The E-Sylum:  Volume 8, Number 4, January 23, 2005, Article 24


Mike Marotta writes: "Thanks to Dick Johnson for stepping
up and speaking out in The E-Sylum v8#3 (January 16, 2005)
on the question of colorized coins. I followed the link to the
story. Mint Director Henrietta Holsman Fore said: "Congress
is the only group that can authorize a commemorative coin
and the United States Mint is the only entity that can strike

Back in the 1970s, when silver art bars were becoming popular,
the US Mint attempted to legally seize the word "Mint" making
it unavailable to private entities. They did not succeed.
However, the Federal Trade Commission did win exclusive
use of the word "coin" for the government by taking action
against Hutt River Principality Province.

In "Numismatic News" for July 5, 1994, Alan Herbert
claimed that the US Mint holds legal title to the word "coin."
He said: "The term 'coin' has been legally and professionally
banned for used in the hobby to prevent applying it to
medals, tokens and other similar pieces. A coin is defined
as a piece that has been issued and is assigned a specific
value by a legal body entitled to issue money."

Of course, that definition is circular. It also fails on historical
grounds. Many ancient generals in the field never became
emperors and many rebel juntos in the mountains never
became parliaments. What is a "government"? What is a
"legal body"? Who creates such an entity? For many
years, the United Nations refused to admit the two
Germanies on the grounds that they were not "separate"
countries but different occupied areas of the same country.
What, then of the "tokens" and "medals" issued for 40 years
by the DDR and BRD? How about the coins of Spain in
1871? They were tariffed in GRAMMOS, not pesetas
because Spain had an administration but no executive and
a parliament but no legislature. What of Pine Tree Shillings
and the gold coins of Templeton Reid or the Mormons?
By this definition, the British gold sovereign is not a coin.
It has no specific value. Its weight and fineness are not
stated on the coin. The same applies to early US Federal
gold. Are they not coins?

In the September 1994 issue of "The Numismatist," Antonio
Trigueros, Director of the Portuguese State Mint, wrote a
"Heads or Tails" commentary. According to Trigueros, to
be a "coin" the object must circulate as money. Trigueros
cited rulings of the International Association of Professional
Numismatists that condemned as "pseudo-coins" the issues
of Hutt River Principality Province, the ANA's Turks and
Caicos Lunar Crown and all modern US Commemoratives.

It is a fact of epistemology going back to Aristotle that a
definition integrates and differentiates by stating the class
in which something belongs and showing how this item is
unlike all other elements of the same set. A numismatically
correct definition of "coin" would run about a paragraph.
(Common dictionary one-liners are obviously inadequate.)
The important attributes are independent of who makes
the object. The definition of "coin" must be taxonomic."

Max Spiegel writes: "This is just a short response to Dick
Johnson's follow-up to the AP story about the U.S. Mint
attempting to curtail these "fake commemorate coins." The
AP article does not just talk about "colorized" coins, but
basically all privately-produced commemoratives. Now I
don't particularly see anything wrong with people "colorizing"
officially minted coins and marketing them as commemoratives,
but I think that the production and marketing of new, privately-
minted commemoratives can be very deceptive. The article
wrote about the September 11th "commemorative" that was
marketed as an official commemorative just because it had
been minted within a United States territory. I had seen many
commercials advertising it and they were definitely trying to
trick unsuspecting consumers into believing that these were
in some way sanctioned by the United States mint. As it says
in the article, Spitzer took legal action and the court issued
an injunction against the company (I believe it was the National
Collector's Mint). What made this "commemorative" particularly
bad was that it was denominated, making it seem that one
could use it as legal tender when in fact they could not.

I think that it is incorrect to assume that because these people
are unfamiliar with numismatics, that they can be deceptive
accidentally. While consumers do purchase many items "buyer
beware," it is another story when it appears that the item being
offered to them appears to be legal tender and officially
sanctioned, even though it is not. I agree that the Mint may be
overly concerned about painted coins, but I think that their fines
are more important in that they will help stop deceptive advertising
of commemoratives that are, in many ways, "fake." Lastly, I am
not quite convinced that the coins in your pocket are your property.
Yes, the government cannot really snatch them from you, but
they may still remain property of the government for use as a
substitute for trade. I'm no lawyer either, but I remember someone
telling me that the U.S. Treasury fined the"Where's George"
website for stamping their web address on bills. They had said
that, even though the paper currency was obtained legally by
the company, it could not legally be defaced. An example that
comes to mind is a passport, which can be taken away from
you by the proper federal authorities even though it's "yours."
Had this law that the mint is asking Congress to pass only
dealt with "colorized" coins, I would agree with you: it is a
waste of time. Since, however, it can help end the practice of
privately minting commemorative coins that are deceptively
marketed to unsuspecting consumers as official, I think it's
worth it."

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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