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NNP Blog

Feb 20 2023

The Trillion-Dollar Platinum Coin Sneaks Through

In 1996, the U.S. Congress passed Public Law 104-208, which states in part “The Secretary may mint and issue bullion and proof platinum coins in accordance with such specifications, designs, varieties, quantities, denominations, and inscriptions as the Secretary, in the Secretary's discretion, may prescribe from time to time.” The inclusion of the single word “denomination” has given rise to all manner of speculation as to whether the Treasury department can legally strike a trillion-dollar coin. Congressional coin legislation is usually quite specific about denominations to be struck, and one can go all the way back to the Mint Act of 1792 on this point. Whether or not intended, the language of the 1996 statute leaves this question open. 

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has called the trillion-dollar coin a “gimmick” and noted that the Federal Reserve Bank would likely refuse the coin, should the Treasury attempt to deposit such a piece. For its part, the Mint continues to annually strike one-ounce platinum American Eagles, denominated as hundred-dollar coins.

In addition to Public Law 104-208, Newman Portal has built a collection of over 300 congressional documents related to numismatics. It’s worth remembering that the Mint, and Bureau of Engraving and Printing, can act only in accordance with public law, and the related paper trail forms a useful research archive. NNP acknowledges Dan Hamelberg and Paul Hybert, both of whom have made extensive contributions to this collection. 

We also wish to acknowledge Barbara Hofmann, Library Technical Specialist (Federal Documents) at Washington University in St. Louis. Washington University’s Olin Library is designated as a Federal Depository Library, a program initiated by Congress in 1813 to ensure public access to government documents. As such, Olin Library holds an extensive collection of government publications, which Barbara has helped us navigate since Newman Portal was launched in 2014. Barbara has been with Olin Library since 1969 (not a typo!) and we wish her well on her upcoming retirement. 

Link to Public Law 104-208 on Newman Portal: https://nnp.wustl.edu/library/book/623082
Link to U.S. Congressional documents on Newman Portal: https://nnp.wustl.edu/library/publisherdetail/512550
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