American Eagle gold bullion coin

Did you ever almost wish something would go wrong?
Editor remembers flawless 1986 first-strike event for the American Eagle gold bullion coin

This article From the Memory Bank series was first published online September 9, 2016 on the Coin World website available here.

Where were you Monday, Sept. 8, 1986?

1986 American Eagle Gold Bullion Coin First Strike Ceremony

Mint Director Donna Pope, Secretary James A. Baker III, and Treasurer Katherine D. Ortega show the American Eagle $50 coins they struck Sept. 8, 1986, at the first-strike ceremony at the West Point Bullion Depository.
Coin World photo by Beth Deisher; coin image courtesy of

Carrying my camera bag stuffed with my SLR film camera, lens, flash equipment, ID and a few personal items, I boarded the 7:10 a.m. flight that day from Columbus, Ohio, to New York’s LaGuardia Airport. By 8:30 a.m. I was hailing a cab to David Ganz’s Manhattan law office, where I met David and Harvey Stack. David drove us to West Point, N.Y., to attend the ceremonial first-strike of the United States’ first $50 (1-ounce) American Eagle gold bullion coin.

We arrived shortly before 11 a.m. at the West Point Bullion Depository on the grounds of the West Point Military Academy.

Since I had attended the Oct. 18, 1985, first-strike ceremony for the Statue of Liberty gold $5 commemorative coin at West Point, I knew I had to register and pick up my press credentials. The U.S. Mint staff greeted me and provided a press kit. Just as I was about to step away, one of the staff members beckoned me to the side.

“I have something else for you.” She began attaching a dime-sized gold apple lapel pin on the left lapel of my suit jacket. “The apple,” she explained, “is to let the Secretary and the Secret Service know that you are the designated pool photographer.”

She said that one press had been moved to the room where the ceremonial striking would take place. Should it fail, the Associated Press reporter and I would be summoned to go with Secretary of Treasury James A. Baker the III to the main floor of the coining room to strike several gold bullion coins. I would be responsible for sharing my photos with all other media representatives and the AP reporter would write and share his story.

She looked me straight in the eye and added: “Do not tell anyone who gave you this or what it represents.”

I made my way to the roped-off designated press area and staked a claim on what I perceived to be the best camera angle and waited nearly an hour for the ceremony to begin.

After about an hour’s worth of speeches by various dignitaries, Secretary Baker walked over to the HME press. A West Point staff member placed a gold planchet on the press and Baker pushed the button. It worked perfectly. Again. And again. A total of 28 ceremonial strikes of the American Eagle Gold Bullion Coin were made by various invited guests without a hitch!


Availability of Commemoratives

A website visitor and blog reader contacted me recently with the following question:

Dear Beth Deisher, I am a reader of your memory bank columns in Coin World. Perhaps you can solve a situation that puzzles me.

I am a collector of early commemoratives. Why, when there is a limited mintage of some issues such as the Isabella Quarter, so many sellers seem to offer a number of these coins?
I’ve asked this question at coin shows and have never received a satisfactory answer. Thank you.


Here is my response to J.B.:

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Grading revolution in 1986 changes hobby

Grading revolution in 1986 changes hobby with slabs, grade guarantee
PCGS founding has profound effect on coin collecting.

This article From the Memory Bank series was first published in the August 22, 2016 issue of Coin World available here.

Coin Grading in 1the 1980s

The Professional Coin Grading Service was founded in 1986 and changed the market. PCGS-certified and -graded coins, with an insert identifying a coin and its grade, were placed in sonically sealed holders that would gain the nickname “slabs.” Before that, ANACS issued photo certificates with coins. Images courtesy of PCGS and ANACS.

One milestone being celebrated this year stands above all others in terms of profound change to the U.S. coin market: launch of the Professional Coin Grading Service on Feb. 3, 1986.

Inconsistency in grading and whether to use words or numbers to describe the surface condition or “grade” of a coin dominated the headlines and opinion columns of Coin World and other publications in the first four years of the 1980s. During 1985 the decibels seemed to grow louder almost weekly, with most of the ire directed at ANACS.

ANACS — the then acknowled­ged leading third-party grading service by volume of coins graded — was operated as a separate division of the nonprofit American Numismatic Association, the largest coin collector organization.

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Women in numismatics unite

Women in numismatics unite in 1991 to WIN: From the Memory Bank

Hobby organization marks 25 years in 2016
This article From the Memory Bank series was first published in Coin World available here.
Cash In Your Coins Women in Numismatics Founders

Two of the three founders of Women In Numismatics are Sondra Beymer, left, and Mary Sauvain. WIN celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. The club’s logo was designed by Elizabeth Jones, former chief sculptor-engraver for the U.S. Mint.
Coin World file photos.

Numismatic collectibles, both as a hobby and a business, has been and remains a predominately male domain, about 90 percent male and 10 percent female.

But that statistic does not begin to tell this story.

As the last decade of the 20th century dawned, it was evident that women were increasingly visible both in participation and leadership within the numismatic community in the United States.

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Coin World Editor Testifies

Coin World Editor Testifies in Congress in 1988: From The Memory Bank

Hobby Leader Promoted Coin Redesign in Testimony
This article From the Memory Bank series was first published in Coin World available here.
Coin World Editor testifies

Coin World editor Beth Deisher testifies before Congress in 1988 regarding proposed coinage redesigns. Coin World file photo.

Only the United States Congress has the constitutional authority to order the U.S. Mint to create and strike a new U.S. coin, whether it is circulating or commemorative.

Thus advocates for new commemorative coins as well as for new designs on the nation’s circulating coinage plunged into the political arena during the 1980s with the belief they could prevail through the power of persuasion.

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Paper Money Changes Great

Paper money changes great, but let’s now turn to our coins: From The Memory Bank

Let’s apply the lessons recently learned to renewed calls for coinage change
This article From the Memory Bank series was first published in Coin World available here.
Paper Money Changes
Donna Pope speaks before congress - Paper Money Changes Great

Then-Director of the United States Mint Donna Pope testifies before Congress in 1988 at a hearing about U.S. coinage designs.
Coin World file photo.

Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew’s April 20 announcement that for the first time in more than a century the face of a U.S. paper money denomination will feature the portrait of a woman — Harriet Tubman — marks a historic turning point in the way top government officials, especially within the Treasury Department, view the role of the subject matter portrayed on our money. In fact, the introductory statement at the Treasury Department’s website detailing the upcoming design changes for the $20, $10, and $5 Federal Reserve notes is revolutionary:

“America’s currency is a state­ment about who we are as a nation. Our modern money honors our history and celebrates our values.”

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