By Harvey Stack
While going some file papers of the year 2009, I found a very complimentary letter from Delaware Congressman Michael N. Castle, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee in Congress during the time that the proposal for a statehood quarter program in 1995 was initiated to attract collectors and the public in collecting U.S. coins once again.
What occurred before this congressional hearing took place: the United States Mint had introduced a new commemorative coin series in 1982 and sold the coins to the public in excess of the face or metal value. The premium above the issues partially went to the Mint and also was distributed to the commemorative event that appeared on the coin. They were struck in gold and silver and were considered very attractive in the first years.
With the success of the first issues, they continued a commemorative program for many years while making a substantial profit from the sales. The earlier issues were advertised as an “Investment in the Future” by the Mint promotional department.
Many parents, grandparents, and the general public purchased these at the high premiums from the Mint. By 1993, some of the public decided to sell those they had purchased and learned that the best price they could get in the marketplace was almost 50 percent less than they paid the Mint. Dealers were condemned as trying to take advantage of the original purchaser, and many a harsh letter was received from the public. No one could understand that the U.S. Mint would sell them items that went down so much in the resale and secondary marketplace.
By 1995, many original buyers left the field, took their losses, and said that coin collecting was a scam from the Mint. Congressman Jimmy Hayes, an avid rare coin collector whom Stack’s served for years, heard the discontent and unhappiness.
He contacted Castle, and a public hearing was held in 1995. The attendees who appeared were several numismatic curators, lawyer, editors of coin papers, and myself, who was the industry representative, since I had decades of numismatic training and dealing with the public. I had also served as president of the Professional Numismatist Guild The attendees also included the director of the Mint, Philip Diehl.
After we each testified, Castle asked, “what do you suggest we do to rectify and improve our coinage so that it is not only used for daily currency but will reflect on our nation’s monetary usage and history?”
When it was my turn, I stood up and said that what we need once more are additional commemorative coins. However, these should all be circulating coins, so a beginner could start from face value and eventually attempt to find as many different as he can, and maybe if he wants to complete his series, acquire the missing ones by trading with fellow collectors or buying them from a dealer.
I suggested that there should be a theme. Why not make a new series commemorating the states of the United States. Start with the first state to join the Union and continue to the last.
At that point, Castle interrupted my answer with “Mr. Stack, you do know that Delaware was the first to sign.”
The committee laughed, as did the audience. It seems my idea got its first supporter.
I said, “Since the discomfort experienced by the many who lost lots of money on the purchasing, with high premiums, the earlier issues since 1982 is the reason for this discussion, the fact that the total investment in circulating coin is just the face value, there would be nothing to lose by collecting from change.”
The major fault with the program was that each year these new statehood quarters were issued, the distribution of the new designs did not get full nationwide distribution. The Mint sent to most banks nationwide whatever they had available, with some districts getting large quantities of the new issue and other districts getting relatively few, if any.
This “Viewpoint” was written by Harvey G. Stack, who has been active in the coin business since joining his family firm 60 years ago. Currently, it is part of Stack’s Bowers Galleries.
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