WASHINGTON — Advocates of redesigning the nation's pennies, nickels dimes and quarters have held out the prospect that excited coin collectors would hand the Treasury a multibillion-dollar, deficit-reducing, windfall profit.
But the director of the U.S. Mint, testifying in late April before the Senate Banking Committee, predicted only small-change proceeds ranging in the millions of dollars, not billions.
Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) said any profit from a redesigned coin would be welcome.
"I suspect that glimmer of black ink in our deficit-plagued world is, in itself, adequate reason for passage of this bill," he said.
Sixty-one senators and 90 representatives have co-sponsored legislation authorizing the most sweeping redesign of the nation's coinage since the early years of the century.
The bill would require a complete redesign of the tails of the coins while reserving the heads for the five presidents presently displayed there.
Although the presidential portraits might be somewhat redesigned, the coins would retain their present size, shape and color.
The bill requires the design of the tail of the quarter to carry for two years a design commemorating the bicentennial of the Constitution.
Cranston said he would like to make some changes in the plan and said he will introduce a pair of amendments to do that. He would reserve the face of two of the coins for a symbolic design and forbid their use to portray any person, living or dead.
That would mean that two of the five presidents now so honored--Abraham Lincoln on the penny, Thomas Jefferson on the nickel, Franklin D. Roosevelt on the dime, George Washington on the quarter and John F. Kennedy on the half-dollar--would lose their places in the nation's pockets and purses.
Cranston said no president was featured on the nation's coins until 1909, when Lincoln was granted the honor on his 100th birthday.
Presidents Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Kennedy got their coins within a year of their deaths, Cranston said.
Cranston said he would also offer an amendment to enhance the value of the redesigned coins as educational tools by directing that they be designed as symbols of such democratic principles as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, due process of law, trial by jury, the right to vote and the separation of powers.
"Coins are the most tangible symbols of our nation in our daily lives," Cranston said. "We touch them, examine them, carry them around in our pockets and purses in all our waking hours. . . . People--particularly young people--will look at our coins and learn what they stand for."
Diane Wolf, a member of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts who has been campaigning for redesigned coins for more than a year, has said the change could result in a $2.3-billion profit over six years.
The bill requires all profits be used to reduce the deficit.
David C. Harper, editor of Numismatic News, a coin collector's magazine, testified that the $2.3-billion estimate resulted from his calculation of profits of the release of the coins at face value compared to their relatively low production prices and the separate sales of mint and proof sets to collectors.
"It is clear to me the government will make money on design changes," he said. "Only the size of the profit is undetermined."
But Donna Pope, director of the U.S. Mint, had far lower estimates.
"Embellished revenue estimates of $2.3 billion have been cited and some have looked to coin redesign as a panacea for budget deficits," she said.
"Based on analyses of past demand patterns we estimate $224 million in additional . . . receipts will be generated in the first six years of the new designs and $18 million in additional profits over the same period" from sales to coin collectors."
The mint director suggested that if a decision is made to change the design of U.S. coins, the changes should be made over a six-year period with a new coin being issued at the beginning of each year.
Six Changes in 42 Years
Rep. Frank Annunzio (D-Ill.), chairman of the Banking Committee's consumer affairs and coinage subcommittee, says the record shows that chances of making billions of dollars from a redesign of the nation's coins are remote at best.
Annunzio has expressed reservations, especially about the proposition that changing the design of coins raises billions.
Annunzio told the House that there have been six coin design changes over the past 42 years, and none supports the theory that when coins change their faces, the money rolls in.
"In fact, some of the changes showed a decline in mintages," he said. "Those claiming that design changes will generate billions of dollars in revenues base those claims on assumptions that have no connection with fact or reality."