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Hobby owes debt to Diane Wolf

Diane Wolf died Jan. 10 and the obituary appeared yesterday. I could hardly believe it. She was 53. I have been out of touch with her for a decade or so, but I always thought of her fondly. She was a hobby pioneer.

It was Wolf who laid the groundwork in Washington, D.C., for the current circulating coinage renaissance that we are all enjoying. State and territories quarters, new nickels in 2004-2006, Sacagawea and Presidential dollars and even the Mint administrative philosophy of running itself as a business all have roots in Wolf’s advocacy of changing circulating coin designs.

She conducted her campaign first from her membership on the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, which advises the Treasury secretary on coin designs.

I had a ringside seat and helped her all I could. The effort was conceived in late 1986 after she had made some remarks at a Fine Arts Commission meeting that I and others interpreted as being favorable to coinage redesign, a goal collectors have held for many years.

I asked Paul Green to interview her. He did. He had a political background as well as a coin background. He knew how Washington worked. He and Diane hit it off. He did all he could to help her.

The interview was great. I talked to Cliff Mishler and asked him if Numismatic News could support Wolf in the effort to change coin designs. He agreed. We launched the newspaper campaign in early 1987.

We started out advocating changing both sides of each circulating coin denomination in sequence, but the realities of politics suggested retaining obverse designs and changing reverse designs only.

This has been the template used on quarters and nickels ever since, and soon Sacagawea dollars.

Wolf persuaded the Senate to back the concept but it always foundered in the House of Representatives. Wolf rubbed Frank Annunzio, the longtime coinage czar, the wrong way. Such is politics.

Ultimately new people, new elected representatives, a new Mint director and new political realities in Washington brought all of the elements into proper alignment.

Wolf could not claim to be the author of what happened, but without her persuading all coin collectors to think it was possible again to have new designs, little or nothing would have happened ever.

Imagine a hobby without state quarters, Lewis and Clark nickels, Sacagawea and Presidential dollars. It would be a much duller place.

Thanks, Diane. You made a difference. Rest in peace.