Change for a Reagan? New Coin Designs are Coming

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Ronald Reagan coin
A Littleton Coin Co. artist’s rendition of a Ronald Reagan coin.

By Donn Pearlman

There is an exciting future for the coin hobby, and that future is not too distant.

The United States Mint is releasing this year in 2021 new “tail’s side” designs on American Eagle silver and gold bullion coins. These are the first major changes in the reverse designs since these precious metal coin programs began in 1986. The mid-year design changes have prompted a big surge in related promotions by numismatic marketers and a big surge, at least temporarily, in retail prices for 2021-dated American Eagles.

A little farther down the road next year, we’ll start to see results from the Circulating Collectible Coin Redesign Act of 2020. Quarter dollars will be struck for circulation with a reverse design commemorating ratification of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote. Up to five different reverse designs featuring prominent American women can be issued annually from 2022 to 2025.

This is excellent for coin collectors, but there is a question if it will attract the kind of attention and participation by the general public that the wildly successful 50 State Quarters Program did from 1999 through 2008. According to a December 2013 story by Matthew Healy in The New York Times, that series was the most successful numismatic program in history with about half of the U.S. population collecting the state quarters, either from pocket change or by purchasing them from dealers.

The state quarters program was so overwhelmingly successful because the subject matter meant something to people. You could collect coins from states where you’ve lived or visited or where your favorite aunt lives. Some governors encouraged their residents to participate by submitting proposed designs for their state’s quarter.

But year after year, Congress mandates that the United States Mint create coins for too many ho-hum topics. Instead, give the public something they want to see on the coins in their pockets and purses: depictions of individuals and subject matter that are not only famous but also popular. For example, Canada issued coins depicting dinosaurs.

In 1995, 2000, and again in 2003, the Littleton Coin Co. in Littleton, New Hampshire, conducted informal opinion polls asking collectors across the country who they want featured on U.S. coins. Former President Ronald Reagan was a top choice each time. (An illustration of a Littleton artist’s conception of a Reagan coin accompanies this column.)

Among other suggested names were Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., former Presidents Harry S. Truman, George H.W. Bush, Ulysses S. Grant, and Richard Nixon. There were also votes for Jesus Christ, Mother Teresa, Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana, and, of course, Elvis Presley, who appeared on U.S. postage stamps in 1993 and 2015.

The 19th Amendment certainly is a worthy, historic topic to salute on coins, but I don’t envision Marilyn Monroe will be depicted on any quarters honoring prominent American women. Movie stars on our circulating coins would be interesting.

Maybe one day we will hear people ask, “Got change for a Reagan?” or “How many Marilyns to the dollar?”

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