By David L. Ganz
As the 110th Congress
sprinted to a Memorial Day recess, a number of
numismatic measures were passed by the House of
Representatives May 15.
They now go to the Senate. Some deft
parliamentary maneuvers and stealth actions are
part of the package.
Foremost on the list is H.R. 5614, a bill whose
initial appearance and very title gave the
impression that the Mint was being asked to
enter mainline production and reproduce a Saint-Gaudens
ultra-high-relief gold double eagle. (The
original bill's name was worded this way: "This
Act shall be known as the 'Original Saint-Gaudens
Double Eagle Ultra-High Relief Bullion Coin
The name suggests a gold coin that was fabled a
generation ago as a production nightmare that
took seven bold strikes on the Mint's coining
presses to bring up the design. The real purpose
of the bill, however, was the working miners of
Montana who produce palladium - the stealth
nomenclature opts for that design with the new
metal for the Mint to produce.
A gold 27mm pattern replica is the design
choice. As the bill's legislative history notes,
"a 34-millimeter version was hand-struck on a
standard double eagle planchet using a medal
press and, because manufacturing and technical
limitations prevented mass production of these
pieces, this production resulted in low mintage,
with fewer than two dozen specimens of the
34-millimeter version known to be in existence
It goes on to note that "a second,
27-millimeter, version was struck using two
stacked $10 eagle planchets," which is the coin
being reproduced in gold for collectors. But the
real purpose of the bill is not gold but to
produce palladium coinage.
Tonga commenced issuing palladium coins in 1967
and other issuing countries have included
Canada, the Soviet Union, France, Russia, China,
Australia, and Slovakia; today, only Canada
mints palladium bullion coins. The attraction of
an American palladium bullion coin to Congress
and the marketplace: price attractability.
Even as gold and silver and platinum have jumped
to new heights 2003-2007, the price of palladium
ranged between $148 and $404 per troy ounce; the
average price in 2007 was $355 per troy ounce.
Plus, a platinum metals group member can be had
for one-seventh of the price of platinum.
Between the in the time that the bill was
introduced on March 13, 2008, by Reps. Mike
Castle, R-Del., and Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill,
chairman of the House coinage subcommittee, a
number of changes were made to the bill. A
comparison between documents shows 37 deletions,
47 insertions (additions are specially marked).
There's a new title: "This Act shall be known as
the 'Original Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle
Ultra-High Relief Palladium Bullion Coin Act'."
There's also a new focus on investment that the
legislation promotes: "Original Saint-Gaudens
Double Eagle Ultra-High Relief Numismatic Coins
and Bullion Investment Coins."
The scope of the bill is massive. Starting Jan.
1, 2009, the Mint would be required to make
"such number of $20 bullion investment coins as
the Secretary [of the Treasury] may determine to
be appropriate but "not more than 15,000 of the
numismatic $20 coins."
There is also a move afoot to spread the coining
of uncirculated, investment bullion coins to
mints other than West Point, which has the
security, the production presses, and the
experience of minting difficult precious metals
such as platinum - and spreading it to the other
Text of the bill is emphatic on this point for
bullion investment coins: "(C) MINT FACILITY -
Any facility of the United States Mint may be
used to strike coins minted pursuant to
paragraph (1)(A) other than the United States
Mint at West Point, New York."
Collector coins are another story. The bill
requires that "the obverse and reverse of the
coins minted and issued" bear a familiar design:
"exact replicas of the original obverse and
reverse designs by Augustus Saint-Gaudens which
appear on the famous 27-millimeter version of
the 1907 double eagle ultra-high relief gold
Included in this specification: "the edge of the
coin shall have all appropriate raised lettering
in the same manner as the original coin."
Collector coins "may only be struck at the
United States Mint at West Point, New York." No
fractional issues are permitted.
Because issuance of coinage rests in the
discretion of the secretary of the Treasury (who
in turn has delegated it to the Mint director),
"if a gold bullion coin that bears the same
design as the ultra-high relief numismatic coins
is issued," each palladium coin "may only be
issued in a set containing 1 of each such
Congress wants it done its way: "each set of
coins ... shall be provided in a presentation
case of appropriate design," and "may only be
issued and sold in 2009."
Technical specs for the palladium coin is that
"coins minted ... shall contain .995 pure
palladium, except that during the first year of
minting and issuance only, the Secretary instead
may choose to mint and issue the coin in .999
There's more than a one-year negative
limitation. "If the Secretary chooses to mint
and issue the coins ... in gold during the first
year of issue, no coins shall be minted and
issued ... in palladium during that year." As to
the gold coins: they "shall be issued only in
Congress was busy on other coinage matters, too
(see related story). Like with the palladium
coinage bill, for the coins to be produced
requires approval by the Senate and signature
into law by the President.