Bush v. Gore: The Coin

In general, I try to avoid coins issued by private mints. They tend to have very little numismatic value and can even be of dubious legality. In fact, they aren’t legally “coins” since they aren’t issued by a government. Instead, they are often marketed as “rounds.”

But when the private Washington Mint released this silver round in 2000 amidst the uncertainty over who won that year’s Presidential election, I jumped at the chance to buy it. For one thing, I’ve always been a sucker for political-themed exonumia – especially Hard Times Tokens.

For another, this unique two-headed coin with a bust of Al Gore on one side and George W. Bush on the other with each man named as the 43rd President of the United States really captures just how bizarre that entire period was. Between the retracted concessions, hanging chads, organized “riots,” court battles and hand recounts, it seemed like every day provided a new twist and turn as we tried to determine just who had actually won Florida – and therefore the election.

Apparently, the Washington Mint had already been working on an inauguration medallion and had prepared busts of both Gore and Bush. Not knowing which one they would get to use, and inspired by a Tonight Show sketch shortly after Election Day about ways to determine the winner, the Mint got the idea to make the two-headed coin. They even sent two coins on Nov. 13 to Jay Leno to use for a possible skit. Ultimately, after another month, Gore conceded following the Supreme Court’s decision stopping Florida’s recount.

I figured the coin was relevant now since this is the first time since 2000 where one major-party candidate challenged the outcome of a Presidential race. This time, however, enough states have certified their returns to give one candidate a clear majority in the Electoral College, and there have been multiple lawsuits filed in several states instead of just Florida. Those lawsuits aren’t going well, though, which probably explains why there haven’t been any two-headed Joe Biden/Donald Trump coins.

Good as Gold

When it comes to numismatics, one of my biggest regrets is not buying more gold coins in the early 2000s.

Counterpoint: For most of that time I was either a poor post-undergrad, a poor law student, or a poor post-JD. Buying gold probably wouldn’t have been a good use of my money — at least not compared to rent, utilities and food.

The price of gold tends to move inversely to the overall health of the economy — going up when the economy is poor as investors like to use it as a hedge against falling stock prices, weakened dollars, inflation, and all sorts of other economic markers, and going down when those markers are strong. Thanks to the 1990s economic boom, gold prices were low throughout most of that decade leading into the early 2000s. In fact, things were so great that the price of gold had cratered to around $253 per ounce in mid-July 1999 — the lowest it had been since 1979 (a year later, I nearly bought a beautiful Saint-Gaudens double eagle for $300, but decided I couldn’t spare it). But like any sustained period of economic euphoria, you never see the crash coming until it’s too late.

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Silver (Dollar) Anniversary

UPDATE (12/17/2020): The House bill was passed via unanimous consent in the Senate. Assuming the President signs it, looks like we’ll be getting those new Morgan and Peace Dollars after all.

UPDATE (01/05/2020): The President signed the bill into law.

I attended two coin conventions in 2019, and one thing they both had in common was that there was no shortage of Morgan and Peace Silver Dollars available from the many vendors on the bourse. There was such an abundance that Scrooge McDuck could have bought every single silver dollar with whatever pocket change he happened to have (assuming he wears pants – Donald doesn’t, so why should he?), loaded them into a wading pool and gone for a dip.

By this time next year, there could be even more Morgan and Peace dollars hitting the market — provided that Congress can get its act together.

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If I Had A Nickel…

… For every time I wrote about powerful individuals who played outsized roles in numismatic history, I’d have, like, a few nickels. Hey, I’ve only been doing The Coin Blog for a year or so.

We’ve seen how interest groups, U.S. Mint officials, Representatives, Senators (lots and lots and lots of Senators), and even a guy who wanted a paid vacation have willed certain coins into existence.

When it came to the creation of the nickel, we have a rich industrialist who had lots of powerful friends in Congress and wasn’t afraid to use his influence.

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(Re)-Strike it Up: The Continental Dollar Restrike

The Continental Dollar is one of the most significant coins in American history. Bearing brilliant and beautiful designs from one of the most accomplished and respected Founding Fathers, as well as the long-held belief that the 1776-minted coin was the first proposed national currency, the Continental Dollar is exceedingly rare and extremely valuable.

And way out of my price range.

Luckily for me, the restrike is much more affordable.

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The Class of 1916: The Standing Liberty Quarter, Mercury Dime and Walking Liberty Half Dollar

Theodore Roosevelt has long had a reputation as one of toughest, most badass Americans to ever serve as President. The guy who gave us “speak softly and carry a big stick,” Roosevelt epitomized the kind of alpha male mentality that so many Americans aspire to. Always on the look for action, the youngest man to ever become President fought in wars for fun, shrugged off assassination attempts with aplomb and even changed the rules of football for the better.

You’d think a guy like that would be the last person to complain about the lack of aesthetic beauty in our nation’s coinage and then do something about it.

You’d be wrong. And thanks to him, we ended up with some of the best looking coins in our nation’s history.

