By Patrick Heller
Last week I was asked how to proceed to submit an idea for a new US coin design. The answer is not as straightforward as many collectors might suspect.
Anyone can send an email directly to the US Mint at email@example.com. The email can be on any subject, including ideas for new coin designs. However, the US Mint does not initiate new commemorative coins or coin programs. Instead, the Mint is required to strike coins specified in legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by the President.
Mint officials in the last year or so have become more proactive at working with Congress on the details of pending coin bill language so as to try to remove onerous requirements and to have as much flexibility as possible at executing new coins. Thus, it is possible that the Mint’s liaison staff could express support to Congress for any possible new coin designs.
But, to go through the nuts and bolts of the process, a bill for a new coin needs to be introduced into the US House of Representatives. Once introduced, it would be assigned to the House Financial Services Committee.
The legislation that has the best prospects of getting action would be if it was sponsored by a member of this committee. It would usually be best if the chair of this committee was the lead sponsor or at least a co-sponsor. A chair’s sponsorship strongly increases the prospect that the bill will actually be heard and pass out of the committee to the full House. The current House Financial Services Committee chair is Maxine Waters of California.
Additionally, coinage legislation that would have the best prospects of action should be perceived as bipartisan.
Former Congressman Mike Castle (R-Delaware), served in the US House of Representatives from 1993 to 2011. He earned the nickname “The Coinage Congressman” during his time as a member of the House Financial Services Committee. He successfully authored or sponsored bills for the 50 States quarters program, the Sacagawea dollar, the Presidential dollar series, and multiple commemorative coins. If he were still in Congress, that is whose office I would suggest contacting first.
Since he retired from Congress, it may make sense to find out which members of the House have sponsored recent successful coin legislation and contact their office first with your coin design ideas.
One other suggestion would be to see if there are other individuals or organizations that would support your new coin design idea. Steve Bieda, the Michigan resident who designed the reverse of the 1992 Olympic half dollar commemorative, later sought to have a commemorative silver dollar issued in 1997 for the 150th anniversary of the birth of inventor Thomas A. Edison in 1847. He was not able to get sufficient support to have this happen for that year but he garnered support from multiple Edison organizations and others. Together, they were eventually successful in having a 2004 Thomas Alva Edison Commemorative silver dollar issued to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the first light bulb.
To give you some idea of the detail that coin legislation could include, you might want to review Public Law 105-331 that was enacted in 1998 for the Edison dollar. This bill was originally introduced in 1997 by Congressman Paul E. Gillmor from Ohio, the state where Edison was born. Yes, he was a member of the House Banking and Financial Services Committee, as it was then known. It was also co-sponsored by 296 of the 435 members of the House of Representatives, indicating strong bipartisan support.
Here’s another piece of advice. In today’s divisive political environment, it will be easier to gain support for a design that has little or no political connotations. Any proposed coin design legislation has the best prospects if it would have wide appeal across the political spectrum in Washington, D.C.
I do have a warning, though. If you have a new coin design idea, there is a good possibility that others have had the same thought. Here’s proof. The US Mint conducted its first Numismatic Forum on Oct. 13, 2016. My report on this event is posted here. In this Oct. 21, 2016 column, I listed several potential themes for new design ideas. The very first suggestion on this list was “Historic inventions by state.”
On Jan. 31, 2017, just two and a half months after I delivered this list of design ideas to the US Mint, Congressman James A. Himes of Connecticut introduced HR 770—American Innovation $1 Coin Act. It was signed into law on July 20, 2018. The first coin of this 57-coin series was issued at the end of 2018. I never had any discussions with anyone from Congress or the US Mint about formally proposing this coin design idea, so my assumption is that it originated from the efforts of others, not me.
I’m always interested in ideas for coin designs. If you would be kind enough to read my October 2016 column and have other suggestions beyond what I listed there, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patrick A. Heller was honored as a 2019 FUN Numismatic Ambassador. He is also the recipient of the American Numismatic Association 2018 Glenn Smedley Memorial Service Award, 2017 Exemplary Service Award 2012 Harry Forman National Dealer of the Year Award, and 2008 Presidential Award winner. Over the years, he has also been honored by the Numismatic Literary Guild (including twice in 2019), Professional Numismatists Guild, Industry Council for Tangible Assets, and the Michigan State Numismatic Society. He is the communications officer of Liberty Coin Service in Lansing, Michigan and writes Liberty’s Outlook, a monthly newsletter on rare coins and precious metals subjects. Past newsletter issues can be viewed at http://www.libertycoinservice.com. Some of his radio commentaries titled “Things You ‘Know’ That Just Aren’t So, And Important News You Need To Know” can be heard at 8:45 AM Wednesday and Friday mornings on 1320-AM WILS in Lansing (which streams live and become part of the audio and text archives posted at http://www.1320wils.com).