In recent decades, some numismatic marketers promoted the sale of rare coins as being exempt from “confiscation” such as was done by the U.S. government in 1933. In my judgment, this tactic was sometimes used to steer potential customers away from purchasing low-profit-margin, bullion-priced coins and ingots into higher-profit (for the seller) rare coins.
As I have discussed over the years, there are multiple reasons why I don’t think there will be a recurrence in the U.S. of what happened in 1933. Here are some of the top points I made:
1. What happened in 1933 was not confiscation. It was a mandatory exchange program. The U.S. government was required to pay those who turned in their gold with other assets (Federal Reserve Notes) that had, at that time, purchasing power equal to what was surrendered. Because of having to pay full value for gold coins and gold certificates, coins that had extra collector value above face value were exempt from the mandatory redemption.
2. Since it was illegal for Americans to acquire or own more than a nominal amount of gold from mid-1933 to the end of 1974, one result was that Americans simply do not possess as much physical gold as do citizens of other developed nations. Years ago, I estimated that the U.S. government would not recover more than about 100 million ounces of gold if it were to again call in gold. Even at today’s prices, that amount of gold would cover less than two weeks’ federal government expenditures. It is inconsequential.
3. The federal government actually has access to a much larger source of assets – private retirement accounts. These hold more than $10 trillion of assets. At a Congressional committee hearing almost 10 years ago, it was proposed that the U.S. government seize private retirement account assets to replace them with U.S. Treasury debt under the guise that this would “protect” the beneficiaries of such accounts from the risk of loss of value.
4. I also pointed out that if the U.S. government were to make any kind of move to force people to turn in their gold, that would send a signal to foreign holders of U.S. currency and Treasury debt that the value of the U.S. dollar was shaky. Therefore, any kind of gold recall would almost certainly spark a major repatriation of the $12-16 trillion in U.S. government currency and debt held outside the country. This reaction would cripple the value of the U.S. dollar, the exact opposite of what the U.S. government would seek to accomplish with any gold recall.
Early this week, a new acquaintance pointed out another very strong reason why the U.S. government has no incentive to ever consider another gold recall. He reminded me that, in 1933, gold and U.S. coins and currency were readily exchangeable.
This exchangeability presented a fiscal discipline on federal government spending. In order to pursue the major expansion of government expenditures that happened later in the 1930s, the U.S. government had to end the ability of Americans (and, later, foreigners) to be able to turn in their coins and currency for gold. Since the U.S. government has not redeemed the coins and currency held by Americans for gold since 1933 (and foreigners since August 1971), it no longer has a need for another gold recall to end this option.
Using the specter of gold “confiscation” as a way to sell more numismatic coins has mostly fallen into disuse by some coin marketers. There are plenty of other reasons for acquiring bullion-priced coins and ingots and numismatic collectibles.
Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee: U.S. Numismatic Guardians
As I mentioned last week, I stayed overnight in Washington, D.C., after the end of this year’s U.S. Mint Numismatic Forum. A friend who was also staying bumped into me. He was going to have dinner with a group that included some members of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee. To be sociable, he asked the others if I could join them for dinner, which happened.
It turned out that eight of the 11 members of this committee were at the dinner. Although I know some of the past and present members of this group, I had never had the experience of being with so many at once.
As specified in the law, the CCAC is charged with 1) advising the Secretary of the Treasury on any theme or design proposals for circulating coinage, bullion coinage, Congressional Gold Medals, and national and other metals, 2) advising the Secretary of the Treasury with respect to events, persons, or places to be commemorated by coins that will be issued in the future, and 3) making recommendations on mintage limits for forthcoming commemorative coins. As stated on its website, “The CCAC serves as an informed, experienced and impartial resource to the Secretary of the Treasury and represents the interests of American citizens and collectors.”
The CCAC has held some of their public meetings at numismatic events such as in Colorado Springs, Colo., on June 27, 2016, near where the American Numismatic Association was conducting its Summer Seminars. If you ever have the opportunity to see this panel at work, I encourage you to do so. From my conversations and observations at the dinner, I became deeply impressed by the credentials of the members. Beyond that, each one struck me as highly dedicated to the task of working to ensure that America’s coinage faithfully and positively reflects on the nation. Best of all, while they each have their own ideas, they also seem committed to work as a team to achieve that goal.
For more information about the CCAC, go to www.ccac.gov.
Patrick A. Heller was the American Numismatic Association 2017 Exemplary Service and 2012 Harry Forman Numismatic Dealer of the Year Award winner. He was also honored by the Numismatic Literary Guild in 2017 and 2016 for the Best Dealer-Published Magazine/Newspaper and for Best Radio Report. He is the communications officer of Liberty Coin Service in Lansing, Mich., and writes Liberty’s Outlook, a monthly newsletter on rare coins and precious metals subjects. Past newsletter issues can be viewed at www.libertycoinservice.com. Some of his radio commentaries titled “Things You ‘Know’ That Just Aren’t So, And Important News You Need To Know” can be heard at 8:45 a.m. Wednesday and Friday mornings on 1320-AM WILS in Lansing (which streams live and becomes part of the audio and text archives posted at www.1320wils.com).
This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.
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