Coinage redesign was introduced in the House of Representatives on Sept. 21, 1987, as H.R. 3314, by Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., and several other members, some six months after the American Numismatic Association board of governors, and later the U.S. Commission on Fine Arts, passed resolutions supporting design change.
It was soundly rejected by the House for nearly a generation until hearings were held July 19, 2006, by the House coinage subcommittee ? where it received a stirring endorsement from governmental witnesses testifying on different issues ? but enough so to see that it is now an idea whose time has come.
Senate interest, which dates back to 1988, has been periodically renewed ? the last time being at 2000 symposium on coinage design in general ? and as history shows, in fascinating detail, it?s all a story that has been told before. Santayana had it right in 1906: those who ignore history are condemned to repeat.
First observe the recent House hearings where the Secret Service spoke of money redesign: ?First, with our partners in the Department of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve, we are continuing with the redesign of our currency. As a member of the Advanced Counterfeit Deterrence Steering Committee (ACD) and the Interagency Currency Design Committee (ICD), we have an active role in the research, design, and introduction of the new currency.?
Bureau of Engraving and Printing Director Larry Felix responded: ?Redesigned $20, $50 and $10 notes were introduced into circulation in 2003, 2004 and 2006, respectively. Recently, the BEP and Federal Reserve announced that a redesigned $5 note is expected in 2008, with a new $100 note to follow.?
Louise Roseman of the Federal Reserve added her two cents: ?The Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005 establishes a program under which the Treasury will issue four new Presidential $1 coin designs per year starting in 2007.?
She disclosed that ?In February, Federal Reserve and Mint staff began meeting regularly to establish plans for distributing the Presidential $1 coins effectively. In addition, to help plan for the introduction of these new dollar coins and to gauge demand for, and anticipate obstacles to, their efficient circulation, we are consulting with a wide range of coin users to gather ideas, advice, and information.?
More importantly, the Fed ? which distributes new and old coin designs to thousands of banks, nationwide, has a new means of distribution for new coin designs.
?During an initial introductory period the Reserve Banks have suspended their normal practice of first paying out previously circulated coins to depository institutions and instead pay out only the new design,? Roseman said.
She continued, ?This introductory period ranged from about four weeks for the Fifty State Quarters and Westward Journey Nickels Programs to two years for Sacagawea dollars. Following these initial introductory periods, the Reserve Banks fulfill orders for coin from their inventories, irrespective of coin design. For the Presidential $1 Coin Program, we are currently contemplating a 30-day introductory period during which only the new coin design would be issued.?
Acting Mint Director David Lebryk for his part showed a new Mint that wholeheartedly approves of new coin programs. ?[T]today. I am pleased to say that the United States Mint has never been busier, with 35 new coins at some stage of design and production, in addition to the manufacture of circulating coins for Commerce at an average rate of 70 million per day.?
And, he said, the Mint is planning for more: ?We have introduced new technologies to improve our design capabilities. The old coin design method ? a drawing by hand turned into a clay model followed by a plaster model to be traced and cut into steel ? is being replaced with a digital design process ? a computer drawing scanned into an engraving machine.?
In the interim between the proposals of the 1980s and this year?s hearings, Mint Director Henrietta Holsman Fore introduced an ?artistic infusion? program to help make America?s coinage more beautiful, and a Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee now works with the Mint on coin design together with the established Commission on Fine arts.
All this is a long way from what took place a generation ago when Diane Wolf (shown in photo at left) led a lonely crusade to beautify America?s coinage.
Hearings on the subject were held before the Senate Banking Committee on April 22, 1988. Sen. William Proxmire, D-Wis., was chair of the committee, and he authorized the hearing that itself was chaired by Sen. Alan Cranston, D-Calif.
Cranston began by extending ?special praise to the perseverance of Diane Wolf, Commissioner of Fine Arts, through whose tireless advocacy S. 1776 now is so-sponsored by a majority of U.S. Senators.?
The bill would have given a face lift to one side of all American coinage commemorating the 200th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution.
