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Lucas would eliminate seizures of pre-1933 coins

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Owners of 1913 Liberty Head nickels and the 1885 Trade dollar get relief under terms of proposed legislation aimed at preventing government seizure of pre-1933 rare coins owned by collectors. Owners of 1933 double eagles and 1964 Peace dollars do not.

The legislation was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on April 4.

Authored by Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., the bill seeks to clarify the law regarding ownership of coinage minted before 1933.

Some of those coins may have been minted illegally or stolen from the U.S. Mint, and the Mint has seized some of them. The problem is, those collectors who obtained them legally are out those coins.

?The question is, ?How do we take a chaotic circumstance and bring order to it??? asked Lucas.

He hopes he has the legislative answer.

?These collectors are abiding by the law, but legal uncertainty could cause them to be treated like criminals,? said Lucas. ?Even if these coins may have been taken from the U.S. Mint 75 years ago, we are long past finding those responsible for the act.?

Not only that but these coins have already changed hands a number of times.

?The material may be questionable in origin, but they?re in the public realm,? said Lucas. ?They?ve been traded so many times that they?ve become established items.?

Named the Numismatic Rarities Certainty Act of 2006, the bill states, ?Any coin, medal, or numismatic item made or issued by the U.S. Government before Jan. 1, 1933, that, as of the date of the enactment of the Numismatic Rarities Certainty Act of 2006, is not in possession of the U.S. Government shall not be considered to be property of the United States, unless the coin, medal, or numismatic item is reacquired by the United States Government for value given in a sale or exchange.?

The legislation does not protect pieces minted in 1933 or later that were struck or obtained illegally. They would still be considered U.S. government property.

However, Lucas? bill would require the government to display at least some of the pieces it seizes and auction off extra coins not needed for display. The proceeds would go toward preservation and display of the Smithsonian?s collection, thought to contain more than 900,000 pieces.

?It?s time the Smithsonian dusted off its extensive collection so that these historic pieces can be enjoyed by the public,? said Lucas.

In doing so, Lucas hopes to correct past mistakes.

?One of the great mistakes was that the government would previously drop seized material into the melting pot,? said Lucas. ?That was a principal I disagreed with. They should never have been destroyed. They?re part of our historic past.?

The impetus for the bill was the 2005 seizure of 10 previously unknown 1933 double eagles. Lucas, a hobbyist since the age of 9, said there may be other rarities out there that we don?t know about, like the oft-rumored 1964 Peace dollars.

?This bill says that if coins left the Mint in a fashion not deemed legal, coins minted after 1933 are still subject to search and seizure,? said Lucas.

Another feature of the bill is that it calls for an inventory of what numismatic material the Mint has on hand right now.

Lucas hopes to have hearings soon on the proposed legislation. It is expected that the bill will be referred to the House Financial Services Committee, of which Lucas is a member. The Financial Services Subcommittee on Domestic and International Monetary Policy, Trade, and Technology, which has jurisdiction over monetary policy and coinage issues, is also expected to review the bill.