[Congressional Record (Bound Edition), Volume 146 (2000), Part 2]
[Extensions of Remarks]
[Pages 2382-2383]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office, www.gpo.gov]



                         HON. STEVEN R. ROTHMAN

                             of new jersey

                    in the house of representatives

                        Wednesday, March 8, 2000

  Mr. ROTHMAN. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to announce my introduction of 
a House Resolution designed to re-authorize the creation of the United 
States Assay Commission.
  The Assay Commission was established in 1792, and operated 
uninterrupted until 1980 when it was finally abolished. During that 
time, it was the oldest continually operating committee in the federal 
government and brought in individuals to maintain oversight over a 
narrow aspect of the executive branch.
  Originally authorized as part of the nation's first Mint Act of April 
2, 1792, the purpose of the Assay Commission was to examine the 
nation's coins on an annual basis and certify to the President, 
Congress, and the American people that gold and silver coins had the 
necessary purity, the proper weight, and necessarily, value.
  Among the earliest members of the Assay Commission, statutorily, were 
Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe and Alexander Hamilton. 
Starting about 140 years ago, some members of the general public were 
invited to participate, and when the Coinage Act of 1873 was passed, it 
codified that the President had the authority to appoint members of the 
Assay Commission from the general public at large. That practice 
continued for more than a century, though after 1970 there were no 
longer silver coins to review when their production was discontinued.
  By the time that the Assay Commission was abolished in the Carter 
Administration as part of the President's re-organization project, it 
no longer had any valid function; the nation did not produce gold or 
silver coinage, whether of a circulating or of a commemorative nature.
  Starting in 1982, the Mint again began producing contemporary 
commemorative coinage from .900 fine silver. By 1984, gold 
commemorative coins for the Olympic games were added, and since then 
the U.S. Mint has produced and sold hundreds of millions of dollars 
worth of gold, and silver commemorative coinage. Since 1986, the Mint 
began producing gold, silver and platinum bullion coins which are 
widely traded the world over.
  Mr. Speaker, in the mid-1980's, lacking the outside oversight 
previously provided by the Assay Commission, a problem was discovered 
in one of the Mint's bullion products. It appears, from the records, 
that some fractional gold eagle coins (those weighing less than ounce) 
did not have the proper fineness or weight in gold. This caused a 
serious marketing problem in the Far East, and confidence in this 
uniquely American product went by the wayside.
  Today, the United States Mint is a business that, were it privately-
controlled, would constitute a Fortune-500 corporation. The monetary 
bulk of this product--not the circulating coins--are gold, silver, and 
  With the re-emergence of U.S. produced gold, silver and platinum 
coins, I understand that an Ad Hoc group of former presidential 
appointees, all former Assay Commissioners, has suggested that it is 
time to restore Assay Commission oversight of the U.S. Mint. I share 
this Ad Hoc group's belief that the Mint's operations will only be 
enhanced by restoring the historic role played by the Assay Commission.
  Mr. Speaker, an article advocating the restoration of the annual 
Assay Commission written by Fair Lawn, New Jersey Mayor David L. Ganz, 
recently appeared in Numismatic News, a weekly coin hobby periodical. I 
would ask that this article be reprinted, in full, in the Congressional 
  I urge my colleagues to help me re-authorize the Assay Commission by 
cosponsoring the legislation that I have introduced today.

    [Article appearing in Numismatic News (Weekly), October 5, 1999]

             Time To Consider Reviving the Assay Commission

                           (By David L. Ganz)

       Let me set the stage. A quarter century ago this past 
     February, Richard Nixon was in the final throes of his star-
     crossed Presidency, though no one yet suspected that 
     Watergate was about to become his ultimate downfall and lead 
     to probable impeachment.
       American coinage of 1974 was devoid of silver, and private 
     gold ownership had been illegal since 1933, except for rare 
     and unusual gold coin of that era or earlier, unless the 
     Office of Domestic Gold & Silver Operations gave a rarely 
     sought, seldom-granted license to acquire the particular 
     specimen. As Washington hunkered down for a difficult winter 
     storm, the White House press office was readying a press 
     release that would surprise many for the number of Democrats 
     and other non-supporters of President Nixon that were to be 
     listed--not the so-called Enemy's List, but actually a 
     designation to public service.
       The weeks before had been trying for the applicants, many 
     of whom had written letters, sent resumes, asked political 
     contacts for a personal boost, responded to background checks 
     that were initiated by government staff, followed up by 
     security agencies interested in potential skeletons that 
     could prove embarrassing to the White House if found in a 
     presidential appointee.
       First inklings of what was to transpire probably came to 
     most individuals in the form of a telephone call on Friday, 
     Feb. 8 from Washington, asking if the prospect could be 
     available for official travel the following week on Tuesday. 
     Arrangements were strictly on your own, as were virtually all 
     of the associated expenses in traveling to Philadelphia.
       What this preparation was for was the Trial of the Pyx, the 
     annual Assay Commission, a tradition stretching back to 1792, 
     and at that time, the oldest continually operating commission 
     in the United States government. First of the commissions, 
     which were mandated by the original Coinage Act of April 2, 
     1792 were deemed so essential to the confidence of the public 
     in the national money that section 18 of the legislation 
     directed that the original inspectors were to include the 
     Chief Justice of the United States, the Secretary and 
     Comptroller of the Currency, the Secretary of the Department 
     of State, and the Attorney General of the United States.
       This was neither a casual request nor one that was 
     considered so unimportant an aide could attend. The statute 
     is explicit: this who's who ``are hereby required to attend 
     for that purpose'', meaning that in July of 1795, chief 
     justice John Jay, Secretary of State Edmund Randolph, 
     Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, Attorney General 
     William Bradford may have gathered. In the Jefferson 
     Administration, consider this remarkable group: Chief Justice 
     John Marshall; Secretary of State (and future president) 
     James Madison; Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin, 
     Attorney General Caesar Rodney might all have been there.
       By 1801, the statute had been amended to add the United 
     States District Judge for