In his prepared remarks, Sen. William Armstrong, R-Colo., revealed that a total of 61 members of the Senate had signed on as co-sponsors to the legislation, a sure sign of support, and ultimate victory.
Mint Director Donna Pope was invited to testify and noted that ?the Treasury finds generally nothing objectionable to this legislation,? adding that the government expected to make $224 million ?in additional seigniorage receipts [which] will be generated in the first 6 years of new designs and $18 million in additional numismatic profits.?
She offered praise for Wolf?s efforts and success ?in aligning the coalition necessary to bring serious consideration to this matter ... one person certainly can make a difference.?
Rep. Jimmy Hayes, D-La., testified at the Senate hearing. A knowledgeable, longtime coin collector in his own right, he noted that ?not everyone will either love or hate the new designs,? but went on to ask for ?no more than government support to continue 200 years of recorded cultural evolution? by modernizing American coinage design.
By September 1988, more than 190 members of the House ? nearly a majority ? had co-sponsored Rangel?s bill, but there wasn?t a flicker of interest in passage because of the opposition of Rep. Frank Annunzio, D-Ill., who then chaired the coinage subcommittee and was second-ranking member on the powerful House Administration committee.
?I am completely opposed to this legislation and would ordinarily not have held a hearing on it,? Annunzio said on Sept. 14, 1988, as he opened an early morning session in the marble Rayburn House Office Building hearing room.
But politics, and friendship, that the chairman had for Rangel resulted in a commitment, and Annunzio told the packed hearing room that ?this morning, I am fulfilling the promise that I made in March of this year to Mr. Rangel.?
Again attending was Mint Director Pope, who still spoke cautiously in favor of the proposal; Jimmy Hayes, another proponent; David C. Harper, editor of Numismatic News, who had conducted a poll justifying the change; and Bob Leuver, representing the American Numismatic Association, whose board vote on a proposal by then-Governor Edward C. Rochette and Vice President Ken Hallenbeck to support design changes started the ball rolling.
The love fest in the Senate was long-since burnished, evidenced by an interchange between Wolf and Curtis Prins, subcommittee staff director who was permitted by Annunzio to conduct examination of Wolf as a witness.
?To respond to Mr. Annunzio?s very unfair and totally irrational letter, dear colleague letter, in which it says,? she began, only to be cut off by Prins, who warned her that ?we are not here to berate the chairman of this subcommittee.?
Annunzio then chimed in: ?I hold you directly responsible for any of the conditions and misunderstandings that are taking place. You knew when the resolution passed the Fine Arts Commission.?
The Sept. 14, 1988, House hearing was put together by Annunzio. He initially purposely excluded Wolf from the witness list and began by calling ?changing our nation?s coin designs ... one of the great non-issues of this Congress.?
Charging that ?a small handful of design-change advocates have been clamoring for something the American people do not want,? Annunzio claimed that ?Changes in our money make Americans very, very uneasy.?
Annunzio further claimed that ?there is no correlation between changes in design and changes in demand for coins,? something that the 50 states quarter program would disprove a dozen years later.
Normally, after subcommittee hearings, the unit votes and passes the matter on to the full House Banking Committee, which debates the issue and, if it approves, asks the House Rules committee for a rule to bring it to the floor for a vote.
Here, the battle lines were drawn ? and even after a majority of the entire House of Representatives co-sponsored the legislation (assuring passage if the matter came up for a vote), Annunzio relied on the rules of the House to prevent the bill from even being reported out of the coinage subcommittee.
Wolf plugged away, cajoling members of Congress ? House and Senate alike ? always able to find a legislative champion. In the Senate, Cranston assumed a leadership role, and was successful in having the Senate pass the legislation a total of at least five times.
Once, the bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent. In another instance, on a recorded vote, 96 members voted in favor, none voted against. Other passages were as riders added to various Senate bills, which were always ruled non-germane in the House.
By October 1988, Wolf was lobbying Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady in favor of redesign. Confidential letters, since released under a Freedom of Information Act request, show an Oct. 5 1988, letter trying to get the Treasury chief on board.
