The United States Mint shows a great deal more restraint in creating and offering special numismatic products when compared to other world mints. Sometimes, this is attributed to the central role of Congress in authorizing denominations, compositions, coin designs, and specific coin programs. In many respects, the US Mint must simply carry out the requirements set out by Congress.
However, there are many areas where the Mint or the Treasury Department does have some discretion or authority with regards to coins. Based on my reading of the law or some past precedents, listed below are some things that the US Mint or Treasury Department does have the authority to do. I am not specifically recommending anything, just laying out what is possible under current law.
Coin Designs May Be Changed Once Every 25 Years
Under 31 U.S.C. § 5112(d)(2), the Secretary of the Treasury has the authority to change the design of coins, as long as the existing design has been in use for at least 25 years. With regards to circulating coins, the Secretary has deferred to Congress for the past 60 years or so and (as stated by the Mint) has no intention of changing this arrangement.
Some coin series that would be eligible for a change include the Roosevelt Dime, Kennedy Half Dollar, American Gold Eagle, and American Silver Eagle.
Some coins do have basic design requirements established by law, so in these cases the design requirements would still need to be followed. For example, the American Silver Eagle is required to have an obverse design symbolic of Liberty, while the reverse should have a design of an eagle.
Authority to Redesign the American Gold Buffalo Bullion Coins
The authorization for the American Gold Buffalo bullion and proof coins is provided under 31 U.S.C. § 5112(q). This requires that for the first year of issue, the coins should bear the original obverse and reverse designs of James Eagle Fraser from the 1913 Type 1 Buffalo Nickel.
For subsequent years, the Secretary has the authority to change the design on the obverse or reverse of the bullion coins. The design change could be made after consultation with the Commission of Fine Arts and review by the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee.
Broad Authority to Mint and Issue Platinum Coins
The authority to produce the American Platinum Eagles comes from 31 U.S.C. § 5112(k). However, rather than authorizing only this specific program, the law provides incredibly broad authority that could be used to create virtually any type of platinum coin.
The Secretary may mint and issue platinum bullion coins and proof platinum coins in accordance with such specifications, designs, varieties, quantities, denominations, and inscriptions as the Secretary, in the Secretary’s discretion, may prescribe from time to time.
This seems to allow the creation of infinite new series of platinum coins with any denomination, specifications, designs, or themes that the Secretary chooses. During the debt ceiling ordeal, someone floated the idea that the Secretary could create two $1 trillion platinum coins, deposit them at the Federal Reserve, and write checks from the proceeds.
Broad Authority to Mint and Issue Gold Coins
Under 31 U.S.C. § 5112(i)(4)(C), the Secretary of the Treasury has broad authority to prescribe procedures and specifications for the minting and issuance of new gold coins, including the diameter, weight, fineness, or design.
The popular 2009 Ultra High Relief Double Eagle Gold Coin was created using this authority.
Extend the America the Beautiful Quarters Program
When authorizing the America the Beautiful Quarters Program, Congress provided the Secretary of the Treasury with the discretion to authorize a second round of designs for the program. Each state, territory, and the District of Columbia would have a second national park or site featured on a quarter design under the same requirements as the original program. The first coin from round two would immediately follow the last coin from round one.
The Secretary may make this determination any time during the nine year period beginning after the issuance of the first America the Beautiful Quarter.
Mint Coins for Foreign Countries
Under 31 U.S.C. § 5111(a)(4), the Secretary of the Treasury may mint coins for a foreign country as long as it does not interfere with regular minting operations. The Secretary would also need to charge for minting the coins based on the cost of minting.
To my knowledge, the US Mint is not currently producing coins for any foreign countries, although they have sometimes done so in the past.
Use of Different Mint Facilities or Finishes
At various times in the past, the US Mint has created special numismatic items by producing coins at different mint facilities or with a special finish. This has created some popular or extremely rare coins and usually generated a great deal of excitement with collectors.
In 1995, the US Mint produced a limited number of Proof Silver Eagles at the West Point Mint with the “W” mint mark. During this year, the standard proof Silver Eagles were struck at Philadelphia and carried the “P” mint mark. The 1995-W Proof Silver Eagles were only included as part of an expensive set including four proof gold coins, which served to limit orders and create a low mintage rarity.
In 1996, the US Mint struck Roosevelt Dimes at the West Point Mint with the “W” mint mark to mark the 50th anniversary of the series. These coins were included only as part of the 1996 Mint Set. This mint sets was one of the most popular in years, but despite the larger mintage, the sets and 1996-W Roosevelt Dimes still carry a premium and make for an interesting issue within the lengthy series.
In 1994, 1997, and 1998, the US Mint struck Jefferson Nickels (1994, 1997) and Kennedy Half Dollars (1998) with a “matte proof finish”. These coins were only included within special commemorative coin sets.
The US Mint has continued to periodically use different mint facilities or finishes for some offerings. In recent years, we have had reverse proof Gold and Silver Eagles, as well as the collectible uncirculated Gold and Silver Eagles with “W” mint marks and Silver Eagles with the “S” mint mark.