Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Coins, Education, and Civil Rights

After reading and posting about the Seattle Schools disgrace, I'm glad I found something more positive to write about.

I'm sure I've mentioned before that I'm a numismatist. I've collected coins since 1974, when I took my first trip to Europe (my mother was in the army and I'd visit her in the summers). While I have plenty of US coins, world coins are my favorites. After all, there are a lot more of them--in many more interesting designs--than we have to offer in our own country.

I've brought coins to school and guest-lectured in history classes. I've even used them to demonstrate applications in math class--how old is this coin minted 200+ years BC, for example, shows a use for subtracting negative numbers. Converting from Moslem AH dates to Christian era AD dates requires a 2-step algebraic equation.

This post is about American coins, though, and the designs that are, or should be, on them. Today I was reading a recent issue of Numismatic News and came across the following statement: "The CCAC (Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee) has endorsed 2007 commemoratives that would honor the 50th anniversary of the desegragation of Little Rock Central high School ...." This means that, if approved, the US Mint would be authorized to strike 500,000 commemorative $1 coins for this anniversary. The Mint strikes commemoratives each year, and for the past several years has kept the number of commemoratives annually to just a couple. Here's what's been commemorated since 2000:

2000: Library of Congress, Leif Ericson
2001: Capitol Visitors Center, American Buffalo
2002: Salt Lake City Olympics, US Military Academy Bicentennial
2003: First Flight
2004: Lewis and Clark, Thomas Edison
2005: John Marshall, US Marine Corps 225th Anniversary
2006: Benjamin Franklin Tricentennial "Scientist", Franklin "Founding Father"

I might have missed one or two, but you get the idea. Also, there are commemorative half dollars.

As you can see, some of the places, events, and people commemorated are a bit more worthy than others. Certainly, the desegregation of Central High in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education was a watershed event in the civil rights movement and is worthy of being commemorated on a $1 coin. I myself would buy such a coin.

There's also been a lot of talk in the American numismatic press of honoring Dr. King on a coin. I can't imagine there won't be a commemorative in 2009 to mark what would be Dr. King's 80th birthday, but there was no such mention in the article I quoted above. Some have also mentioned 2008, which would mark the 40th year since his assassination. To be honest, I'd rather celebrate his birth than his death. There's also 2013, the 50th anniversary of his I Have A Dream speech.

I don't support a commemorative coin for Dr. King--well, not only a commemorative coin. It's time; he deserves to be on a circulating US coin. Commemoratives are fine, and they serve their purpose, but let's put him on coins that everyday Americans will see every day.

The cent is out. Not only will 2009 be the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth, it will be the 100th anniversary of his bust being on the front of the cent. Something big has to be planned for that. The cent is now costing the Mint about a cent to make, perhaps slightly more when all costs are factored in. The cent is probably not long for this world; let's keep Dr. King away from that train wreck waiting to happen.

Can't touch the nickel. The Virginia delegation in Congress had a fit when the reverse of the nickel was changed for two years to celebrate the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark mission, and they threw a tantrum until the law was written stating that Monticello would return to the reverse of the nickel when the Lewis and Clark design was finished. Virginia owns the nickel.

The quarter is in circulating commemorative mode until 2008 with the State Quarters Program, and in 2009 six US territories and districts (DC, Puerto Rico, and Samoa, for example) might end up on the back of the quarter. Remove Washington? Did I tell you how the Virginians freaked out over the nickel?

The half dollar isn't circulating. It's a flop. It shouldn't even be made anymore.

The dollar coin doesn't circulate. Besides that, there's talk (has it been approved already, perhaps?) of issuing circulating dollar coins honoring each dead President--and there will be a gold non-circulating coin for each of the First Ladies. I don't recall if the Presidents series will augment or replace the Sacagawea dollar--which is in itself a beautiful coin--but it looks like the dollar is out.

And that leaves the dime.

Franklin Roosevelt has been on the dime for 60 years. To paraphrase Al Gore, "It's time (pause) for him (pause) to go!" There's been talk of putting President Reagan on the dime, but then you have the political crying about replacing a Democrat (Roosevelt) with a Republican (Reagan). You laugh, but that's a serious issue to some people! Doesn't matter that the only Republican on our coins now is Lincoln--what matters is that there'd be another one if we put Reagan on. Can't have that in our polarized political climate!

Yes, the dime is small, but it's going to be around for a long time. People use dimes every day. And let's face it, neither the obverse nor the reverse of the dime is very attractive right now. Without looking, can you even tell me what's on the reverse of the dime? And if you look now, can you tell what it is you're looking at?