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One Man’s Crusade: The Twenty Cent Coin

One theme that’s been well-covered here on the blog has been the ability of influential politicians to get bills passed authorizing various types of coins. Whether it’s for fiscal reasons, to commemorate important people in American history, or because someone really, really liked a particular design, politicians have been able to get all sorts of coins authorized, minted and circulated.

There’s also plain old self-interest.

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All About the Benjamins

This was my gateway coin.

I was in middle school when I happened to see it in an old bowl of change in my parents’ room and was immediately intrigued. I had seen half dollars before, but only ones with John F. Kennedy on them. I had never seen one with Benjamin Franklin’s face on it. Yet, here it was, forgotten about and collecting dust in a bowl so dirty that the amount of effort it would take to make it suitable for food consumption again wouldn’t have been worth it.

Nevertheless, I was fascinated (by the coin, not the bowl) and asked my mom if I could have it. “Sure,” she said with a shrug – never imagining that it would lead to a lifetime of coin collecting on my part. Or maybe she was just happy I was interested in something besides baseball cards or Garbage Pail Kids. After all, coin collecting is the hobby of kings. Literally.

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The 1982 George Washington Half Dollar: Commemorative Coins Make a Comeback

By the time 1981 rolled around, the following things were dead:

And so were commemorative coins. In fact, compared to those aforementioned deceased things, commemorative coins had been in the ground the longest, thanks to a glut of offerings with limited appeal that killed the market for much of the preceding three decades.

Everything changed when it came time to honor the 250th anniversary of the birth of the father of our country.

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The Great Compromiser: Henry Clay Tokens (UPDATED)

It may not be in vogue anymore, but there have been several well-respected figures in American history who have lost a Presidential election as a major party nominee, only to come back and win the White House. Thomas Jefferson lost a razor-thin contest in 1796 and won four years later. Andrew Jackson prevailed in 1828, four years after he lost in a contingent election before the House of Representatives. Grover Cleveland attained his status as a trivia question by serving his two nonconsecutive terms between a losing effort in 1888. Heck, I wrote an entire book about how Richard Nixon survived losing the 1960 race to JFK only to prevail in 1968.

Of course, not everyone managed to pull off successful comebacks. Democrats nominated William Jennings Bryan in 1896, 1900, and 1908 and he lost all three times. Democrats also trotted out Adlai Stevenson twice, losing two lopsided contests to Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956. Republican Thomas Dewey looked set to win in 1948, four years after he lost to FDR, only to famously not defeat Harry Truman. And, during the days when Presidential elections were more regional in nature, men like Charles Pinckney, George Clinton, John Jay, Rufus King and others found themselves on the short end of multiple general election ballots, although their level of interest or involvement varied.

Then there’s Henry Clay.

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What’s Old is New Again: The 2001 Buffalo Dollar

Another one of my favorites (image via me).

One thing I’ve learned through my years of coin collecting is that truly popular designs never really go away – politicians and Treasury officials will always figure out ways to recycle them. 

For instance, in 1986 the U.S. Mint resurrected two of the most universally beloved and acclaimed coin designs, the Walking Liberty half dollar and the Saint Gauden’s double eagle, for its silver and gold eagles, respectively. Three decades later, the Mint re-used the Mercury dime obverse for its palladium eagles. After all, why waste perfectly good (and popular) designs. Especially if they help entice investors, collectors and doomsday preppers to part with their hard-earned money. 

So, when the government was coming up with ways to fund the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in 2000, one of the things it did was authorize a special commemorative silver dollar featuring one of the most iconic designs in American coinage history.

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“Am I Not a Woman & a Sister”: A Hard Times Token That Foreshadowed Even Harder Times Ahead. (UPDATED)

Andrew Jackson has been in the news a lot over these last few years.

First it was the Obama Administration’s decision in 2016 to replace Old Hickory on the $20 bill with Harriet Tubman.

Then came the 2016 election, when Donald Trump openly and repeatedly praised Jackson and expressed admiration for the controversial ex-President in a way that hasn’t been in vogue in decades. Trump has also gone out of his way to associate himself with Jackson, drawing parallels with his predecessor’s populism, combative nature, political inexperience and anti-establishment attitude. Trump has Jackson’s portrait in the Oval Office, has made a pilgrimage to the Hermitage and has even given Jackson credit for things that happened well after his death. Trump’s admiration for Jackson is such that his administration has refused to commit to replacing Jackson on the $20 with Tubman. 

And, like Jackson, Trump has had his problems with the country’s central bank.

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Arkansas Centennial Half Dollar (Joe Robinson Version): A Forgettable Coin for a Forgotten Senate Giant

When we think of the most powerful Senate Majority Leaders in U.S. history, we tend to think of people like Lyndon Johnson, Robert Taft, Howard Baker, Bob Dole, or even modern Senators like Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid.

Joseph T. Robinson of Arkansas, however, has largely been forgotten about.

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