We asked last week whether the Mint was striking too many commemoratives. I found myself winnowing out many of the responses that went beyond commemoratives to say that the Mint was striking too many coins for collectors whether commemorative or any other description.
After all, as editor, I am paid to be precise – or at least try to be. Commemoratives are coins that are special issues authorized by Congress at a present rate of two programs each year for the purpose of honoring special themes and raising surcharge income for worthy groups.
If you get the idea that the definition is beginning to get a little long and might need a review by a lawyer for legal nitpicking, you are right.
When the modern program started in 1982, everybody knew what it was. You had regular coins that circulated and you had the commemoratives that didn’t – simple. Time passes and “simple” is a term that can no longer be applied to Mint offerings.
Bullion coins arrived in 1986. A bullion coin is supposed to be a piece of a well known standard weight with a design that makes it instantly recognizable to the largest possible audience as to what it is.
You had the silver American Eagle, same design, same one troy ounce weight, year after year after year since 1986.
The same could be said for the gold American Eagle year after year after year since 1986, except fractionals were thrown into the mixture, and face values were added that didn’t add up. The ounce is $50, the half ounce $25, the quarter ounce is $10 – a figure that strikes me as just as peculiar now as it was in 1986. The tenth ounce is $5.
Collectors could keep three compartments in their minds for circulating coins, commemoratives and bullion coins.
But then we got another gold “bullion” coin in 2006 with a different design, a Buffalo, and a different fineness.
In 2007 we got First Spouse gold bullion coins, all of course of differing designs like a commemorative series. Should we call them bullion commemoratives? The half-ounce weight was further confused by putting a $10 denomination on them rather than $25 to be consistent with the gold American Eagle.
Added last year was the 5-ounce America the Beautiful silver bullion coin. It is five times the size of the Eagle, so a different design is warranted, but we will get 56 different designs, another bullion commemorative series.
What should the denomination be? To be consistent with the silver American Eagle, $5 would be logical, but Congress decided 25 cents would be better.
Imagine trying to explain this to anybody who is not acquainted with numismatics in any way. It’s almost a nightmare even for collectors. There are commemoratives, bullion commemoratives and then there are the special collector versions of bullion commemoratives we can call collector bullion commemoratives. That name alone says that we have a problem without any further explanation.