In a move that a large swath of U.S. coin collectors have lauded, the U.S. Mint plans to launch a centennial commemorative coin program next year. The one-year commemorative series will honor a trio of designs that made their debut 100 years earlier in 1916: the Walking Liberty, Standing Liberty, and Winged Liberty Head (Mercury) designs will each be minted in 24-karat gold.
Yet, will collectors be able to purchase these classic designs in silver, as well?
This is a question well worth asking, and Coin World columnist Louis Golino directly addresses it in a recent post to Coin World's Voices editorial blog.
1916 Centennial Coin Series
First, we'll briefly go over the planned commemorative series.
The three original coin designs that first appeared in 1916 will be offered in stunning .9999 fine gold versions for the hundredth anniversary of their debut. These coin designs were widely met with great acclaim at the time of their release thanks to their more dynamic and symbolically thoughtful portrayals of Lady Liberty compared to past coins.
Fittingly, the popular Mercury (or Winged Liberty Head) motif that originally appeared on the dime will be offered in a tenth-oz (1/10 ounce) size; the Standing Liberty design that appeared on the quarter will use a quarter-oz (1/4 ounce) size; and the Walking Liberty theme from the half dollar will be minted in a half-oz (1/2 ounce) size. This nice symmetry not only allows the mint to provide bullion investors with a variety of different size options, but places the classic designs on roughly appropriate planchet sizes.
Another great call was to use the original 1916 Type I design of Standing Liberty that features one bare breast on Miss Liberty in the image. The Type II Standing Liberty covered the exposed breast in chain mail, an equally symbolic choice implemented part-way through 1917 that hinted at eventual U.S. involvement in the First World War. Favoring the Type I version is a truer nod to the centennial anniversary.
Why Not Silver?
The main reason why the U.S. Mint does not, at the moment, anticipate striking silver versions of these exciting commemoratives is more logistical than anything else. As Golino astutely points out, the mint has wide discretion to produce gold and platinum numismatic coins, but can only strike silver commemoratives with express authorization from Congress, as was done with the mint's other bullion coin programs.
Without congressional action, there isn't much the mint can do about silver centennial coins. Its hands are tied.
The Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee (CCAC), the civilian body that makes recommendations on all commemorative coin designs, has weighed in, with Chariman Gary Marks (who is soon to step down) suggesting that the coins also be minted in platinum. Interestingly, with platinum cheaper than gold at the moment, this might stir greater collector interest than the largely neglected American Platinum Eagle coins do.
Nonetheless, if the mint cannot strike silver versions of these commemorative coins, collectors are the ones who suffer the most. All indications are that these three historically beloved designs will be in high demand when released, but obviously minting them in gold (even in fractional denominations) restricts the number of average collectors to whom the coins are accessible. On the other hand, a silver set would probably be bought up hand-over-fist; a 3-coin silver set would be affordable for virtually anyone interested.
We all know our representatives aren't the best about responding to constituents' concerns, particularly in the Congress's current dysfunctional state, but Mr. Golino does suggest writing to your congressional representative urging them to introduce legislation for minting these coin designs in silver.