North Carolina Congressman Melvin L. Watt introduced and helped pass in the U.S. House coin legislation that would refine specifications and other requirements for the upcoming America the Beautiful Silver Coins. This year the series will feature four of the five-ounce National Park Silver Bullion Coins and one five-ounce National Forest Silver Bullion Coin.
A section in the new bill, the Coin Modernization, Oversight, and Continuity Act of 2010, or H.R. 6162, targets the diameter and edge letterings of the silver coins — two key factors that have caused production challenges to the coins’ release.
Current law (Public Law 110-456 ) states the silver versions be "exact duplicates of the quarter dollars," "have a diameter of 3.0 inches and weigh 5.0 ounces" and "have incused into the edge the fineness and weight of the bullion coin."
The text of the bill regarding the coins calls for three major amendments. First, it would strike ‘exact duplicates’ and instead insert ‘likenesses’. Second, it would eliminate the requirement to incuse the edges. And finally, it would replace the 3.0 inch diameter clause and authorize the Secretary of Treasury to selected a diameter from between 2.5 inches to 3.0 inches.
In other words, H.R. 6162 gives the United States Mint the authority to reduce the coins’ diameter, thus making the coins thicker and easier to strike. The U.S. Mint could also redesign the obverses and reverses to accommodate the fineness and weight, eliminating edge letterings completely.
The coins’ large diameter and thinness, as well as the edge lettering, proved to be challenging when making the coins. A new coin press was purchased, able to apply more pressure for larger coins. Special silver coin blanks were also designed and tested, because the United States Mint had never before produced a .999 silver coin so large. The edge lettering on the first test strikes crumpled the coin, since they were paper thin. However, the most recent news was that the development and testing process was completed, and that the Mint was expected to begin producing the 2010 National Park Silver Coins and the 2010 National Forest Silver Coin this fall. 500,000 will be minted, with 100,000 for each coin honoring Hot Springs, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Mount Hood.
Although H.R. 6162 has already passed in the House (on September 29, 2010), it must still makes its way through the Senate and then get signed by the President before it becomes a law. At the time of this writing, the bill was received in the Senate and referred to the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. However, House and Senate members are now leaving or have already left Washington to head home to campaign for re-election. As such, a returning lame duck session would have to pass the bill, making November the earliest it could become law.
It is a good thing the Mint was able to workaround the production difficulties, as they have little choice but to issue the coins using the specifications from current law.
Like other bullion coins, the National Park Silver Bullion Coins will be distributed through the Mint’s network of authorized purchasers. Premiums have not yet been reported.
The America the Beautiful coin program debuted earlier this year. The program will issue five new designs each year to honor 56 national parks and other national sites. It is estimated to last until at least 2021, after every state, U.S. territory, and the District of Columbia have been represented. The first four National Park Quarters have already been released into circulation.