Meanwhile, Annunzio left the coinage subcommittee post and Rep. Richard Lehman, D-Calif., a more junior member, became chair. He was no less friendly than the prior chairman, probably because as chair of a House Administration subcommittee, Annunzio could allocate parking spaces, telephones and even stationery to members; clearly, he was a person even a senior member wouldn?t want to cross.
In October 1990, Cranston attached the redesign proposal to a bill to rename a post office in Cleveland for the late Jesse Owens, the Olympic athlete. Like earlier attempts to attach it as a part of a major housing bill, and a money laundering regulation, it passed the Senate.
This time, the Treasury did an about-face and apparently started reading the tea leaves. John E. Robson, deputy secretary of the Treasury, wrote an Oct. 24 letter to House Speaker Thomas S. Foley expressing ?the strong opposition of the Department of the Treasury to the legislation requiring redesign of circulating U.S. coins.?
Citing Annunzio?s opposition, and an informal poll conducted by him of residents of his congressional district, Robson spoke for the Treasury Department in stating that it now ?believes that these ... surveys are very clear indicators of public sentiment against the concept of redesign of American coins.?
The curve ball thrown by the letter was heightened by the representation that because of excessive commemorative coin production, there would be an inability to meet coinage redesign production requirements if it were enacted. Treasury succeeded, and the move was beaten back. Reporting on the controversy in an article entitled ?Cranston Coin-Design Ploy Fails,? the Washington Post noted that the then 75-year-old Cranston was ?a social companion of the legislation?s most ardent supporter, [a 38-year-old] New York socialite and former commissioner of fine arts.?
Enter the 102nd Congress, and a new chairman ? Rep. Esteban Edward Torres, D-Calif., who took a different, more enlightened view. His tenure corresponded with an explosion of commemorative coin proposals, one of which he was a key proponent.
For the World Soccer Cup of 1994, Torres proposed a broadly based coinage program to fund the games. Soon, on the table was a proposal to fund Madison fellowships with a Bill of Rights commemorative coin honoring its author. Another proposal was by Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, for a commemorative coin to Honor World War II veterans. Firefighters would have been honored with a commemorative coin under a proposal by Rep. Kurt Weldon, R-Pa.
To this, the White House commemorative proposal was added ? designed to raise $5 million to assist in the purchase of antiques to furnish the Executive Mansion that has been home to more than 40 Presidents and their families. With the backing of Barbara Bush, wife of then President George H.W. Bush, this became a priority to some lawmakers.
The perennial Columbus quincentennial commemorative also made an appearance; its chief sponsor was none other than the nemesis of coinage redesign: Frank Annunzio, nearing the end of a career that began with the LBJ landslide of 1964.
Torres held hearings on all of the coin proposals in 1991, and it was clear that some of the commemoratives were on a fast track.
Cranston made it equally clear that he would hold the proposals hostage to coinage redesign.
After initial defeat, Wolf moved skillfully, re-building a coalition. ?I support U.S. circulating coin design changes. So does a unanimous United States Senate, a unanimous U.S. Commission of Fine Arts ... and more than one-third of the U.S. House of Representatives,? she said.
Former chief engraver and sculptor of the U.S. Mint Elizabeth Jones testified at a November 1991 hearing and challenged the uniface design concept. ?If we?re going to have new coinage, we should have new coinage, new coin designs on both sides,? she declared to the then newly minted chair of the committee, Torres.
Then, just when it looked as if a package deal might be struck for Soccer and Madison, Weldon vowed a floor fight for the firefighters, and Kaptur was rumored to be pressing for the World War II vets.
What resulted was a compromise that grouped Soccer, Madison, the White House and Columbus programs together with coinage redesign ? and a promise for a fireman?s medal, with strong consideration to a veteran?s coin in 1995, the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.
And so in early February, this was the package that was cobbled together with rare bipartisan support. A ?Dear Colleague? letter signed by Torres, Rep. Chalmers P. Wylie, R-Ohio, ranking minority member of the Banking committee; Rep. Henry Gonzalez, chairman of the Banking unit; and Newt Gingrich, GOP minority whip, advocated ?a valuable package? which, they said, ?deserves your support.?
