Washington unites to approve Mark Twain silver and gold coins

Thursday, December 6, 2012 | 6:42 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA—The president and Congress agreed on at least one thing this week: Mark Twain deserves his own coin.

President Barack Obama signed the Mark Twain Commemorative Coin Act on Tuesday, which compels the Treasury Department to create gold and silver Mark Twain coins for issuance in 2016.

The legislation requires the Secretary of the Treasury to mint and issue no more than 100,000 $5 gold coins and no more than 350,000 $1 silver coins.

The legislation was introduced last year by U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, whose Ninth District includes Hannibal, and was approved by both chambers in November. The bill had 298 cosponsors in the House of Representatives. 

Sales of the gold coins will include a $35 surcharge, and sales of the silver coins will include a $10 surcharge. The revenue from the surcharges will pay for the cost to produce the coins and the remaining funds will be distributed equally to the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum in Hannibal and three other Twain institutions, including his home and museum in Hartford, Conn. and the Mark Twain Project at the University of California, Berkeley.

Cindy Lovell, executive director of the Hannibal museum, said she expects the museum's share of the money raised will be $1.75 million, which will be used to restore buildings in the museum complex.

The first building to receive attention will be Grant's Drug Store, which is 175 years old and where Twain's father, John Clemens, died, Lovell said. The money will also be used to help restore the courthouse where his father served as Justice of the Peace.

"Mark Twain is vital to the tourism industry in Hannibal, and it is our obligation to keep these buildings restored," Lovell said.

She credited the Missouri and Connecticut congressional delegations with working together to get the bill passed.

"They knew what they had to do and got it done," she said. "It was nothing short of a miracle."

Twain once briefly served as a congressional reporter and said "there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress."

Lovell said it's "an ironic twist with all that Twain said about Congress that they stepped up to his honor his work. They even kidded about it during the hearings."

The coin designs are meant to be "emblematic of the life and legacy of Mark Twain" and will be selected after consultation with the board of the Mark Twain House and Museum.

Lovell said sculptor Don Wiegand of Chesterfield had turned a popular portrait sculpture he had created for the museum into a bas relief that could be used for the coin, but she would first suggest it to the U.S. Mint and the other Twain institutions.

Harry Kilgore, owner of Show Me Rare Coins in Columbia, said past commemorative coins have been popular and that Twain is a worthy addition. 

"I think it will be very popular," he said. "Mark Twain was an outstanding gentleman and great writer. It's a no-brainer that this would be highly collected."

Kilgore said the coin markets run hot and cold, but he thinks a Twain issuance will be positive for the business.

"It will be outstanding; it should help the markets and be a good shot for the collectors," he said. 

Lovell noted that Twain always put country first and rejected party politics. She said that much of what he said more than 100 years ago is just as relevant today as it was then.

One quote attributed to Twain seems particularly appropriate: "Patriotism is supporting your country all the time and your government when it deserves it."

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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