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Wednesday, 12 February 2014

133) US Bicentennial Coins (quarter, half dollar and dollar) issued in 1975 and 1976 by the US Mint:

133) US Bicentennial Coins (quarter, half dollar and dollar) issued in 1975 and 1976 by the US Mint:

The Programme for Minting Commemorative coins by the US Mint:

Since 1892, the United States Mint had been issuing commemorative coins to celebrate several anniversaries and events.

 An interesting feature of this programme was that those Organisations which wanted to issue commemorative coins would get an authorisation from the US Congressto get a particular commemorative coin with a proposed design issued by the US Mint, then they would buy all the coins issued by the Mint and later sell them to collectors/public at a premium.

However, sometimes, the coins did not catch the Public’s/Numismatist’s fancy and had to be sold at a discount, leading to a substantial loss to the promoters.

For example, half dollar coins honouring Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver, which were minted over a period of time (last being minted in 1954) were originally priced at $3.50, but had to be sold at discounted prices repeatedly, due to poor marketing, buyer’s disinterest and ready availability of the coins, leading to a loss of about $150,000 to its promoters which was a huge sum of money in 1954.

This was the final straw which led to the Department of Treasury and the U.S. Congress becoming extremely cautious thereafter and coming up with a policy that no fresh proposals would henceforth be considered under this programme.

The U.S. Bicentennial Celebrations (1776-1976): The process through which the Bill to mint Commemorative coins was approved all over again:

In 1966, the American Revolutionary Bicentennial Commission (ARBC) was set up to plan, review and co-ordinate all activities related to the 1976 bicentennial celebrations of American Independence.

In 1970, the ARBC formed a “Coins and Medals Advisory Committee”, which initially proposed minting of a commemorative special design half-dollar for the Bicentennial Celebrations and later revised their recommendations to include all denominations of US Coinage. Having already had the bitter experience of the failure of the Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver commemorative issues, the US Treasury opposed any such issues.

Later, the ARBC got the US Mint to agree that at least one coin could be issued, notwithstanding the Mint’s difficulty in accommodation two dates on one face of the coin. Later the Treasury too, came round to supporting the proposed Bicentennial Coin Bill.

By beginning 1973, several Bills were introduced by individual legislators, including one proposing minting of $25 gold coins, most of whose proposed designs/metal composition were found unsuitable for minting.

In June/July 1973, a Bill for issuing a Commemorative Bicentennial Quarter, half dollar and dollar to be struck in 40% clad silver versions, at West Point Mint found favour of the Senate Banking Committeeand was cleared by the Senate.

Another Bill was taken up in September 1973, which stood for only circulating Bicentennial Commemorative coins.

A Conference Committee of the two Houses after deliberating the pros and cons of various proposals, proposed a Bill authorising changes to the reverses of the quarter, half dollar and dollar, but kept the obverses unchanged except for bearing a double date. All coins to be minted after 04.07.1975 (commencement of the Bicentennial celebrations) and before 01.01.1977, were required to bear the bicentennial dates and designs. The U.S. Mint was also authorised to issue 45000000 silver clad coins (or 15000000 sets of three coins each of various denominations – quarter, half dollar and dollar) to be minted at West Point Mint. All the circulating coins were to be nickel clad as hither-to-before.

On 04.10.1973, this Bill was cleared by both Houses of Congress and on 18.10.1973 signed by the President.

The selection of the reverse side designs for the Bicentennial quarter dollar, half dollar and dollar:

On 23.10.1973, the Department of Treasury announced a competition for the three reverse designs open to all U.S. citizens. All designs were to include the inscriptions “QUARTER DOLLAR”, “HALF DOLLAR” and “DOLLAR” for the three coin designs and also include the motto “E.PLURIBUS UNUM” (Latin for “Out of Many One”) on the reverse along with country name.

From a short-list of twelve designs a panel of Judges first narrowed down the list to six and, subsequently, the winners were announced on 06.03.1974.

The selected designs:

a)   The design for the quarter:

Obverse of the quarter remained unchanged except for the double date "1776-1976".
 The finally selected design featured a colonial drummer. Towards the left upper periphery was a “torch of victory” surrounded by thirteen stars representing the original states which joined the US Federation. This design was submitted by Jack L. Ahr. His initials “JLA” appear below the left elbow of the portrait of the drummer on this coin.

On top of periphery the coin is mentioned “UNITED STATES of AMERICA” (Notice that “of” has been mentioned in small letters, while all other inscriptions are in Capital letters, perhaps to maintain symmetry of the inscriptions on this coin). On the lower periphery is mentioned “QUARTER DOLLAR”. Above the drummer’s right arm is the inscription “E. PLURIBUS UNUM” (in Latin meaning “Out of Many One” – which was included because it was a prerequisite for the qualifying coin designs).

 I am still wondering as to why the USA still sticks to this piece of Latin phrase, one of which interpretations,  suggests that it as  “one country” lost in a “Crowd of Nations”. Perhaps “TOON” (“Towering Over Other Nations”) would be a better phrase, but then it is only my view. Is some “Review Committee” taking note of this??

A rumour, perhaps started by the “losers” in the design competition was afloat that JLA who owned a (Commercial Arts Firm) had “stolen” his drummer design from a 1973 Bicentennial stamp an accusation that he stoutly refuted. But then, some two hundred years ago there were not many designs or standards to choose from and most of them were “Artist’s personal impressions”. So, I don’t blame Ahr, if his design seemed to be “vagely familiar”. Come to think of it, where did the designer of the Bicentennial stamp get his Drummer design inspiration from?

