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Happy 50th Anniversary to the Sandwich

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No, it’s not the kind of sandwich that you eat. That is far older, having its origins in late 18th century England and popularized by John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich. This is the kind of sandwich that you spend.

The year 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of a milestone in the history of U.S. coinage. On July 23, 1965, the Coinage Act of 1965 was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson. The main purpose of the act was to alleviate the shortage of higher denomination circulating coinage, which, being composed of 90% silver, was coming under pressure due to the rising price of silver.

The Coinage Act had a number of provisions. Perhaps the best known, was the change in the composition of the dime, quarter and half dollar. Silver was eliminated completely from the first two, being replaced by a core of pure copper, sandwiched between two outer layers made up of 75% copper and 25% nickel. The new Kennedy Half retained some silver, but its percentage was reduced to 40% from 90%. Popularly referred to today as "clad" coinage, it quickly replaced all the older 90% silver coinage in circulation within the short span of two or three years.

However, the Coinage Act of 1965 did not stop there. There were a few more elements to it, most of which are not widely known. Perhaps the most interesting one was that it gave the Secretary of the Treasury the authority to continue striking 90% silver coins for up to five years, until an adequate supply of clad coins was on hand. This authority was exercised through 1966, although the coins continued to bear a date of "1964." This almost certainly explains the huge mintages seen for 1964 dimes, quarters and halves, which averaged 7X to 8X the average of the preceding four years.

A second lesser-known provision of the Act was to make all coins and currency of the United States a legal tender. While this did not affect any of the circulating coins directly, it did reverse the 1876 demonetization of the Trade Dollar.

A final provision of interest forbade the minting of silver dollars for five years. Following the expiration of this portion of the law came the Eisenhower dollar, some of which were struck in 40% silver for collectors.

Easily the most ironic quote from the period came from President Johnson himself, who while signing the bill, predicted:

"Our present silver coins won’t disappear and they won’t even become rarities... If anybody has any idea of hoarding our silver coins, let me say this. Treasury has a lot of silver on hand, and it can be, and it will be used to keep the price of silver in line with its value in our present silver coin. There will be no profit in holding them out of circulation for the value of their silver content."

Sorry Lyndon, but you missed that one.

While some today yearn for the "good old days" of real money in our pockets, the reality is with the wildly fluctuating values of precious metals, that is simply impractical, and like buggy whips, VCR’s and floppy discs, now belongs to the past.

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