Rep. Al McCandless, R-Calif., ranking minority member of the House coinage subcommittee, who once supported the original redesign proposal, did an about-face and issued a ?Dear Colleague? letter of his own to 435 members of the House of Representatives.
?Is change for the sake of change (no pun intended) really necessary?? McCandless asked of his colleagues. ?Let?s leave a good thing alone.?
There then started a rumor that the real purpose of the bill was to remove the motto ?In God We Trust? from the national coinage ? a veritable atheist?s bill.
The debate began shortly before 1 o?clock in the afternoon with Torres making a strong statement favoring it, and Wylie offering tepid endorsement that he termed ?strong support.?
Annunzio spoke, advising that if coinage redesign were offered separately, he would oppose it, but that ?support for those five excellent [commemorative coin] programs will require support for changing all our Nation's coinage.?
McCandless then summed up his views by stating that ?Mandatory coin redesign is on controversy that we can avoid,? and urged his colleagues to vote no.
By 1:40 p.m. it was all over. The House embarrassed the leadership (?stunned? was the word used in the Washington Post?s coverage) by voting 241-to-172 to reject the proposal for coinage redesign, while approving the commemoratives.
Technically, the vote was to suspend the rules of the House and agree to the Senate Amendment. When that failed, it meant that the two government bodies had to get together and try and iron out their differences.
And so it was that in mid-March 1992, a conference committee between the House and Senate met to try and iron out the differences between the bodies ? one that emphatically wanted redesign, one that decidedly voted against it.
Torres was elected chair of the conference, and there was some back and forth. The end result: adoption of a proposal that would have changed the design on the quarter and half dollar, and called for study of changes on other denominations.
It was ominous, however, that Wylie and McCandless, both on the conference committee, refused to sign the report and agree to the recommendations.
As April Fool?s day arose, McCandless went to the well of the House and addressed the Speaker and the members, many of whom were already worried about the claims of congressional check-kiting and scandal that later caused many to decide not to seek reelection.
He warned ?you should inform our colleagues to expect more phone calls from irate constituents. They will not be calling about the House bank or post office. ... They will demand to know why Congress voted to remove the American eagle from our coins.?
It was a last-ditch, desperation move.
And it worked.
The formal debate on the proposal began at a couple of minutes after 6 o?clock that evening. There was penance (??In God We Trust? and all other inscriptions will remain on the coin?) But there was also venom.
Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Calif., attacked Cranston head on: ?A member of the other body has decided that notwithstanding the Mom and apple pie nature of Christopher Columbus, the World Cup, the White House the Persian Gulf vets and soon, he was going to attach his more controversial personal dream of redesigning the American coins so that he could find a vehicle.?
The vote taken was a technical one ? to recommit ? and require the House to go back to the Senate, again, and tell them that there would be no coinage redesign, but that the commemorative coins and medals would be fine.
By a 206-to-199 vote, the members read the voters? anger and tea leaves. Jimmy Hayes voted against redesign that he had spoken in favor of at two separate coinage hearings. Wylie deserted the ship (he later announced he would not run for re-election).
Meanwhile, an overwhelming majority of members of the American Numismatic Association were polled and said that a new dollar coin should be created to replace the dollar bill. Almost half of the ANA members also called for changing the design on the Jefferson nickel, and the Washington quarter, each of which had then circulated for 65 years or more. A lesser percentage called for a design change of the Lincoln cent, circulating since 1909.
One immediate result of the survey was that the ANA board of governors voted, after release of the response, to endorse the goals of The Coin Coalition, whose executive director at the time, the late Jim Benfield, had actively promoted a new small-sized dollar coin and elimination of the dollar bill. The bill became reality with the Sacagawea dollar in 2000, though the dollar bill still remains.
Coinage redesign has been tied up in politics for more than 200 years. The very first session of Congress (starting in 1789) depicts column after column of debate in the Annals of Congress ? the Congressional Record of that day ? over whether or not the bust of George Washington ought to appear on the national coinage, together with the Roman numeral ?I? on the reverse, representing the start of a new dynasty.
