The fourth edition of Whitman Publishing’s 100 Greatest U.S. Modern Coins will enjoy its public debut in a few short weeks. Look for it at the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money in Denver, Colorado. In the meantime, if you’re a fan of modern U.S. coins, you can preorder your copy online or from your favorite local bookstore.
When 100 Greatest U.S. Modern Coins debuted in February 2011, it was the eighth volume in Whitman Publishing’s popular 100 Greatest™ library of books. In earlier volumes the spotlight was occupied by rare and valuable ancient coins, unique 18th- and 19th-century U.S. classics, and even unusual and visually astounding error coins and misstrikes. Finally it was time to focus on the lively field of modern coins, from circulating nickels and quarters to silver and gold commemoratives, Proofs, bullion coins, and more. This exciting category makes up an impressively large share of today’s numismatic market.
Fans of “moderns” are among the most active and enthusiastic collectors in the hobby. To give just one example: The American Eagle bullion-coin program has been part of the numismatic landscape for a little over 30 years. In that time, collectors and investors have purchased more than 400 million American Silver Eagles, plus tens of millions of their gold and platinum cousins. If a book sold that many copies, it would be a runaway best-seller! (Readers have bought about 100 million copies of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit since it was first published; J.K. Rowling’s wildly popular Harry Potter books enjoy print runs in the tens of millions each.) Visit any of the online hobby forums and you’ll find countless threads and conversations revolving around the U.S. Mint’s latest commemorative coins, medals, and bullion pieces. “Collectors love their Morgan dollars and Saint-Gaudens double eagles,” says Diana Plattner, editor of Coin Update and Mint News Blog (www.mintnewsblog.com). “But a feature article on the newest U.S. Mint release is guaranteed to bring hundreds of spirited comments, questions, and strong opinions.”
My own appreciation of the complexity and appeal of modern coins has increased in recent years. In 2016 I was appointed to membership in the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee (www.CCAC.gov), a public panel that advises the secretary of the Treasury on the designs and themes of U.S. coins. Serving on the committee has been an eye-opening experience. It has rounded out my education in the entire process of modern coin creation.
Many collectors misunderstand the origin of modern coins such as commemoratives, National Park quarters, and Presidential dollars. While the Treasury Department does have authority to create certain limited coinage programs (e.g., special gold pieces such as the 2009 Ultra High Relief and the more recent high-relief American Liberty coins), nearly all of its products are mandated by Congress and signed into existence by the president. Congress decides the overarching themes, gives authority, and sets parameters.
“Congress orders, and the Mint executes,” is what one Mint officer has told me.
The CCAC has 11 members, each of us either representing the general public or specially qualified in a particular field (sculpture or the medallic arts; numismatic curatorship; American history; and numismatics). We are “an informed, experienced, and impartial resource to the secretary of the Treasury and represent the interests of American citizens and collectors.” For each coinage program we confer early in the process, meeting with stakeholders to flesh out basic design ideas to guide the Mint’s artists; then, weeks or months later, we meet to review and analyze the sketches the artists developed. Every design is considered seriously—even when there are 60 or more to review in a single portfolio!
How does modern coinage not work? It’s not “design by committee.” It’s not a lone bureaucrat sitting in an office making up programs. If you think the Mint is producing too many military-themed commemoratives, write to your congressman. If you think a palladium bullion coin is a good idea, or want to see your favorite charity honored with a silver dollar, or have an idea for a new circulating quarter dollar program, remember that “Congress orders, and the Mint executes.” Every new coin starts with an idea, which grows (with a lot of legwork) into legislation at the congressional level (or program management if initiated within the Treasury Department), then moves into concept development, then to design sketches, then review by the CCAC (and also the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts), which results in formal recommendations sent to the Treasury secretary. The secretary makes the final decision on all coin designs.
After a new coin is finally minted, it belongs to history and it’s there for the hobby community to enjoy, critique, collect, and study.
It’s in the latter pursuit that authors Scott Schechter and Jeff Garrett are uniquely positioned when it comes to the 100 Greatest U.S. Modern Coins. Each has collected coins since childhood; each has years of unique hands-on experience as a professional numismatist, including buying and selling moderns. Schechter is vice president and finalizer at Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC); his first official job in numismatics was in 1994, when he interned at the Smithsonian Institution, working with the National Numismatic Collection. Garrett is a longtime coin dealer and active promoter of the hobby, this year finishing up his term as president of the American Numismatic Association.
In their engaging and informative book Schechter and Garrett share insight on many behind-the-scenes numismatic situations. As you read you’ll find yourself thinking, “So that’s why this coin was made!” or “That explains why that coin is so rare.” There are as many mysteries, stories, and busted myths within modern coins as there are in any of the classic series.
The fact that 100 Greatest U.S. Modern Coins is already in its fourth edition attests to the coins’ evergreen appeal and popularity. If you haven’t yet been bitten by the modern-coin bug, you will be after enjoying this entertaining volume. Along the way you’ll learn a lot about our nation and its remarkable coinage. ❑
Dennis Tucker is the publisher at Whitman Publishing and a member of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee.