Getting congressional approval for the new commemorative Star-Spangled Banner coins released Monday in Baltimore was a battle in itself
The coins are available for sale on the U.S. Mint Web site as part of an effort to raise funds for the bicentennial of the War of 1812.
Rep. C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger (D-Md.) told the audience packing the visitor center at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine of the struggle to get 290 signatures from members of Congress, representing two-thirds of the House, before the legislation could move forward.
Since it was begun in 1982, the Mint’s commemorative coin program has raised more than $418 million for a variety of efforts, including restoring the Statue of Liberty, maintaining the Vietnam War Memorial, preserving George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon, protecting the bald eagle and supporting U.S. Olympic programs.
The Mint is only authorized to issue two commemorative coins per year. “We were competing against a lot of other groups,” Ruppersberger said. The Girl Scouts were particularly formidable, he added.
When Ruppersberger was pushing for a Star-Spangled coin in 2009 and 2010, aides handed out Berger cookies, a Baltimore tradition, to smooth the way, he said.
Most representatives were willing to sign when told that sales of the coins would pay for the program, and that they commemorated the writing of the National Anthem, Ruppersberger said.
“Whether you’re far left, far right, or in the middle, this is our history,” Ruppersberger said.
Among the few who refused was a representative from Texas. “I couldn’t get Ron Paul,” Ruppersberger said. Paul, who is running for the Republican nomination for president, said that “philosophically, he couldn’t get behind these types of things,” according to Ruppersberger.
“That’s a lot of legwork, but it was worth the effort,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who introduced the legislation in the Senate, told the audience. “It will give us the money to be matched by the private sector to appropriately celebrate the War of 1812.”
Depending on their popularity, sales of the coins could raise up to $8.5 million for the Maryland War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission, to support activities related to the 200th anniversary of the conflict.
“You can’t get more universal than the U.S. flag.”said Ronald Harrigal, acting chief engraver for the U.S. Mint in Washington. “I think it’s going to be a big seller.”
A coin commemorating the U.S. Marine Corps did so well that the Mint went back to Congress for authorization to produce more.
The legislation authorizing the Star-Spangled Banner coins allows the Mint to issue up to 100,000 gold $5 coins and 500,000 silver $1 coins. The initial prices range from $44.95 for the uncirculated silver coin to $529.30 for the gold proof coin. The price of the gold coins will fluctuate weekly based on the market.
The price includes a surcharge that will be directed to the Maryland bicentennial commission, which must raise matching funds.
“We have to match that amount dollar for dollar,” said Bill Pencek, executive director of the Maryland bicentennial commission. The commission has raised over $1 million toward the goal, he said.
The money raised by the commission will be used to provide matching grants to federal, state and local governments as well as nonprofit agencies for programs, events, preservation efforts and educational activities related to the War of 1812 bicentennial, which begins in June with events marking the U.S. declaration of war on Great Britain, and will continue three years.
Among the projects that might benefit from the funding are the Star Spangled Banner National Historic Trail, which is being developed by the National Park Service in the Chesapeake Bay region.
The Mint is authorized to issue two commemorative coins per year. Last month, coins honoring U.S. Army infantry soldiers were released.
A spokesman for the Mint said there is little risk of the government being stuck with unwanted coins. “We mint to demand,” said Michael White. “We are required to operate at no loss to the taxpayer.”
The Star-Spangled Banner coins commemorate the writing of the National Anthem by Francis Scott Key after the bombardment of Fort McHenry in September 1814.
The gold obverse, or heads side, depicts a naval battle scene, with an American sailing ship in the foreground and a damaged British ship fleeing in the background. The reverse side shows words from Key’s song against a flag backdrop.
The silver coin obverse shows Lady Liberty waving the Star-Spangled Banner with Fort McHenry in the background, while the reverse depicts a modern American flag.
“To be involved in a project like this, personally, the chills are still there,” said Joel Iskowitz, designer of the silver obverse. Iskowitz set up a fan to blow upon a flag in his Woodstock, N.Y., studio “to get the right rippling effect,” he said.