A congressional bill in 1791 said that ?Upon one side of each of the said coins there shall be an impression or representation of the head of the President of the United States for the time being, with an inscription which shall express the initial or first letter of his Christian or first name, and his surname at length, and the year of the coinage.? So begins an early draft of section 10 of the original Mint Act.
The Republicans ? those who sided with the French Revolutionists, not the modern-day GOP ? vetoed this provision, placing in its stead an ?impression emblematic of liberty with an inscription of the word Liberty and the year of coinage.? (Washington in any event refused the honor, but the pattern coins remain part of a fascinating part of history.) Imagine what might have been had be been a different man: Millard I (Fillmore), Stephen G. I (Grover Cleveland), and so forth.
Instead, starting in 2007, there will indeed begin a Presidential portrait series ? thus bringing it full circle.
Debate on the monarchy concept in coinage was spirited, and not inconsistent with the concept of ?Liberty? that both Jefferson and Hamilton, in their respective views of the Mint, thought ought to be represented on national coinage.
Liberty?s personification ? this very verbiage ? was utilized in the Coinage Act of 1837, the Coinage Act of 1873 and the recodification again in 1982. Thus, even today, the design on the national coinage must depict Liberty.
Increasingly, this came to become Presidents, though with the 2000 Sacagawea dollar design introduction, there may be an opening for reinterpretation.
In the final analysis, the national legislators agreed upon a result that honored law and ideals, not human beings, and an idealized view of liberty ? a design emblematic of Liberty ? prevailed. By August 2000, Texas senator and then-Banking committee chair Philip Gramm argued that America?s coinage designs simply do not adequately portray the nation?s greatness ? in part because depictions of former political leaders cannot necessarily provide the imagery of our rich heritage.
Symbolisms of America as it viewed itself at a particular point in time are very much a part of our coinage system. The Liberty cap atop the Liberty pole on the large and half cents of the 1790s were symbols of freedom that the former colonists instantly understood, as indeed the Republicans of the French Revolution utilized them for the same purpose.
Fledgling eagles on the reverse of the silver dollar of 1794, only to be replaced by the heraldic eagle ? representing the strength and maturity of an emerging power, with olive branches of peace in one talon, and arrows of war in another ? show the growth of American democracy and the nation itself.
More than a century ago, in 1887 and again in 1888, there was some clamor to change American coin designs. The existing designs that dated to the 1830s, when America was still a rural country without a continent to cross, all seemed dated.
There was by then a transcontinental railroad, telegraph service to California and Europe, and the Edwardian Age abroad and the Gilded Age in America was in full mint bloom.
The Mint director of the time responded to this by first looking at existing minting and coinage laws and then concluding that he had no authority to change the coin designs ? that it was within the province of Congress to do so. That probably was not the case, but having so concluded, he asked Congress to change the rules and allow the Mint director and Treasury secretary to change coin designs.
?Bills were introduced in the 48th and 50th Congresses looking to a modification of the law ... and although these measures met with no opposition ? indeed in more than one case they received the favorable action of one or the other House of Congress ? none of them became law,? Director Leach wrote in his 1890 Annual Report.
As a practical matter, that also meant that the Mint director and Treasury secretary had to conclude that Congress saw the power reserved to itself until it saw fit to make a change and do otherwise.
The 51st Congress adopted a change on Sept. 26, 1890, amending Section 3510 of the Revised Statutes, authorizing design improvement for all coins but providing as well that ?no change in the design or die of any coin shall be made oftener than once in 25 years.?
Strangely, it also allowed that the dollar and five-cent piece could also be revised ?as soon as practicable after the passage of this act,? but while the dime, quarter and half would be changed in 1892, the nickel hung in until 1913 and the silver dollar to 1921.
Its passage was celebrated in October 1890 in The Numismatist, then a nascent publication not yet associated with the American Numismatic Association. ?While from a mechanical standpoint, our coins compare favorably with those of other nations,? the periodical editorialized, ?we are forced to admit that from an artistic point of view, ancient Greece and modern Congo can beat us, hands down.?
