How Can I Get Involved in Redesigning Our Nation’s Nickels?

Redesigned nickels, the first since 1938, will soon be jingling in American pockets. The coins’ tails sides will commemorate the bicentennials of either the Louisiana Purchase or Lewis and Clark’s westward expedition. Picking the appropriate artwork is largely the responsibility of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee (CCAC). How can citizens join this numismatic powerhouse?

Despite the egalitarian name, the CCAC is a fairly exclusive club. The committee was created last week by a congressional act; the same law abolishes the CCAC’s predecessor, the Citizens Commemorative Coin Advisory Committee (CCCAC), which had been in existence since 1993. The new group is, unsurprisingly, charged with advising the secretary of the treasury “on the selection of themes and designs for coins.”

The key difference between the CCAC and its predecessor is that the upstart will be adding two additional members for a total of nine. The first five members, to be appointed by Treasury Secretary John Snow, will be a highly specialized lot. The law stipulates that the bunch must include a “nationally or internationally recognized curator” of a coin collection, an experienced numismatist, a scholar of “medallic arts or sculpture,” and an American historian. There’s also room for one lucky bloke “who can represent the interests of the general public.” (The CCCAC allowed for three such non-specialist members.) Yet this is not necessarily a Mr. Smith Goes to Washington opportunity; it will likely be reserved for Beltway big shots. The last CCCAC “general public” appointee, for example, was Constance B. Harriman, once a high-ranking official in the Department of the Interior under George H.W. Bush.

The four remaining slots are to be recommended by the four most powerful congressional leaders: the speaker of the House, the House minority leader, the Senate majority leader, and the Senate minority leader. Congress played no role in the recommendation of members for the CCCAC.

The act notes that former committee members are “eligible for appointment” to the new committee, which means no one’s likely to lose their job—save for, perhaps, the member who once occupied the slot reserved solely for an employee of the United States Mint. No such slot is mentioned in the recently authorized legislation, which means that Gloria Eskridge, the Mint’s current representative, will have to hope she either impresses a congressman or otherwise fits the revamped criteria.

It’s quite probable that she’ll slide along with no problem. If not, at least the decision won’t hit her in the wallet—per tradition, CCAC members won’t be paid, though their travel will be comped when they attend two annual meetings.

Bonus Explainer: The new nickels will only be minted for a few years. Virginia lawmakers were upset that the changes would be permanent and thus bump off state icon Monticello from the tails side. The act thus represents a compromise, whereby the commemorative designs will last through 2006. After that, it’s back to Thomas Jefferson’s storied mansion.

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