The controversial Drummer Design on the Bicentennial Stamp.

The above is a scanned image of the cover of a book “An outline of American History” (bearing the “Spirit of ‘76” painting by A. M. Willard painted a century after the signing of the Declaration of Independence) received by my father (Late) Dr. J.N. Prasad from the United States Information Service in December 1983, which was in his Library and is now in my personal Library.
This image is remarkably similar to JLA’s selected design. No wonder his detractors were “Up-in-Arms” against the selection. The same goes for the designer of the Bicentennial stamp.

The design for the Half dollar:

The approved design for the half dollar was a portrait of the Independence Hall designed by Seth Huntington (who was the Head artist at a Publishing Firm). His initials appear below the inscription “E. PLURIBUS UNUM” on the right hand side of the coin.
On the upper periphery of the coin is mentioned “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA”, on the lower periphery is mentioned the denomination of the coin “HALF DOLLAR”. On the left side of the coin is mentioned “200 YEARS OF FREEDOM”.  Below the portrait is the inscription “INDEPENDENCE HALL”. Further below are thirteen stars representing the original states which joined the US Federation in 1776.

To me, this looks like a “straight lift” from the Back of the $100 “Ben” Bill, but then, I could be way off the “Mark” (oops!! that’s German currency), sorry “dollar”.

b)   The design for the dollar:

Type I dollar Reverse minted by the San Francisco Mint.
Type II dollar Reverse minted by the San Francisco Mint

By all accounts, Dennis William (an Art student), who was the youngest of the successful contestants design of the Liberty Bell superimposed against the Moon was the best design for the dollar.

The Minting:

On 12.08.1974, the prototypes were minted in silver without any mint marks. Later, with a few coin sets being given as mementos to a few dignitaries, the other prototypes were melted down.

Take another look at the quarter dollar coin in my collection shown above. It appears to have no mint mark!! (Could it be one of the prototypes at one of the authorised mints or has the mint mark been erased with constant circulation of this coin?).

In November 1974, bookings were taken by the US Mint for silver clad pieces at $15 for the 3-coin proof sets and $9 for the 3-coin uncirculated sets. An initial limit of five sets per person was set. Later, the price was reset for the proof sets to $12 owing to a public outcry that the pricing was exorbitant and the order limit was removed. Suitable refunds were made wherever required to those collectors who had booked at the earlier price. As another incentive, the pricing of uncirculated sets was reduced to $7 for bulk purchases of 50 sets or more.

By 1976, the San Francisco Assay Office, (later the San Francisco Mint – Mint mark “S”) completed its Congressional Authorisation of 45000000 silver coins (or 15000000 silver coins sets of the three denominations each, of these 11 million sets were in Uncirculated quality and 5 million  sets were in Proof quality).

Meanwhile, the San Francisco Mint had also, begun striking base metal coins, supplementing the Denver (mint mark “D”) and Philadelphia (mint mark “P”) base metal strikes. The first few strikes proved to be a disaster – the copper nickel dollar was striking indistinctly, a variation/deviation which was not seen in the silver dollars.

Accordingly, the San Francisco Mint modified the dies so as to have sharper strikes of the copper nickel dollar. These strikes are termed as Type II coins, the chief distinction being that they have narrower and sharper lettering on the reverse.

Interestingly for collectors, all silver dollar coins minted for the three-coin silver sets in 1975 by the San Francisco Mint are Type I strikes, while those minted in 1976 are Type II strikes.

Decline in demand for the Bicentennial Coins:

By 1977, as enacted by Legislation, the old designs returned to the quarter, half and dollar designs. However, a sufficiently large number of bicentennial coins had been minted by the US Mint in anticipation of an unprecedented demand for the Bicentennial coins by the American citizens/Numismatists/museums and Educational instututions.

By 1979, nevertheless, huge quantities of the silver proof and uncirculated sets remained unsold. The problem was compounded when an increase in the price of silver, the sets had to be removed from sale.

By 1980, to get out of massive unsold stock, the silver coin sets were again put on sale by the US Mint at increased prices of $15 for proof sets and $12 for uncirculated sets, but there were few takers.

By 1981, on reduction in silver prices, the silver coin sets were re-priced at $15 for proof and $12 for uncirculated sets, but, again there were few takers.

In 1982, a huge quantity of silver sets were melted down. A sad commentary on the Bicentennial coin sets programme which was expected to be a “must have” for all patriotic American citizens by the Programme planners as well as legislators.

By 1986, all sales of the Bicentennial silver sets came to a permanent halt.

A point to note is that as the Bicentennial coins were minted in extremely large quantities, they did not gain in much value for the Collectors.


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  2. This is a very informative article. Thank you for all the information. I have a question I hope you can help me with. Years ago I had a bicentennial quarter with with 3 colonial soldiers on the reverse side which may have been the image from "The Spirit of 76" painting. What happened to this quarter? Surprisingly, no one seems to remember it.

    1. Thank you for visiting my blog and your encouraging comment. You have got me intrigued with your information on another bicentennial quarter which could be different from the usual ones. During my researches on US coins, I do not seem to have come across this coin design. I am already sifting through all the information on bicentennial quarters available with me & will try to find out/ put up information about this quarter which you have mentioned.

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