After repeated attempts in Congress to mint a Mark Twain commemorative coin died in committee, the U.S. House this week greenlighted a bill bringing the coin closer to reality.
The House voted verbally Monday and via the yeas and nays Thursday — that is, through a formal roll-call vote— to pass HR 2453, the Mark Twain Commemorative Coin Act. The bill received 408 yeas, 4 nays and 2 “present” votes in Thursday’s roll call vote; 17 representatives did not vote.
The bill had 298 co-sponsors on both sides of the political aisle, including the entire Missouri congressional delegation.
If signed into law, the budget-neutral bill would provide for 100,000 collectible $5 gold coins and 350,000 $1 silver coins to be minted in commemoration of Twain’s legacy. They would be issued in 2016.
Collectors and other buyers would pay a surcharge on each Mark Twain coin — $35 for each gold coin, $10 for each silver coin. The revenue from that surcharge would be split among four historic Mark Twain sites: the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum in Hannibal; the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, Conn., where Twain lived and worked for 17 years; the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College in Elmira, N.Y., where Twain worked from a summer home for 20 years and later was buried; and the Mark Twain Project at the University of California, Berkeley.
Cindy Lovell, the Mark Twain Boyhood Home’s executive director, said when the bill was introduced last summer that the coin could generate $1 million in revenue for the Hannibal site.
The move to produce the coins follows the U.S. Mint’s move late last year to scrap commemorative coin production as a cost-cutting measure. The bill, if signed into law, would order the Mint to produce the coins.
The yeas-and-nays vote followed a brief debate period Monday in which one of the bill’s two main co-sponsors, Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., offered remarks on the importance of the bill as a way of honoring Twain’s legacy and supporting the institutions keeping his legacy alive.
Luetkemeyer briefly described the work of the four Twain sites, saying the revenue generated by the coin would help them “continue to spread awareness and educate the public” regarding “a true American figure.” (In a special treat for the Twainiacs of Hannibal, which sits in his sprawling district, he noted the upcoming May 15 centennial of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and name-checked Lovell and Curator Henry Sweets.)
The other main co-sponsor, Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., said the coin will be produced “at no cost to America’s public, but enriching Americans all across this great nation, I dare say across the globe.”
Co-sponsor Rep. Joe Baca, D-Calif., also spoke on what he called “meaningful legislation,” saying: “Mark Twain’s life and legacy have left a lasting impact.”
After the remarks, a verbal vote was taken on the bill, with a resounding chorus of “yeas” and no “nays” audible in the House chamber. However, Luetkemeyer quickly called for the formal yeas and nays, a vote that was postponed until Thursday.
Despite Twain’s own disdain for Congress when he was alive, congressmen spanning the political spectrum frequently invoke the great American humorist’s name, as the congressional newspaper Roll Call noted last fall. That makes the bill’s widespread, bipartisan support unsurprising, even though two previous House bills and a Senate bill died in committee in previous sessions of Congress.
In a Facebook post immediately after the debate and initial vote Monday, Lovell offered hearty praise for the bill and the legislators who had helped get it passed. Following the yeas and nays, she wrote in a press release Friday: “As we celebrate the Boyhood Home and Museum’s hundredth anniversary this year, we are keenly aware of the importance of historic preservation and especially the costs associated with it. This would be significant for all four Twain sites.”
The measure now heads to the U.S. Senate. Lovell urged Facebook friends to appeal to their senators to get the Senate bill, S 1929, passed quickly so the bill can be signed into law in time for the Hannibal museum’s centennial.