Advocates of redesigning the nation's pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters held out the prospect Friday that excited coin collectors would hand the Treasury a multibillion-dollar, deficit-reducing, windfall profit.
But the director of the U.S. Mint, testifying 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 House members 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 displayed there now.
While the presidential portraits might themselves 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 Lincoln on the penny, Jefferson on the nickel, Roosevelt on the dime, 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 Abraham Lincoln was granted the honor on his 100th birthday.
Presidents Franklin D. 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.