It all started with a pocket full of pennies, nickels and dimes.
At 9 years old, Rep. Frank Lucas took his first foray into numismatics — the study or collection of currency — digging through the change jingling in his pocket. Soon, he was hooked.
“The first actual coin I purchased was an 1885 silver dollar from New Orleans,” he said. “Back in that time, I think it was $5 for an uncirculated coin. So, you can tell, I can remember what I paid in 1970 for my first piece.”
His interest hasn’t stayed in the realm of simple pocket change, though. Since that first piece, the Oklahoma Republican has built a type collection —- a set consisting of examples from every design and time period --— of coins produced by the U.S. Mint.
“I’m one of those folks who doesn’t have the budget or really doesn’t care to ever purchase those super expensive pieces, but what I purchase has a significance to me either where it came from, or the historic period it represented or the artistic nature,” Lucas said. “When I finish my type album, it won’t be of great value to anybody else, but to me it’ll mean a lot.”
Some of Lucas’ notable coins include a 1920s Peace dollar designed to commemorate the end of World War I, a 1933 Walking Liberty 50-cent piece and a unique 1861 New Orleans half dollar that could have been minted by the federal government, the state of Louisiana or the Confederacy.
“It’s a look into the history and heritage of our country, because our coinage has kind of changed the way the country’s changed with time,” he said.
Yet one of Lucas’ most treasured pieces isn’t about the United States in the grand scheme of history. Instead, it’s a reminder of his own life.
In 1971, Lucas’ grandmother ordered a proof edition of that year’s commemorative Eisenhower silver dollar as a gift for him. The coin was slow in coming, however, and his grandmother died that November. “I remember my grandfather giving it to me in late December when it arrived,” he said. “That’s one of my most treasured pieces because my late grandmother had ordered that for me, and I’ll always keep that forever.”
It’s that aspect of keeping something forever, Lucas noted, that inspires not only his collection, but also his legislative career. After coming to Congress in a 1994 special election, Lucas secured a spot on the Banking Committee — now the Financial Services Committee. It’s a position that’s allowed him to work closely with the Mint on the engraving, printing and preservation of U.S. currency.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.