Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

My Two-Bit Political Awakening – The Future of Freedom Foundation

Posted by M. C. on January 7, 2022

For almost a century, American coinage and currency policies have veered between “government as a damn rascal” and “government as a village idiot.” The dollar has lost 85 percent of its purchasing power since Nixon closed the gold window. I remain mystified how anyone continues trusting politicians after the government formally repudiates its promises.

by James Bovard

Samuel Johnson may have been wrong when he declared, “There are few ways in which a man can be more innocently employed than in getting money.” But for young kids, collecting coins is a less pernicious pastime than becoming a pyromaniac or Tik-Tok star. My own experience collecting, buying, and selling coins vaccinated me against trusting politicians long before I grew my first scruffy beard.I remain mystified how anyone continues trusting politicians after the government formally repudiates its promises
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The thrill of coin collecting

Handling old coins was like shaking hands with the pioneers who built this country. I wondered if the dented 1853 quarter I purchased was ever involved in Huckleberry Finn–type adventures when “two bits” bought a zesty time. My grandfather gave me a battered copper two-cent piece from 1864, the same year that Union General Phil Sheridan burned down the Shenandoah Valley, where I was raised. Some of the coins I collected might now be banned as hate symbols, such as Buffalo nickels with an Indian portrait engraved on the front.

I was enthralled by early American coin designs, especially those featuring idealized female images emblazoned with the word liberty. I was unaware that George Washington refused to allow his own image on the nation’s coins because it would be too “monarchical.” Until 1909, there was an unwritten law that no portrait appear on any American coin in circulation. That changed with the 100th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, whom the Republican Party found profitable to canonize on pennies.

By the mid-20th century, American coinage had degenerated into paeans to dead politicians. Portraits of Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Dwight Eisenhower were slapped onto coins almost as soon as their pulses stopped. This reflected a sea change in values as Americans were encouraged to expect more from their leaders than from their own freedom.

When I first started collecting, I assumed that a coin’s value was largely determined by its age. That delusion was blown to smithereens at the first coin show I attended. Prices varied based on how many coins were minted each year, the popularity of different designs, and the rising number of Baby Boomers hustling to fill each slot in their blue Whitman coin folders. Coins were akin to used cars: Those with too many miles — too much visible wear and tear — traded at a sharp discount. A pristine 1950 nickel minted in Denver was worth more than a worn 1841 half dime minted in Philadelphia. Similarly, a 1931 Lincoln penny minted in San Francisco was worth more than a 1898 Indian Head penny or a 1857 large cent. Those valuations were simply supply and demand, not a sign of collective depravity.

Coin collecting as history lesson

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This post was written by: James Bovard

James Bovard is a policy adviser to The Future of Freedom Foundation. He is a USA Today columnist and has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, New Republic, Reader’s Digest, Playboy, American Spectator, Investors Business Daily, and many other publications. He is the author of Freedom Frauds: Hard Lessons in American Liberty (2017, published by FFF); Public Policy Hooligan (2012); Attention Deficit Democracy (2006); The Bush Betrayal (2004); Terrorism and Tyranny (2003); Feeling Your Pain (2000); Freedom in Chains (1999); Shakedown (1995); Lost Rights (1994); The Fair Trade Fraud (1991); and The Farm Fiasco (1989). He was the 1995 co-recipient of the Thomas Szasz Award for Civil Liberties work, awarded by the Center for Independent Thought, and the recipient of the 1996 Freedom Fund Award from the Firearms Civil Rights Defense Fund of the National Rifle Association. His book Lost Rights received the Mencken Award as Book of the Year from the Free Press Association. His Terrorism and Tyranny won Laissez Faire Book’s Lysander Spooner award for the Best Book on Liberty in 2003. Read his blog. Send him email.

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