On July 10, legislation calling for the issuance of a new series of $1 coins that will honor American innovations and innovators was sent to President Trump to be signed into law — which he did Friday.
The bill, H.R. 770 — the American Innovation $1 Coin Act — authorizes the issuance of four coins per year starting no sooner than January 1, 2019, with a different coin for every state, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territory over a 14-year period for a total of 56 coins.
The bill specifies that the obverse of each coin feature a large, dramatic likeness of Liberty with the design extending to the rim, while the reverses will have designs emblematic of a specific innovation, innovator, or group of innovators.
In addition, like the Presidential $1-coin series that was issued from 2007 to 2016, the new coins will have edge-incused inscriptions for the year of issuance, mint mark, and “E PLURIBUS UNUM.”
The coins are to be issued in the order in which the state or territory ratified the Constitution or were admitted to the Union.
But unlike the previous dollar coin series, which until the end of 2011 was issued for circulation and for collector products, the new coins will only be struck for collectors in quantities that will be determined by the Secretary of the Treasury. They will presumably be sold in rolls and bags and in Mint and Proof sets.
Mint officials will base production levels for the first coin for Delaware on the number of 2012 Chester A. Arthur dollars (four million), the first coins issued after President Obama directed the Treasury to cease producing the Presidential coins for circulation, according to Patrick Malone, press secretary for Rep. Himes, who was quoted in a June 28 Coin World story. Subsequent issues will be produced according to the demand for previous issues in the series.
The innovation dollar program is the brainchild of two Connecticut legislators: Rep. Jim Himes (D) and Senator Chris Murphy (D). On June 27, when the bill passed the house, Himes said: “This bill will support jobs and the industry around collectible coins, including here in Connecticut, all without costing taxpayers at all.” Murphy added:
Our country was built on innovation and entrepreneurship, and what better way to celebrate it than through a program that creates jobs and reduces the national debt. This bill supports local jobs at MBI Inc. in Norwalk, one of the top commemorative coin companies in the should country.
Since the legislation was first introduced in a slightly different form in January 2017, reactions from collectors have not been very positive, which seems to have eluded the bill’s congressional sponsors.
The most fundamental problem is that for a dollar coin program to be successful and generate widespread interest it needs to be issued for circulation. Yet we know from past experience that as long as paper dollars are issued, Americans will not use dollar coins and are likely to hoard them or ignore them.
As Scott Barman, a collector who writes the Coin Collector’s Blog noted:
In many cases, the Innovation $1 Coin will be a repeat of history. Its potential popularity will fail as Congress hopes to socially engineer excitement in the way they tried to do for the Presidential dollar coins.
However, Scott does see some potential for the new series as an educational tool and a way to promote the hobby, but only if done the right way. In particular, it should foster discussion on how each state will decide what innovation they should be represented with, especially when there are many to choose from.
The bill calls for designs to be selected by the Treasury Secretary in consultation with the governor or executive of the state of territory, the Commission on Fine Arts, and the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee (CCAC).
The second major problem is that collectors are exhausted with long-running coin programs, and 14 years would be even longer than the current and previous quarter dollar programs that each lasted 11 years (America the Beautiful and State quarters).
Prior to 1999, circulating coin designs had remained static for decades, so there was pent-up interest in new designs, but since then we have had so many new programs that most collectors either want a break or would like to see something entirely different and of much shorter duration.
Mike Olson, a collector who served on the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee from 2009 to 2014 and who was instrumental in the passage of the 2019 Apollo 11 50th anniversary coin program, said of the new series:
As it relates to the new dollar series, my sense is that collectors are fatigued with programs that continue for years and have lost interest. In addition, coins that are not produced for and used in circulation are not as relevant to the general public and may largely go unnoticed. I’d like to see the ATB [America the Beautiful] series end in 2021 and revert to the Washington design prescribed by legislation.
I think that it would be very difficult if not impossible to remove any president from our existing coinage, so I would be in favor a short circulating Liberty series similar to what was proposed by the CCAC a few years back. One design on one denomination per year, minted alongside and put into circulation with the existing issue. While we’re at it, how about minting a few of these circulating coins in San Francisco-just enough to get people looking at their change again for ‘special’ coins?
The new dollar coin program is in many ways a case study in what is currently wrong with the process by which new U.S. coins are conceived in Congress and produced by the Mint — a process that continues to repeat the mistakes of the past, fails to learn from those mistakes, and which does not take account of what modern coin collectors really want.
Collectors may have a diverse range of opinions on many issues, but they are largely united, if not unanimous, in their lack of interest in the new series. For example, in a July 23 Coin World letter to the editor, one collector said:
Congress is again telling us what we want, a new series of dollar coins. I assume this was done without asking the numismatic community for an opinion. I will not be purchasing any. I do not personally associate the words “success’ or “desirability” with Eisenhower, Anthony, Sacagawea, Native American, or Presidential when coupled with the words ‘dollar coin.’
This view may strike some collectors as a bit harsh since the Eisenhower and Sacagawea/Native American dollars (the latter will continue to be issued along with the new coins) are both popular with many collectors. Moreover, high-grade examples of both dollar coins fetch large sums for certain issues.
Nonetheless, a sampling of letters and posts on coin forums and blogs shows a very strong lack of interest in the new innovation dollar coins, which does not bode well for its success, though it might result in some very low mintage pieces.
In recent years, collectors have lost interest not only in changing-design coin programs that run for a long period but also in many recent commemorative coin programs that too often fail to resonate with them.
But there is also good news on the horizon. In addition to next year’s Apollo 11 coins that are sure to spark great interest within and outside the hobby, there is also a recent legislative proposal for silver and gold commemorative coins to mark the 150th anniversary of the Carson City Mint in Nevada in 2020 that might be popular.
The bill (H.R. 6221) says the designs of the coins should be emblematic of the Carson City Mint building, which is reminiscent of the 2006 San Francisco Mint coins. Hopefully, the reverse of these pieces will feature a reproduction of a coin struck at the Carson City Mint such as a Seated Liberty coin or one of the hugely-popular Morgan dollars produced there. These coins would use modern technology to re-create a classic coin design the way the Liberty subset of First Spouse $10 gold coins did.
Mike Olson also likes the Carson City idea and said:
In regard to the proposed Carson City commemorative coin program, I think that it is very appropriate and will be well received by collectors if the designs and marketing are great. For example, this would be an opportunity to pay homage to the GSA Morgan dollar hoard by perhaps using a CC reverse dollar design on the silver dollar and packaging it in GSA fashion. The San Francisco Mint 2006 commemoratives provide a precedent for use of the Morgan dollar reverse.
Ultimately, what we need to avoid coin series like the forthcoming innovation program, issue coins collectors want and give a much-needed jolt of excitement to the hobby is better communication between Congress, the Mint, and the coin collecting community.