|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:||CONTACT: CHRISTI HARLAN|
|Wednesday, September 13, 2000||202-224-0894|
Sen. Phil Gramm, chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, made the following statement today at the opening of a Banking Committee symposium on U.S. coin design:
"We mint coins, we print currency to facilitate exchanges. That utilitarian function is vital for America. It is vital for the functioning of our modern economy.
"Given that money has a utilitarian function, given that we are going to coin and print it anyway, the question is, shouldn't our coins reflect modern America and its values?
"It is somewhat of a paradox to me that with the dramatic improvement in the precision of American technology and, therefore, in our capacity to mint finer coins than we've ever minted before, the quality of American coins has declined dramatically in the last century.
"I believe that nations have historically used their coinage to say something about themselves. We have displayed here today the Alexander the Great coin that was used to create the common currency area of antiquity. The Athenian coin, with the owl on the back of it, is my favorite coin.
"When you discover one of these coins – dig one up, or see one in someone's collection, or buy one – you know that these societies had an element of greatness in them. Their coins tell something about them. And it seems to me in looking at modern American coinage, that if you took our standard quarter and buried it somewhere, and somebody dug it up 2,000 years from now – this composite copper sandwich, nickel-plated quarter – I think someone might think many things when it was dug up, but I don't think it would conjure up the image of the greatest nation in the history of the world, which is the United States of America.
"What I want to do today is to begin to look at American coinage and begin the debate about whether or not we should have a new age of American coinage in which we seek to mint coins that say something about America today, something about America's values and about its history. The last time we had a substantial reform of American coinage was under President Theodore Roosevelt. That period is known as the Golden Age of Coinage. It produced most of the great American coins.
"For reasons of economics, we have set in permanent law that when a coin is in circulation, it can be changed only once every 25 years. Our Lincoln head penny is 91 years old. Our Jefferson nickel is 62 years old. Our Roosevelt dime is 54 years old. Our Kennedy half dollar is 36 years old.
"What I want to do today is bring together people who are experts in this area, from the Smithsonian Institution, the numismatic societies and the U.S. Mint, giving us an opportunity to discuss the issue with them and to begin to lay the foundation for a new golden age of coinage in America."