[[Page 2383]]

     Pennsylvania as an officer at the Annual Assay, and by the 
     time that the Act of January 18, 1937 was approved, the 
     cabinet officials and the Chief Justice were omitted in favor 
     of the U.S. District Court Judge from the Eastern District of 
     Pennsylvania (the state having been divided in half for 
     judicial purposes), other governmental officials, and ``such 
     other persons as the President shall, from time to time, 
     designate for that purpose, who shall meet as commissioners, 
     for the performance of this duty, on the second Monday in 
     February, annually
       Flash forward to 1974. The call comes from Washington. A 
     trek begins to Philadelphia, where it has begun to snow. 
     Dozens of people from all across the country come to serve on 
     the Assay Commission, all traveling at their own expense. 
     Starting in the midst of the Truman Administration, a serious 
     numismatist or two had begun to be appointed. Some who 
     assisted the government in some numismatic or related matter 
     were similarly given the honor. Among the early appointees: 
     Max Schwartz (1945), the New York attorney who later became 
     ANA's legal counsel; Ted Hammer (1947), John Jay Pittman 
     (1947), Adm. Oscar Dodson (1948), and Hans M.F. Schulman 
       Some came by air (from California); others drove. I came by 
     train, on Amtrak's Metroliner, leaving from New York's Penn 
     Station and arriving an hour and a half later at 
     Philadelphia's station by the same name. Those who came in 
     February, 1974, gathered off Tuesday evening, Feb. 12, at the 
     Holiday Inn off Independence Mall, and unlike years when 
     there were only one or two lobbyists, this was a banner year. 
     (I almost did not attend; having started law school just 
     three or four weeks before, I had to petition the Dean of the 
     School to permit the attendance lapse and honor the 
     presidential appointment).
       My classmates, as we have referred to ourselves over the 
     succeeding quarter century, included some then and future 
     hobby luminaries: Don Bailey (former officer of Arizona 
     Numismatic Association), John Barrett (Member of several 
     local clubs), Dr. Harold Bushey, Sam Butland (Washington 
     Numismatic Society V.P.), Charles Colver (CSNA Secretary), 
     David Cooper (CSNS v.p.), George Crocker (S.C.N.A. 
     president), Joe Frantz (OIN Secretary), Maurice Gould (ANA 
     governor), Ken Hallenbeck (past President, Indiana State 
     Numismatic Assn.). Also: Dr. Robert Harris, Jerry Hildebrand 
     (organizer World Coin Club of Missouri), Richard Heer, 
     Barbara Hyde (TAMS Board member, sculptor), Philip Keller 
     (past president of the American Society for the Study of 
     French Numismatics), Reva Kline (member of several upstate 
     New York coin clubs), Stewart Koppel (past president, Aurora, 
     III. Coin Club), Charles M. Leusner (Delaware Co. Coin Club).
       Rounding out the Commission: Capt. Gary Lewis (past 
     president of Colorado-Wyoming Numismatic Association), Fred 
     Mantei (past president Flushing Coin Club), Lt. Col. Melvin 
     Mueller (member of many local and regional clubs), James L. 
     Miller (COINage Magazine publisher), John Muroff 
     (Philadelphia Coin Club member), and Harris Rusitzsky 
     (Rochester Numismatic Association member). I was also a 
     member (law student and former assistant editor, Numismatic 
       This rather remarkable group of men and women, the White 
     House and Mint joint announcement announced, were appointed 
     by the President ``from across the nation. . . . The 25 
     Commissioners, working in such varied fields as medicine, 
     dentistry, law, engineering, forestry research and the 
     military, share a common interest in coins and the science of 
       Early in its history, and indeed, into the first half of 
     the 20th century, the appointees were either political 
     themselves, or politically connected. Ellen (Mrs. Irving) 
     Berlin, Commissioner 1941, was one example; Mrs. Norweb 
     (1955) was another. So was Sen. H. Willis Robertson (1962), 
     chairman of the Senate Banking Committee and father of 
     television evangelist and presidential hopeful Pat Robertson. 
     William Ashbrook, a member of Congress from Ohio who 
     sponsored the legislation chartering the ANA in Congress, 
     served six times between 1908 and 1920. Albert Vestal, a 
     member of Congress from Indiana, served consecutively from 
     1920-1925. There were many other Congressmen and Senators 
     through the years, as well.
       I recall meeting in the lounge of the Holiday Inn and 
     suggesting my old friend Maury Gould to be the chairman of 
     the commission. The fix was already in: the California 
