For a variety of reasons, it’s time to change the way that gold commemorative coins are made, time to make them affordable to a new generation of collectors, time to give them attractive themes, and time to be daring and think outside the box to eliminate the problem of fewer and fewer coins being sold.
One way to do that is to change denominations dramatically, and make the coin something that people have always wanted. At one time it might have been a $3 gold piece, but my view today is that a silver “Stella” with a gold plug is just right, affordable, and could lead off a series that (with a surcharge) could do what the “America the Beautiful” quarters are not doing – fund the national parks.
My choice for the $4 commemorative (silver with gold plug) is none other than Ronald Reagan, the centennial of whose birth took place in 2011. (It’s after the fact, but who stopped to think about that when it was decided to celebrate the bisesqucentennial of the birth of President Thomas Jefferson. Although Jefferson was born in 1743, which put the 250th anniversary in 1993, it was 1994 when the U.S. Mint struck the commemorative with an inscribed date of 1743-1993.
So, a suggestion from this corner: celebrate the National Park Service, Yosemite, the California Redwoods, and the man who did more to save and preserve them than any other – Ronald Reagan.
“There is an ‘absolute necessity of waging all-out war against the debauching of the environment… The bulldozer mentality of the past is a luxury we can no longer afford. Our roads and other public projects must be planned to prevent the destruction of scenic resources and to avoid needlessly upsetting the ecological balance,” said Gov. Ronald Reagan as he added 145 ,000 acres of Redwoods to the California State Park System.
But that is just the beginning of his accomplishments for the forests of the nation. As President he signed more than 40 bills into law between 1982 and 1988 designating 10 million acres of wilderness in 27 states, nearly 10 percent of the National Wilderness Preservation syste. President Reagan actually signed more wilderness bills than any other president since the Wilderness Act was enacted in 1964.
Ronald Wilson Reagan, 40th president of the United States, was an American hero – the genuine article. His death at age 93 on June 4, 2006, and the nation’s response, only confirms why Gallup polls consistently ranked him as the people’s choice of the best of all the men to hold that office, a position over George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and even Franklin D. Roosevelt.
It’s not the first time that there has been a serious proposal to honor him on American currency. In 2001, Grover Norquist, chairman of the Reagan Legacy Project, who also claimed to be “spoiling for a fight” in an effort to carve Reagan’s face onto Mount Rushmore, had a more serious plan: keeping alive the late U.S. Senator Paul Coverdell’s bid to put the Gipper on the $10 bill.
The Wall Street Journal quoted Norquist as saying that “It would be a way to honor both the President and the currency.” It went on to editorialize that it “might be nice for taxpayers to have on their money a man who appreciated how hard they worked for it.”
When his turn comes, the Presidential dollar coins will memorialize him.
Official Washington is notoriously flinty when it comes to giving recognition to America’s greatest leaders.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt – incidently the first president that Ronald Reagan remembers voting for – asked for a memorial consisting of a granite block bearing his name, date of birth (1881) and date of death (1945) to be located on Pennsylvania Avenue near the National Archives.
That request was granted, and not until 1998 – more than a half century after his death – was a more formal memorial dedicated near the tidal basin of the Potomac River between the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials, which honor the third and 16th presidents, respectively.
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When he was sworn in on Jan. 20, 1981, at age 69, Reagan was the oldest person ever to take the office. (Eisenhower took office at age 63; William Henry Harrison, who took office in 1841, was 67 years old at the time he was inaugurated – and he died from pneumonia caught at his inauguration after a mere 31 days in office).
As a Hollywood actor, Reagan had been a liberal Democrat, president of the Screen Actor’s Guild, a “B” movie star, and later, host of the “Death Valley Days” television series seen weekly in millions of American homes.
In one movie, he played a football player for the fighting Irish (“Win one for the Gipper”). In “Where’s the Rest of Me,” he plays the victim of a sadistic doctor who amputates his legs. The movie was utilized as the title for his autobiography published a generation ago as he prepared to run for governor of California.
Reagan traded his actor’s garb for politician’s cloth and was elected twice as governor of the state of California, where he was a true environmentalist. By 1980, he was more than a credible candidate for President – he was the odds-on favorite.
When the Reagan Revolution swept America in 1980, he carried 44 states on a promise to cut taxes and social spending, while vastly increasing defense spending. Railing against an “Evil Empire” in the form of the Soviet Union, Reagan presided over the rebuilding of America’s peacetime military. For re-election in 1984, he carried 49 of the 50 states.
By the time of his retirement at the end of his second term, he had the highest public approval rating of any president since FDR and was even given a Knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II of England.
A little known sidelight about Reagan is his devotion to medallic art. When it came time for his Presidential inaugural medal to be produced, his is one of the few that is a virtual straight-on portrait (one of the most difficult to produce) – its success assured by his willingness to sit for a life mask (a process involving breathing through straws into the nostrils, while fresh plaster is poured over the face).
It’s time to reset the National Parks funding program with commemorative coinage that breaks the mold. It’s time to rethink the fundamentals of modern commemorative gold coins, and for that matter, the entire commemorative coin program.
Since the U.S. Mint began producing commemorative coins the second time around, starting in 1982, it has played catch-up in marketing, designing and producing dozens of programs that its “marketing committee” has selected for it as the next best thing to sliced bread.
Ralph J. Menconi, the great sculptor and medallist, and a member of the Coins & Medals Advisory Panel of the American Revolution Bicentennial Commission, described this committee as seeking to design a horse and winding up with a camel.
You may be more familiar with the official name for this marketing unit: it’s the Congress of the United States, and if you voted in the last election, your vote may very well have put a member into an influential position in the Mint’s commemorative coin program.
That’s because the Constitution of the United States (in Article I, section 8) gave the power over coinage to Congress – and while it has taken steps to hand it over to the Executive Branch more and more, whenever it has a constituent clever enough to reach out to it, one more commemorative coin may bear its imprimatur.
I received a telling lesson about Congressional power and perks while serving as a charter member of the Citizens Commemorative Coin Advisory Commitee from 1993-1996, in particular on the day that the Capitol Botanical Gardens group attended to try and promote its coin, which I thought a poor subject.
My friend Reed Hawn, who served with me, remembers that day: “Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (then chairman of the Senate Finance Committee) appeared on behalf of the Capitol Botanical Gardens,” he recalled, and “David asked him hard questions and suggested that as Finance Chair, the Senator could easily find funds that exceeded the surcharge that could be raised.”
That really was the point, wasn’t it? It was never about the coins or their designs but rather the money that would be raised through the surcharge.
As Hawn told it, “Senator Moynihan acknowledged that but saw a greater purpose: a buy-in and involvement of a new generation of supporters. I agreed with Senator Moynihan then and know that these many years later, David has shifted his view and believes the Moynihan approach worked well.”
But the tag line in Reed’s recollection is the best: “And as the Senator quipped lastly, and most importantly, that ‘You people remember who appointed you, don’t you?’”