“Coin collecting, numismatic issues, if you like it, you love it, if you’re not interested, then it just doesn’t float your boat,” he said. “But I not only like it, like several million of my fellow Americans, but being a Member of Congress and sitting on the Financial Services Committee, I have an ability to have oversight over the Mints.”
One moment that stands out for Lucas in his career working with the U.S. Mint, he said, was the production of the 2001 American Buffalo Commemorative Silver Dollar. The coins, which were authorized under an act he sponsored with then-Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), used the design from the 1913-1938 coin commonly known as either the Buffalo nickel or the Indian Head nickel.
“It was a major effort on my part, and I’m proud having worked so hard to get it created,” Lucas said. “One of my personal highlights was being with Sen. Nighthorse Campbell at the first striking ceremony when those were first produced.”
Lucas continues to work closely with the Mint and says he looks to the way fellow numismatist Teddy Roosevelt emphasized preserving the United States’ historical legacy through currency during his time in office. With coins, Lucas noted, changes in a country’s fashion, government and technology are revealed.
“When it comes to quality, mechanical manufacture and the artistic images that are embodied on our coins, we need to work very diligently to leave an impressive historic record,” he said. “I mean, it’s not just coins to put in the parking meter down on the corner. You are leaving a record of your civilization.”
Lucas said he has encouraged the Mint to inventory all of its items and make that information available to the general public.
“There is a substantial collectors’ community out there — numismatists, as we prefer to call ourselves — who are very focused not only on the current production, not only on the collecting of coins, but on the history and the records of the Mint,” he said.
One of the perks of being a Congressman interested in coinage, Lucas noted, was getting the opportunity to tour the Smithsonian’s national numismatic collection. “They have more stuff than you can possibly imagine, and they have the original of virtually everything,” he noted. “It is the most incredible thing.”
Currently, however, the collection isn’t available for just anyone to check out — but that’s something Lucas is aiming to change.
“We need to come up with ways to display more and more of that material to the public,” he said. “Not everybody’s going to be able to afford a million-dollar coin, not everybody’s going to be able to afford a $10,000 coin and many of us will never spend $500 on a coin, but the public still should be able to enjoy and have an opportunity to appreciate our common resources.”
Numismatics has been more than just a lifelong hobby for Lucas — it’s helped define his Capitol Hill legacy.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.