports commemorative coins.

Failure means either that we need to change the commemorative program or abolish it.

I wrote a column in Numismatic News Express urging that surcharges be dropped in future programs, but that isn’t enough.

If coin buyers think the themes are lame, cutting out surcharges will do little to revitalize the program.

What would be popular themes that would inspire coin purchases?

Back to the Beatles.

We live in a copyrighted world of cultural icons and perhaps it is time to turn to them as potential coin themes.

If you don’t like the Beatles, how about the National Baseball Hall of Fame?

I have complaint letters wondering why we can’t use images of popular players or team logos to which fans are fanatically loyal.

These are good questions.

Of course, it is a matter of money.

Rather than surcharges, perhaps royalty payments would be money better spent to acquire themes that buyers are more likely to purchase.

The challenge is to come up with cultural icons that are both popular with the general public and the coin collecting community.

Where is that particular topical overlap?

That should be the object of the Mint’s next customer survey.

Perhaps they should have a coin to commemorate the legalization of marijuana use in the states of Washington and Colorado.

Extreme?

Yes.

A bad example?

Probably.

But a shrinking band of old fuddy-duddies, which is the impression we collectors increasingly give to the wider world, is something that must be countered.

Yes, I know Congress would need to approve it, but we have to start with an idea.

If I have gotten your attention with this and prompted a little thought, that’s a first step.

Buzz blogger Dave Harper is winner of the 2013 Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog and is editor of the weekly newspaper “Numismatic News.”

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