By Richard Giedroyc
The April 7 issue of Numismatic News has a Page 1 story about celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing with proposed commemorative coins. Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee Chairman Gary Marks is quoted as saying, “I think this is a no-brainer.”
A no-brainer? I guess the Tranquility Base symbol on the reverse of our dollar coins issued between 1971 and 1999 isn’t enough. It was a current event that was being celebrated at that time. The general public still holding these coins don’t even know it is Dwight D. Eisenhower or Susan B. Anthony depicted on the obverse. Most have no clue what the reverse references.
Do we need a 50th anniversary non-circulating, legal-tender coin issue to mark the same event? Our commemorative coins were seldom on the mark in the past, but we have entirely lost our way in recent history when it comes to commemorative coins.
What do I mean? What is a commemorative supposed to commemorate? Sure, there are anniversaries of past events that occasionally are worthwhile, but Western civilization has come a long way since marking the victory at the Battle of Marathon with a crescent moon appearing on coins of ancient Athens. This commemorated an event with which the public easily identified. Come on Marks and all other CCAC members. Isn’t it about time to start marking events that actually matter to present-day people? Perhaps events that are relatively current?
We managed to honor the memory of Franklin D. Roosevelt and of John F. Kennedy quickly after each died. Whatever happened to addressing something of relevance in a timely manner?
The Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate interactive museum opens in Washington, D.C., a bipartisan accomplishment. The Romans celebrated the Coliseum on coins. I guess a new institute in Washington has less relevance today.
The United States and Cuba are commencing normalizing the relations of the two nations. Again, isn’t this sufficiently important to be noted for posterity? We’ve recognized lesser events on stamps.
The Super Bowl will be marking its 50th year during 2016. You mean to tell me marking the 50th anniversary of man landing on the moon, which has already been celebrated in a much more timely manner on past coins, is more in touch with the interests of the public than is this landmark sporting event? When was the last time a man set foot on the moon? Is the public more interested in the moon landing or in sports as national pastimes?
Yes, coins do carry propaganda when you get into marking current events on them. Roman coins of the Emperor Valerian I indicated victory over the Sassanids when in fact Shapur I not only defeated the Romans at the Battle of Edessa in A.D. 260 but captured the emperor as well. Maybe no one in the U.S. cares when the marriage of someone in the British royal family appears as a coin subject – but it mattered to the British as the event takes place. Timeliness is the essence of commemoration, isn’t it?
The greater question is if this continuance of U.S. commemorative coins marking past events has any relevance to anyone other than the people involved in marketing or financially benefiting from them, or if the subject matter is even in touch with anything the public cares about?
This “Viewpoint” was written by Rich Giedroyc, who edits the Coin Market and Coin Market at a Glance price guides in Numismatic News.
Viewpoint is a forum for the expression of opinion on a variety of numismatic subjects. To have your opinion considered for Viewpoint, write to David C. Harper, Editor, Numismatic News, 700 E. State St., Iola, WI 54990. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.