     delegation had already agreed, and lobbied other members, to 
     elect Barbara Hyde to that honor.
       The work that we did was largely honorific, but there was a 
     brief moment when some of us thought that the actual results 
     of an assay were under-weight--which mint officials regarded 
     as calamitous, and of sufficient importance to re-weigh the 
     parcel in question. (It passed the test, and as was the case 
     in most years, pro forma resolutions prepared by mint staff 
     were signed by all of the commissioners). But that does not 
     say that the description of the work done by the Assay 
     Commission remains irrelevant. To the contrary, unlike 1974 
     which examined the nonprecious metal coinage of 1973, today 
     there are silver, gold and platinum bullion coins, and 
     numerous commemorative coins, and related items that 
     circulate the world-over.
       There is accountability within the Mint, but at present, 
     the Mint's primary accountability is to Congress, and to the 
     coinage subcommittee in the House, and the larger Senate 
     Banking Committee on the other side of Capitol Hill. If there 
     is a problem, it remains largely unknown to the public at 
     large, except in case of acute embarrassment.
       In April, 1987 for example, the U.S. mint was accused of 
     having grossly underweight fractional gold coins--a move that 
     nearly scuttled the entire effort of the program to market 
     into the Far East. The Assay Commission having been abolished 
     in 1980, there was no voice of authoritative reassurance, for 
     the mint denied that there was even a problem--when it was 
     clear that the fractionals had not been properly assayed and 
     were lightweight in their gold content.
       Abolition of the Assay Commission came in two stages. In 
     1977, President Jimmy Carter declined to name any public 
     members to the Commission, ending a practice of more than 117 
     years duration. The F.T. Davis, director of the General 
     Government Division of the President's Reorganization 
     Project, got into the act. ``We are conducting an 
     organizational study of the Annual Assay Commission,'' he 
     wrote me on Sept. 6, 1977. ``The study will focus on possible 
     alternative methods of carrying out the functions of the 
       I prepared a memorandum for Davis at his request, answering 
     several specific questions, careful to take no position on 
     its continued validity. Earlier in the year, in a major law 
     review article proposing a ``Revision of the Minting & 
     Coinage Laws of the United States'' which was published in 
     the Cleveland Law Review, I had essentially concluded that it 
     was a political choice to decide whether or not to continue 
     the two-century old commission. Davis asked if the mission of 
     the Assay Commission was essential. I replied ``More aptly, 
     the question is whether or not assaying of coins is 
     essential. The answer is an unqualified yes to that,'' 
     Indeed, the Mint regularly conducts assays of its coin 
     product as a means of assuring quality. (the 1987 foul-up was 
     an administrative problem; the gold coins were assayed and 
     came up short, but a decision was made to circulate them, 
     anyway). Davis also asked what the function of the Commission 
     should be in the succeeding two years if it was continued. I 
     suggested that the law be ``rewritten to provide for 
     compositional analysis of all subsidiary coinage plus the 
     dollar coin''.
       The die was already cast, however, and the Carter 
     Administration (having already declined to name public 
     members) simply let the Assay Commission wither away until, 
     in 1980, it expired with the passage of Public Law 96-209 
     (March 14, 1980). The irony is that only a short time later, 
     the Mint was once again producing precious metal coinage.
       As the new millennium is on the verge of commencement, a 
     movement initiated by former commissioners (most of whom are 
     members of the Old Time Assay Commissioner's Society, OTACS 
     for short), has talked about proposing revitalization of this 
     old commission. There are reasons why it could succeed, and 
     some why it should.
       There are a number of reasons why the Assay Commission 
     ought to be reconstituted, and any proposal to do so will 
     require a legislative initiative in Congress. Toward that 
     goal, I was asked by an ad hoc advocacy group to try my hand 
     at it.
       If you've got an interest in the Assay Commission, perhaps 
     you'd care to send a note to your Congressman or Senator 
     (U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C. zip for the House 20515, 
     Senate 20510) with a copy of this article, and the draft 
     legislation. You can encourage them to do the rest.