Fast forward to the new century and the year 2000.
?I want to encourage new U.S. coin designs that are worthy of a great nation,?? said Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, as he announced a Sept. 13., 2000, Senate symposium on coin designs.
?Both ancient and modern, foreign and U.S.? were intended to be covered by the examination. Reflecting back on the efforts of nearly a century ago, Gramm noted that ?We may not be able to match the golden era of coin design under Theodore Roosevelt ... but we should try. We are the greatest nation in the world, and our coins should reflect it.?
Invited to participate in the symposium were representatives of the Mint, the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution, the American Numismatic Society and the ANA. All had numismatic materials on display 9-10 a.m. in the Hearing Room of the Senate Banking Committee, 538 Dirksen Senate Office Building, on Capitol Hill, and 10 a.m.-noon when a hearing and discussion took place.
Attending on behalf of the Mint was its director, Jay Johnson. The ANS was represented by Dr. Ute Wartenberg Kagan, its executive director. The ANA had Bob Campbell, president, in attendance.
That event marked a watershed and led directly to artistic infusion and coinage redesign.
In the topsy-turvy 2001 year, when the majority and minority changed twice in three weeks, Gramm remained committed to coinage redesign.
?Last year, the Banking Committee began the process of comprehensive review of the designs of the United States? circulating coins,? Gramm said. ?I think there is a growing consensus on our committee that we need to reform American coinage.?
Significantly, the effort was announced as bipartisan. It needed to be, where each side had 50 votes and only the constitutionally provided-for leader who casts votes only in case of a tie makes the difference.
?Sen. Sarbanes and I held a roundtable discussion where we had the Smithsonian, we had the numismatic associations, we had various coin designers and artists,? Gramm said. ?And, the basic situation we have is that when we started our coinage, it was generally assumed that a coin would change about every 25 years.?
Gramm was quite vocal at the September 2000 hearings. He remembered them, and declared in late January that ?Our penny design was set in place in 1909. So we?re going to take a long, hard look at coinage. We?re going to invest some money in trying to develop new composites and new metallurgy that would allow us to produce coins that look and feel like the great coins in American history did.?
By 2003, design legislation was again initiated ? aimed at the nickel ? when a congressman learned of an intention of the Mint to make a major design change without proper consultation with Congress. The sponsor, Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., objected to the removal of Monticello and Jefferson from the five-cent coin ? even to honor the Lewis and Clark Corps. of Discovery.
?I originally introduced this legislation after representatives from the Mint came to my office last summer and informed me that the image of Thomas Jefferson?s Monticello would be removed from the reverse of the nickel and would be replaced by a questionable image to recognize the 200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition,? Cantor said on Feb. 26, 2003.
?Although I fully support celebrating the great achievements of the Corps of Discovery, I was surprised by the way the Mint made its decision on this issue. The Treasury Department has the authority to change the nickel once every 25 years, and this new design was presented as the replacement for Monticello.?
His biggest complaint: ?I learned from the Mint representatives that this new design was chosen internally without input from the American people or Congress. Even more disturbing, I also learned the Mint planned to announce its redesign shortly after our meeting.?
His bill was introduced to stop it, in the time-honored tradition that heavily overhangs American coinage design.
We know the result: four reverse design changes in 2004-2005, a new Monticello and a brand-new portrait of Jefferson in 2006.
Redesign moves ahead incrementally, and coin by coin.
Here?s the scorecard of the work Diane Wolf began. In the coming months, the Lincoln cent will be redesigned ? Congress has decreed four new designs for the Lincoln bicentennial in 2009 and a new coin for 2010.
State quarters from 1999-2008 are creating 50 new reverse designs and a different obverse of a sort. The Sacagawea dollar replaced the Susan B. Anthony, and, starting in 2007, a many-coin Presidential series (four per year) begins, even as the Sacagawea dollar continues in production.
Thus far, only the Roosevelt dime and Kennedy half dollar remain intact.
Vindication, indeed, for Diane Wolf?s idea whose time has not only come, it is now.