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The E-Sylum:  Volume 8, Number 47, November 5, 2005, Article 22

ON REVIVING THE ASSAY COMMISSION

George Kolbe writes: "Concerning Dick Johnson's opinion on
"killing" the Assay Commission, may I point out that politicians
of both parties routinely rail against "wasteful spending"
(but never when it occurs in their district, I admit). However,
viewed from this, in my opinion quite proper, perspective, how
can one justify the existence of a commission to certify how
much base metal is present in a particular coin?"

[In 1977 it was true that the Mint no longer produced coins
of precious metals, but within a few years the U.S. began
producing and marketing bullion pieces, and now sells a huge
number of silver, gold, and platinum coins. We also have
commemorative coins and various special issues struck in
silver and gold. -Editor]

George adds: "My point is that its abolition was undeniably
justified at the time.   A greater truth: the Assay Commission
was an obsolete institution anyway. If not at its beginnings,
certainly by the dawn of the 20th century the U. S. could
have not gotten away with issuing underweight coins, nor can
they now. It was and is a political impossibility. Monarch
and tyrants may secretly debase coinage; democracies cannot. "

[Well, I can agree with that, too, but I guess the collector
in me still yearns for the revival of the tradition (see Fred
Schwan's response following).  Assays do go on regardless
of the existence of an official commission, but despite the
added expense I think there's something of value in a public,
independent, official appraisal.  The press doesn't do assays,
nor do most buyers of U.S. Mint products. But all would pay
attention to a less than favorable Assay Commission report.

Of course, the mere existence of a watchdog organization helps
ensure that the reports will be nothing but positive.  Has
there ever been a negative one?  Iíll admit Iíve never read
the details of assay commission reports or the corresponding
sections of the annual Mint reports.  But neither do I recall
reading about an Assay Commission failing to give high
marks to the U.S. Mint.  -Editor]

Fred Schwan writes: "The discussion on the assay commission
has caused me to go public with an idea that I have been
hiding.  Since we do not have an official assay commission,
I think that we should start our own! In my opinion the
Old Time Assayers should take on this task. Failing that the
ANA or, gasp, a large hobby community commercial entity might
take on the task. Done correctly, it would probably even be
possible to get the cooperation of the mint. Failing that or
even if the mint wanted to participate, the organizers might
opt to exclude the mint. The event could be very much like the
meetings in the later years (more honorary and social than
functional, but that is not such a bad thing). Alternatively,
with the help of some scientific community members the group
might be able to do some interesting assaying on circulating
and noncirculating current coins.  Certainly, the annual
assay medals should be revived. Possibly the assayers could
receive silver medals and base metal medals could be sold to
the community to help finance the thing. I would suspect
that the medals should not be advertised in New York
(I could not resist)."

[I would think that if the Old-Time Assay Commissioners really
wanted to revive the institution on their own they would have
done it long before now.  The organization gets smaller and
grayer each passing year since no new blood has joined since
1977.   -Editor]

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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