By David Allen Hines
Recent years showed that circulating commemorative coinage works. A multitude of new designs appeared on the quarter, nickel, dollar and cent denominations. While some argue over artistic merit of the designs, how well they portray their subjects and indeed what is being commemorated, there is no doubt that the public has not been confused by or rejected the coins with the new designs. Indeed, many people came to search for and eagerly collect the new coins, making them a huge success. They educate the public on history and culture, increase seigniorage, or government income posted through profit made on issuing money with face value greater than production cost, and for us numismatists, provide new coins to collect and bring new collectors into our community.
One denomination with huge potential has been left out – the half dollar. It is in fact the largest diameter circulating coin, with tremendous potential to feature a beautiful design. History has shown that, with the classic “Walking Liberty” design used from 1916-1947, so well acclaimed, it has been re-used since 1986 for the obverse of silver dollar bullion coin issued annually by the United States Mint.
I have never understood why the half dollar is not present in circulation. Since a boy, I have always obtained rolls of half dollars from banks, that I spend in daily purchases, and for 40 years now I have never had anything but a positive reaction. People’s eyes light up when they see a half dollar. The blame for their lack in daily circulation lies with banks for not distributing them unless asked, and businesses for not requesting them from banks. Because of this, for a number of years now, the United States Mint has produced only a couple million half dollars each year for sales to collectors, compared to the billions of coins annually minted. A useful coin is absent from circulation, and much potential seigniorage is lost to the government from the limited production of half dollars. But I see a potential way to reverse both problems.
Recently, well-known United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away at the age of 87. Whether you agree or disagree with her liberal legal and social philosophy, there is simply no question she made a significant and lasting impact on American society. At a time when few citizens can name any judges or justices, just about everyone in America knew who Ruth Bader Ginsburg was and had a positive opinion of her even if they disagreed with her.
Justice Ginsburg was not only a recognized and accomplished jurist, her greater impact may have been in advancing opportunity and equality for women both in fighting for the positions she held and the policies she advanced. As a conservative, I disagreed with almost every judicial opinion she authored, but as a father of two daughters I was thrilled with her being a role model for women. At every step of her long career, she fought for and achieved path-breaking inroads for female rights and equality.
For years now there has been often contentious debate on placing the image of a female on circulating coins or currency. This might be a chance to surmount that debate once and for all. For many people may have disagreed with Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s liberal philosophy, but virtually everyone saw her as a champion for female equality, recognized her impact and professional accomplishments, and regarded her personal fortitude and courage as awesome. Put simply, Justice Ginsburg was a role model for everyone, male or female.
Placing Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s image on a one-year circulating commemorative half dollar would accomplish many things. The large size of the half dollar allows for a potentially excellent design that would be a credit to the Justice and to coinage. The public would likely be hugely interested in a new half dollar coin depicting Justice Ginsburg. Demand would be great, and this could serve as a wonderful opportunity to get the half dollar coin back into circulation. Imagine citizens demanding the new half dollars from banks and business and then both keeping them as a collectible and using them in daily commerce. Such a coin would be a win for everyone. Seigniorage would increase for the government. A useful coin could be reintroduced to circulation. More people would take an interest in coins and coin collecting.
I do not propose either to abolish the hugely popular President John F. Kennedy half dollar, minted since 1964. This coin is a favorite of both collectors and the public. Circulating commemoratives have shown we do not need to limit designs on coins to one at a time. I would propose to mint both Kennedy and Ginsburg half dollars for general circulation and sales of clad and silver proofs to collectors in the same year. Likely this would even more draw interest from the public and collectors. ◆
This Viewpoint was written by David Allen Hines of Kingston, Pa. He is a member of the American Numismatic Association since 1988 and a collector since boyhood of modern American coins and Seated Liberty quarters.
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