April 2, 1792 is the exact date the Coinage Act was passed, a measure that led to the creation of the U.S. Mint and required coins to depict an "impression emblematic of liberty."
To commemorate its upcoming 225th birthday, the U.S. Mint is releasing a new set of $100 gold coins. And for the first time ever, these coins will depict Lady Liberty as an African-American woman.
Rhett Jeppson, the principal deputy director of the U.S. Mint, joined us to talk about the decision and whether the coins they make are profitable.
The following transcript has been lightly edited.
Rhett Jeppson: On our very first coins we had a female figure representing Liberty. And so through the years, we've had Liberty represented always as feminine in a lot of different forms. And so this is just a more modern, inclusive interpretation of Liberty. We've had a lot of comments saying, well, Liberty is depicted as in the Statue of Liberty. We've depicted Liberty over the course of, you know, 225 years in a lot of different forms — not just what's on the Statue of Liberty. That's actually, quite frankly, a later interpretation of what Liberty looked like — allegorical Liberty that is.
Sabri Ben-Achour: These are $100 coins. They weigh about an ounce. They're not solid gold, are they? Because that would make them worth like $1,200.
Jeppson: They are solid gold. It is one ounce of 24-carat gold. And so they will in fact sell for about $1,500. There's a premium. The value of the coins is not based so much on the denomination that we put on the coin, but rather, you know, the uniqueness of the design, the quality of the strike and the content of the metal. And it trades far beyond whatever the face value of the coin is.
Ben-Achour: You know, the Treasury spends more to make certain coins like pennies than they're actually worth. In this case, it sounds like it's quite the opposite. Is the Mint actually making money on its money in this case?
Jeppson: We actually make three types of coins here at the Mint. We make circulating coins — that's the stuff you have in your pocket every day. We make numismatic or collectible coins. And then we make bullion coin, which is an investable coin. We still return money on all three of those lines to the Treasury every year. We're a non-appropriated agency. We operate on the revenue that we generate, and we return the excess or the profit back to our shareholders, which is the Department of the Treasury. And so over the past two years, we returned well over $1.2 billion to the Treasury. Not a bad return for an organization of 1,700 people, so we're very, very proud of that.
Ben-Achour: You could technically use this coin in a store to buy something for $100, but that would be very stupid, right?
Jeppson: That's right. That would probably not be the wisest use of it, but it does have a face value of 100 bucks. So I guess if gold ever went below $100 an ounce, you may want to do that.