U.S. Mint:

Commemorative Coins Could Be More Profitable

GGD-96-113: Published: Aug 7, 1996. Publicly Released: Aug 7, 1996.

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Bernard L. Ungar
(202) 512-4232


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the U.S. Mint's Commemorative Coin Program, focusing on the profitability and proliferation of the coin program.

GAO found that: (1) Congress authorized 22 commemorative coin programs from 1982 to 1995, and directed that part of the proceeds from four programs be used to reduce the national debt; (2) 19 of the commemorative coin programs included surcharges that were to be paid to coin sponsors; (3) the U.S. government earned $178 million from these commemorative coin programs, while the sponsors earned $310 million; (4) coin collectors believe that there are too many commemorative coin programs, coin prices are higher than customers are willing to pay, and some coin themes are not readily accepted on the market; (5) coin sponsors still receive profits from surcharges despite losses in some coin programs; (6) the U.S. Mint lost more than $4 million on one commemorative coin program in 1994; (7) the Citizens' Commemorative Coin Advisory Committee (CCCAC) recommended 11 coin programs for 1995 to 1999, but Congress only adopted one of the programs; (8) these recommendations included replacing the surcharge on coins with a profit-sharing arrangement between the Mint and the program sponsors and empowering the Treasury to select coin themes; (9) these recommendations do not adequately address the proliferation of coins, their high price, or unacceptability on the market; and (10) CCCAC also recommended that Congress authorize circulating commemorative coins, which could provide $225 million in seigniorage and save about $16 million on annual debt interest.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 1996, Congress passed legislation (P.L. 104-208) barring the payment of surcharges to sponsors until all of the Mint's costs associated with that commemorative coin program are recovered. This action was aimed at preventing the government from losing money on unsuccessful programs, but did not directly address whether surcharges should be used for the sponsors or for reducing the national debt.

    Matter: Congress may want to further consider its intent regarding the commemorative coin program--specifically, in terms of whether it wants the program to serve as a means of providing funds to the coins' sponsors, or reducing the national debt, or both.

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 1996, Congress passed a legislation (P.L. 104-208) that bars the payment of surcharges to sponsors until all of the Mint's costs associated with that commemorative coin program are recovered; limits the number of commemorative coin programs to 2 per year; and limits the mintage of coins unless justified on the basis of market research.

    Matter: For those situations where Congress wants the commemorative coin program to be used as a means of supporting a sponsoring group, it should consider reforming the program by making changes aimed at reducing proliferation and preventing losses, such as limiting the number of programs to one per year, restricting maximum authorized mintage levels, requiring that the selection of themes be based on market research, implementing a profit-sharing arrangement between the Mint and the sponsors, requiring that all of the Mint's costs be recovered before the sponsors receive financial benefits, and requiring that the prices of commemorative coins be set at levels where the market research indicates the greatest potential for sales.

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In December 1997, Public Law 105-124 was enacted, authorizing a circulating commemorative quarter program to commemorate each of the 50 states.

    Matter: If Congress would like to increase government profitability on all commemorative coins or for those situations where it would like to apply the proceeds of a commemorative coin program to debt reduction, it should authorize a circulating commemorative coin program. Because the quarter is the highest denomination and the largest in size of the widely circulating coins, it would likely generate the most seigniorage and best accommodate a commemorative design on its reverse side.


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