Senate Banking Committee Coin Design Symposium

Coin Designs Worthy of a Great Nation
A Symposium on Coin Design

Prepared Remarks of Senator Paul Sarbanes (D-MD)
Ranking Member
Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs

Mr. Chairman, I want to commend you for holding this symposium on coin design this morning. I am pleased to welcome members of the Numismatic Community, the Smithsonian, and the U.S. Mint as well as the coin collectors and enthusiasts in the audience. Under the rules of the Senate, this Committee has specific jurisdiction over "currency and coins" and, to the best of my knowledge, this is the first time in at least the past 20 years that we have exercised a basic review of the design of our coins. Mr. Chairman, I applaud your efforts to review the design of our circulating coinage and make U.S. coins the best in the world.

By way of historical background, it is my understanding that throughout history, coins have served not only as a convenient way of performing everyday commercial transactions, but also as a way of celebrating a nation's heritage. For example, the Greek Kings who succeeded Alexander the Great struck his profile on coins as a way of associating themselves with him. In later years, Greek Kings and Roman Emperors featured realistic portraits of themselves on coins which were issued frequently and sculpted with great detail. As a result, Roman history is depicted through its coinage.

At the turn of the 20th century, President Theodore Roosevelt spearheaded an effort to design new U.S. coins that would reflect the strength of the nation which, according to the numismatic community, launched the beginning of the Golden Age of Coin Design. Wanting to emulate the beauty of the Greek Coins, President Roosevelt enlisted the help of renowned U.S. sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to discuss ideas and formulate designs for new 10 and 20 dollar coins. President Roosevelt met with some opposition from parties that did not share or understand his passion. He and Saint-Gaudens were not dissuaded and after a year of discussions Saint-Gaudens submitted his designs to the U.S. Mint. Saint-Gaudens' $20 coin depicts an advancing figure of Liberty holding a torch on the obverse and a flying eagle on the reverse. It is widely considered to be the most beautiful U.S. coin, while at the same time celebrating our country's symbols of freedom.

Excepting the Quarter and Dollar Coins, our circulating coinage designs have not been updated for over 35 years. Therefore, it is fitting and timely to hold this symposium. Our coinage should reflect the qualities and strengths of our great Nation. History is not only recorded, but also minted. Every man, woman and child should be able to pick up a coin and be able to learn about our great heritage and prestigious history.

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