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New silver Eagle design draws opinions

In weekly Numismatic News poll questions, I have never had much luck inquiring about silver American Eagles as investment objects.

But ask about potential design change as recommended by the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee recently and it is a different story.

Collectors have opinions about whether the 28-year old design combination should change. It has the Adolph A. Weinman Walking Liberty design on obverse and John Mercanti’s small heraldic eagle on the reverse.

CCAC wants to let the classic obverse design alone. Most collectors think it is one of the most beautiful designs ever to appear on U.S. coinage.

The reverse hasn’t yet achieved that age-encrusted familiarity and perhaps that is one reason why CCAC feels it is ripe for changing.

The Treasury secretary has the statutory power to change designs that have been used for at least 25 years and CCAC wants him to use it.

That might seem radical in light of the fact that when the Jefferson nickel design was “played with” on a temporary basis to honor the 200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark Expedition up the Missouri River to the West Coast in 2004 and 2005, congressional fans of Monticello fought back with legislation requiring it on the five-cent piece forever.

Can the Treasury secretary change the one-ounce bullion coin without setting off howls of objections?

CCAC perhaps thinks that by simply asking for a change in eagle that it is not asking for something so radical as to unleash legislative backlash. They even have a specific eagle design in mind.

The committee might be right.

Is there downside to an eagle design swap?

It can be argued that the function of abullion coin that the American Eagle is filling means leaving the design alone. A bullion coin is supposed to be instantly identifiable by the market.

A design change might raise some eyebrows internationally.

Many collectors know the story of the Maria Teresa taler with its 1780 date.

It was popular for many years as a trade coin in eastern Africa and on the Arabian peninsula, but the users were so suspicious of any adulteration that even the date could not be changed for fear of upsetting the economic interests of the users.

Are buyers of American Eagles so similarly fragile that a changed reverse might change their attitude toward the coin?

I wouldn’t think so, but it is on this ground that the case against a design change might be made in any rational discussion of merits.

Naturally, there is always the name-calling approach to torpedo any new design.

Just call the proposed eagle bad art and whip up opposition on that basis.

We’ll see what happens.

Take a look at the design and see what you think. Remember, it is just the eagle that is being recommended, not denomination nor the rest of the design, which was created for another program.

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Buzz blogger Dave Harper is winner of the 2013 Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog and is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."