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Stifled or inspired by octagonal gold?

Do we really need an octagonal $5 gold piece?

That was my reaction to legislation introduced July 19 by Rep. Nancy Pelosi to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Panama-Pacific Exhibition of 1915.

Naturally, it is intended to be a memento for those of us who cannot afford the original octagonal gold $50.

But an octagonal nickel-sized coin to me doesn’t do the trick. It just seems hokey.

The bill basically wants copies made of the $50 in $5 gold size, and then actual size copies of the 1915 gold $2.50, $1 gold piece and the half dollar.

It is another manifestation of the restrike phenomenon.

We don’t seem to want to see new coins issued anymore, just copies of old coins.

What’s the point?

Collectors beat themselves up about why new collectors are not coming along in large numbers and why kids no longer find coins as fascinating as we do.

Is it possible that current collectors are supporting a trend that is simply making all of us irrelevant to a wider audience?

Back in 1915, the coins were a gimmick in the first place. No gold $50 had been struck by the Mint before and no gold $50 would be struck again.

Sales were 483 round coins and 645 for the octagonal, which was not very good even by the standards of that time. But collectors who did buy liked the novelty of the octagonal coin better than the round version. That kind of thinking at least is familiar to us today.

However, the basic reason for the commemoratives of 1915 was to honor a current event, an international exposition to celebrate an American engineering triumph – the construction of the Panama Canal completed just the year before.

It was relevant when the coins were issued.

This event did not seem all that relevant to me as a kid 50 years ago when I was busily putting Lincoln cents in a folder. How must it seem to kids today.

Yes, I am picking on this piece of legislation to make my point, but to make numismatics relevant, we must attach it to things that touch the lives of noncollectors.

Collectors like restrikes because the old designs once touched their lives 50, 60 or 70 years ago. But we are already collectors.

Our challenge is to find the new designs that will touch the lives of others and draw them into numismatics for the next 50, 60 or 70 years.

Buzz blogger Dave Harper is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."