Collecting Bicentennial Coins|
April 19, 2012
Excerpted from The Instant Coin Collector by Arlyn G. Sieber, available from http://www.ShopNumisMaster.com.
The Story Behind The Coins
A variety of coinage proposals for the nation’s Bicentennial emerged in the years leading up to the celebration. Among them were proposals for special commemorative coins (the U.S. Mint had not issued commemorative coins since 1954), redesigning all six circulating coins, issuing a 2-cent coin with a Bicentennial design and issuing a gold commemorative coin.
The Mint and Treasury Department initially resisted any changes to circulating coin designs and the issuance of commemorative coins, but they eased their opposition as the various proposals were winnowed to a final bill that was signed into law Oct. 18, 1973, by President Richard M. Nixon. That bill called for quarters, half dollars and dollar coins struck after July 4, 1975, to bear new reverse designs emblematic of the nation’s Bicentennial. The law also called for the coins to bear the dual date “1776-1976.”
The law further authorized the Mint to strike the Bicentennial coins in a 40 percent silver composition (rather than the copper-nickel clad composition of the circulation strikes) for inclusion in three-coin mint and proof sets for sale directly to collectors. The San Francisco Mint struck these special coins, which bear an “S” mintmark.
The San Francisco Mint also produced proof versions of all three coins in the circulating clad composition for inclusion in regular annual proof sets.
To select designs for the Bicentennial coins, the Mint sponsored a contest open to all U.S. citizens. The winners were announced in March 1974:
– A Revolutionary-era drummer-boy design, submitted by Jack L. Ahr of Arlington Heights, Ill., was selected for the quarter.
– A depiction of Independence Hall, submitted by Seth G. Huntington of Minneapolis, Minn., was selected for the half dollar.
– A depiction of the Liberty Bell superimposed over the moon, submitted by Dennis R. Williams of Columbus, Ohio, was selected for the dollar. The moon was symbolic of the nation’s lunar landings and exploration.
The Bicentennial coinage law gave the Treasury Secretary the authority to determine how long the special reverse designs would be used. In September 1976, the Mint announced that Treasury Secretary William E. Simon had ordered the Mint to revert back to the old reverse designs with the beginning of 1977-dated coinage.
Where to Get Them
Bicentennial quarters still turn up occasionally in circulation, but not as often as they once did. A careful watch on pocket change should eventually produce an example. The presence of older coins in higher numbers may indicate that more people are putting aside the Bicentennial quarters as they encounter them in circulation. Also, more people are paying closer attention to the quarters in their pocket change thanks to the State quarter and National Park quarter programs.
Although the Mint still strikes half dollars for circulation, few of the big, bulky coins are actually used. Thus, rolls may be the best bet for acquiring Bicentennial half dollars from circulation.
Even bigger and bulkier are the Eisenhower dollars with the Bicentennial reverse designs. The Eisenhower dollar was struck from 1971 to 1978. It was replaced by the smaller Anthony dollar in 1979. That makes the Eisenhower dollar an obsolete design in a coin denomination that has never been popular among the public. A collector may be able to find a bank here and there that still has some. A better bet, however, is a local coin shop or show. Nice examples in uncirculated grades should be available at either for just a few dollars each. They also give new collectors a low-cost introduction to buying coins over the counter.
Local shops and shows are also good sources for nice examples of the Bicentennial quarters and half dollars. Examples plucked from circulation will be well worn; a little extra money spent on purchased examples will produce a much nicer set. Expect to find the 40-percent-silver proof and mint sets at shops and shows, too.
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On April 21, 2012 jay cook
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