Now imagine Dr. King on the obverse of the dime--not in profile, like the bust of a dead President, but looking more out of the coin, like Jefferson on the Lewis and Clark nickels or, better yet, on the 2006 nickel. Let your mind wander as to what would be on the reverse of the dime--the Lincoln Memorial? A bus? A black and a white hand reaching out to each other (yes, you can "color" the hand on the coin with texture)?

Dr. King deserves more than a one-time, one-year commemorative that only 500,000 people could own. He is great enough to be on coins in every American's pocket, and his time has come.

Contact your senators and representative today.


Anonymous said...

Darren -

Your plan would have the delightful side effect of getting FDR off the dime.

detarame said...

I really like the idea of a MLK dime. Think you're being a little harsh with the dime, though. It's hard to imagine pulling off the guy who saw the country through the depression and WWII, not to mention becoming forever associated with the March of Dimes.

I didn't see any really compelling reasons not to put him on the half-dollar. It is still in circulation. I suppose some sentimental attachment to JFK? Seems less compelling in this case. (even though by-the-numbers

It's funny to think of congresscritters getting fussy because of messing with the back of a nickle.

Darren said...

mdj, Roosevelt has been on the dime 60 years. It wasn't until the 20th century that we put genuine people on coins--and then kept them there in perpetuity. The law stills allows changes to be made every 25 years, but we don't. Until Lincoln in 1909 and then Washington and Jefferson in the 30's, our coins usually had either stylized versions of Liberty on them, or stylized Native Americans.

The half-dollar doesn't circulate. It would be sort of an insult to put Dr. King on the half.

Dan Edwards said...

Good post. IMO, we should drop FDR from the dime, but put another Roosevelt on the dime....Teddy Roosevelt that is!

King could go on a quarter along with many other Americans who have been an important part of our history......Robert Fulton, Andrew Carnegie (sp?), Samuel Colt, Wilbur and Orville Wright, Sitting Bull, Chief Joseph, U.S. Grant, etc.....

A series of first ladies on coins would be very collectable. Women have been on coins from nearly day one of the minting of coins, Athena, various wives of Roman Emperors, Queen Maria Therese, Queen Vicky......

As for the mint creating comm. dollar coins, some are very nice, others I can leave. I missed out on the bison and USMC dollars....but around 35.oo a pop gets expensive. Love that Dolly Madison Comm. dollar coin.

detarame said...

It doesn't circulate? According to what I've seen, the half is the most consistantly minted coin beside the penny. Don't give me that it's not used, either. Every time I go to the casinos, I leave with a pocket full of halves.

Darren said...

Mintages don't imply circulation. And casinos aren't quite representative of what goes on in commerce.

Unless you ask for the odd one you see in a cash register till, when was the last time you got a half dollar in change at the grocery store?

You know what I'm saying here. What exactly was your point? Just being contrary?

Progressive Pinhead said...

Wow, as both a fellow numismatist, Blogshares player, and political activist (although at the other end of the spectrum) it seems that we have a lot in common. What do you think of Rep. Kolbe's proposal to eliminate the cent or and the possibility of returning liberty to our coins?

Darren said...

It's definitely time to get rid of the cent. We got rid of the half-cent more than 150 years ago because it wasn't efficient for commerce anymore; certainly prices have more than doubled since then!

I'm tired of dead Presidents on our coins. I'd support bringing Liberty back to our coins. Additionally, I'd like to see new images on our paper money. A couple years ago Numismatic News wrote about a fundraiser--redesign the $1 bill, donate $1 to some organization (a hospital?); redesign the $2 bill, donate $2 to the organization, etc. One person created what he called the Great American Vistas series--the back of one bill had the Grand Canyon; the back of another had the South Dakota Badlands; the back of another had a rocky, obviously New England coastal view. The fronts were redesigned too, but I was struck by the reverses.

Thanks for visiting my site.

Now, what do *you* think about Kolbe's bill?

Progressive Pinhead said...

The cent has outlived its usefullness. It is now worth less than 1/300th of what it was when the mint first made it. It costs more than a cent to make one and with metal prices like they are it wouldn't suprise me if the coins began going from the mint to the smelter. The coins are not even worth the time it takes to pick one up off the street given that the average American's time is worth $17 a hour or 1 cent every two seconds. And even if the mint stopped making the coins we have a hundred year supply of them in jars, piggy banks and other places of the such. There are billions of them out there and it makes no sense to lose money manufacturing a coin that we already have too many of and no one wants. We might as well eliminate the nickel as well, where losing money on that too, but, I'm sure Virginia's Congressional delegation would start whining at the thought of that. In an increasingly electronic age we need to begin to make the shift away from low denomination coins and into credit cards, checks, etc. It makes sense for all involved, if only people didn't hate change so much we'd already be there.

Progressive Pinhead said...

Btw: if you support returning liberty to our coinage take a look at http://coinlobby.blogspot.com