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Time to remember Civil War coins?


civilwarThe Civil War era attracts the attention of all Americans in numerous ways, from simply watching the Academy Award-nominated movie, “Lincoln,” to participating in Civil War battlefield re-enaactments.

There is much of significance to learn from that period, including its impact on the financial and numismatic life of the United States.

Coin collectors have tangible reminders of the time in the form of the coins that we collect. Perhaps we should look to them to inspire some new Mint issues in the years 2014 to 2016.

Next year will be the 150th anniversary of the U.S. cent in its present form, that is diameter and thickness. The introduction of the bronze Indian Head cent in 1864 to succeed the thicker copper-nickel version proved to be a very smart move by the U.S. Mint because it lasted until 1982.

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Next year is also the 150th anniversary of the introduction of the 2-cent piece, the first coin with the national motto, “In God We Trust,” on it.

The denomination proved to be a failure, but the motto was added over time to every single coin issued by the United States as well as to its paper money.

Then in 2015 we will mark the 150th anniversary of the introduction of the 3-cent nickel. It was needed because the silver version of the denomination was being kept out of circulation by hoarders and the government was even forced to issue paper money in the 3-cent denomination.

In 2016 comes the 150th anniversary of the nickel. Though this copper-nickel composition for the 5-cent denomination was not introduced during the Civil War, it was a product of the economic conditions caused by the war. Hoarders kept their silver 5-cent pieces out of commerce. The public needed something to spend and the nickel was it.

Why not issue dual-dated 150th anniversary examples of these coins in their original designs and compositions over the next three years? Collectors would snap them up in both proof and uncirculated and would be gratified that they are not products endowing yet another “worthy” cause with their hard-earned money.

Imagine MS-70 versions of an 1866-2016 Shield nickel, or an 1864-2014 Indian Head cent?

Sure, it will take congressional authorization to revive dead denominations and past designs, but it would be worth it to try something new for three years to see how collectors react to them.

They might even serve as a reminder of how nice it is to have commemorative silver dollars and gold $5 coins to choose from, but the most interesting thing about such an undertaking is that it would not involve silver or gold, which would aid the Mint in planning and pricing the issues. The absence of precious metals in these coins would also be a reminder of why they were needed during the Civil War era and why base metals were the only viable option.

I’d like to see something like this. How about you?

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