This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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I received my recent edition of Numismatic News the other day and read with (dis)interest about the new coins proposed for 2014-2015. It’s a sure bet that all these pieces of metal will be costly non-circulating legal tender coins, which a majority of the public will never see, let alone use (hence the term “non-circulating”).
Why is it almost always the commemoration of an important event goes to a coin, not to a bill? The only exception in modern times for a commemorative bill to be produced in the U.S. was the $2 bill during the American Bicentennial celebration. Monticello was replaced by an engraving of our founding fathers signing the Declaration of Independence. (I wonder where were those Virginian Senators and Congressmen who screamed “bloody murder” when there was an idea to remove “Monticello” off the reverse of the nickel?)
OK., I guess that was about the same as putting it on a non-circulating legal tender round, since $2 bills are legal tender, but hardly circulate. None the less, commemorative “paper” in the U.S. is few and far between. Many world countries have commemorated some of their own historical events on bank notes without problems, why can’t the US do the same?
I’ve asked before, and I’ll ask again: How much better would it be to commemorate something on a piece of paper about 5 inches by 3 inches where colors could be used, as opposed to a monochromatic metallic round approximately 1 inch in diameter? The Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee has produced a report of some commemorative coin selections, which would probably do better on a bank note and could be viewed (and used) by more people.
• 2014 Commemorative of “Fallen Firefighters.” A coin is capable of only one subject, plus it has to follow certain rules on placement of mottos and country name. A bill (bank note) could show Ben Franklin, who started a Volunteer Firemen Company in Philadelphia, on the obverse and the World Trade Center ruins “fading into” the concept of the new WTC on the reverse. By the way, there already is a stamp honoring the “First Responders,” many of whom were firemen, on a semi-postal stamp (a stamp that pays postage, plus a small amount helps to raise funds for worthy causes.) Another corresponding stamp wouldn’t be a bad idea as well.
• 2015 Commemorative of “The Battle of New Orleans.” This idea was discussed in an earlier missive to Numismatic News. The reverse of the $20 bill would offer a much better canvas than a 1 inch (or so) coin.
• 2015 Commemorative of the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery in the U.S. On the reverse of the $5 note could be a representation of a slave pulling apart the “Chains of Bondage” rooted in a cotton field. Hang the “political correctness” for this commemorative bill, it needs to make a statement of the brutality of slavery.
There is one difference between the commemorative issues of the 1930s and the issues of today’s commemorative. Except for the gold coins, one could use the commemorative as cash. Today, like yesteryear, the government is authorizing too many commemorative coins. The commemorative coin program in the U.S. today is very much like the old Soviet Union’s stamp program of the 1960’s -1980’s. Commemorative and/or souvenir sheets were issued on regular basis and “cancelled to order” (government’s order) so they couldn’t be used for postage. Although some commemorative coins (Presidential dollars, Native American heritage dollars, and the America the Beautiful quarters) are issued for circulation, very few are. I have yet to see an ATB quarter, and nobody really likes the “golden” dollars at all. The other commemorative/special coins that are NCLTs are, it seems, being produced mainly for investors or someone with wealth to buy these overpriced baubles.
Leave the metal alone for a while and put the commemoration on paper. Write your government representative to promote “commemorative paper” instead of coins. Printing paper is a lot cheaper than minting coins. With all the modern technological advances in printing, it is more difficult to counterfeit a bill than a coin.
William B. Tuttle is a hobbyist from Cleveland, Ohio. Viewpoint is a forum for the expression of opinion on a variety of numismatic subjects. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of Numismatic News. To have your opinion considered for Viewpoint, write to David C. Harper, Editor, Numismatic News, 700 E. State St., Iola, WI 54990. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.