History of America the Beautiful Bullion Coins

Posted on November 03, 2021

America the Beautiful Coin Series History hero image

The United States is a vast country containing many amazing things: subtropical wetlands, rugged mountains, arctic landscapes and arid deserts, the world’s largest and tallest trees, landscapes as diverse as its citizenry. This is exactly what Katharine Lee Bates embodied when she wrote “America the Beautiful,” which would become one of the country’s most patriotic songs.

In a similar effort to harness the natural beauty and historical wonders of the country, the United States Mint created a series of coins that honors the spirit and history of this great nation.

What is the America the Beautiful Bullion Coin Series?

The United States Mint developed an idea to mint 56 new circulation quarters with distinct reverse designs honoring some of the country’s most important sites, national parks, and historical landmarks. With five new releases each year, the America the Beautiful Bullion Coin Series has become a beautiful collection coveted by coin enthusiasts.

In parallel, the first bullion coin was released in 2010 and started the series of 56-coins to be released over the ensuing years designed in 5 oz silver with 0.999 purity. 

How it was created

In 1999, the United States launched a 10-year program to mint quarters honoring each state in the country. The United States Mint’s 50 State Quarters Program was so successful that a new initiative was designed to build on the previous success of the state quarters.

So, in 2008, Congress passed Public Law 110-456, otherwise known as the America’s Beautiful National Parks Quarter Dollar Coin Act of 2008. The mission of the legislation was as follows:

“To provide for a program for circulating quarter dollar coins that are emblematic of a national park or other national sites in each State, the District of Columbia, and each territory of the United States, and for other purposes.” 

This time, Congress wanted not just to honor states themselves but essential landmarks within each state. This would give national parks and historic monuments more visibility throughout the country. And along with producing quarters, Congress legislated that 5 oz silver bullion coins be minted as well.

Production of the Series

The America the Beautiful series was structured so that five quarters and silver bullion coins were released each year until all 56 coins in the series were minted. But instead of the mint controlling each design, it was decided that the states themselves would have an active role in the design of each coin. However, states did not control which sites would be used as the inspiration for each coin. This job was left to former Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner in conjunction with the governor or other local officials in each state. 

The Treasury Secretary announced several standards required of each proposed design:

  • Dignified designs of which the United States and its citizens could be proud
  • No inappropriate designs, including no logos, depictions of private enterprise, religious institutions, or the like
  • No portraits of any person, alive or dead
  • No map of state or other locality
  • Cannot be the same design as any coin in the 50 State Quarter Program

Several organizations reviewed the design process for these coins. The Commission of Fine Arts, which was first established to oversee the design of all construction within Washington D.C., was given authority in 1921 by then-President Warren Harding also to manage the design of coinage in the country. The Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee also plays a role as an impartial body of numismatic experts and enthusiasts who submit design recommendations to the Secretary of the Treasury.

The design process of America the Beautiful Bullion Coins went as follows:

  1. Designs submitted by individual states for landmarks within those states
  2. The design could be approved or rejected by the Commission of Fine Arts
  3. If approved, the design was reviewed by the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee
  4. If approved, the final design is signed off on by the Secretary of the Treasury

Production Issues and Controversy

Striking and releasing the America the Beautiful series didn’t go as smoothly as the U.S. Mint hoped. For one, Congress mandated that the silver bullion coins weigh 5 oz, and have a diameter of 3 inches. For comparison, the Morgan silver dollar is just 1.5 inches in diameter.  The U.S. Mint didn’t have the production capacity or equipment to strike coins of this size at the time. 

So, to produce new 5 oz coins in compliance with the law, the Philadelphia Mint was forced to purchase and install a new German coining press that operated at 1,000 metric tons of pressure and could manage three-inch dies to strike the coins. This press is capable of minting up to 1 million coins per year. Additionally, new silver planchets from Sunshine Minting — the leading supplier of blank silver planchets to the U.S. Mint — were purchased as well. 

At first, the mint expected to strike 100,000 of each coin in the series but, due to production struggles, ultimately landed on striking a maximum of 33,000 coins for the first five coins in the series. After announcing the reduction in minting, excitement and demand for the coins only grew before their release. Since the Mint doesn’t sell directly to consumers and instead utilizes a network of Authorized Purchasers, many were concerned that the price premium on these highly coveted coins was getting out of control. A U.S. Mint spokesperson acknowledged these concerns even before the coins were released:

“The United States Mint is aware of reports of concern by many consumers about the high prices and premiums being charged in the market for the newly released America the Beautiful Silver Bullion Coins.”

Then, in a memo to its Authorized Purchasers, the Mint announced it was delaying the release of the America the Beautiful series, citing many public complaints about the high premiums being charged:

“Due to the limited availability of the 2010 America the Beautiful Silver Bullion Coin coins, public anticipation has been extremely strong. Since the press release was issued, the United States Mint has received numerous calls and inquiries from the public regarding premiums being charged for these coins. As a result, we are delaying the launch of this program. No America the Beautiful Ounce Silver Bullion Coins orders will be confirmed today.”

But even when the bullion coins were released, they weren’t all valued equally. Like the 2017 coin commemorating Frederick Douglass, some coins quickly doubled in retail value, while others, like one depicting the Ozarks, saw their value rise only slightly. The wide varieties in total mintage numbers and designs have resulted in some America the Beautiful bullion coins becoming desirable collectors’ items. 

Obverse Design and Coin Specs

5 oz America the Beautiful coin obverse imageWhile the reverse side of each America the Beautiful coin is different, the obverse side of all coins is the same. The obverse features a portrait of George Washington originally designed by John Flannagan for the 1932 quarter, which dates back to a 1786 portrait sculpture of the former president by Jean-Antoine Houdon.

The obverse is adorned with “United States of America” across the top, “Quarter Dollar” across the bottom, and the words “Liberty” and “In God We Trust” on either side of Washington’s profile. The reverse side depicts different images for each coin, although all 56 coins display the year of minting across the bottom, the state or locality the coin honors, and the words “E Pluribus Unum.”

Weighing 5 oz and at 3 inches in diameter, these coins are enormous. They more closely resemble coasters than they do typical coins. Because of their sheer size and weight, it is much easier to appreciate the level of design detail on these silver bullion coins.

Coin specs:

  • Weight: 5 oz
  • Purity: .999
  • Diameter: 3 inches / 76.2 mm
  • Thickness: 0.16 inches / 4.06 mm

Coins in the Series

Coin State/Locality Coin Reverse Image Release Date Minting
Hot Springs National Park Arkansas The façade of the park's Spanish colonial-style headquarters 4/19/2010 33,000
Yellowstone National Park Wyoming The famous Old Faithful geyser pictured behind a bison 6/1/2010 33,000
Yosemite National Park California A granite monolith known as El Capitan shown amongst the trees 7/26/2010 33,000
Grand Canyon National Park Arizona Marble Canyon, the northernmost section of the Grand Canyon 9/20/2010 33,000
Mount Hood National Forest Oregon Mount Hood with Lost Lake in the foreground 11/15/2010 33,000
Gettysburg National Military Park Pennsylvania The 72nd Infantry Monument at Cemetery Ridge 1/24/2011 126,700
Glacier National Park Montana The northeast slope of Mount Reynolds with a mountain goat in the foreground 4/4/2011 126,700
Olympic National Park Washington An elk standing at the Hoh River with Mount Olympus in the background 6/13/2011 104,900
Vicksburg National Military Park Mississippi The U.S.S. Cairo on the Yazoo River 8/29/2011 58,100
Chickasaw National Recreation Area Oklahoma The Lincoln Bridge with birds flying overhead 11/14/2011 48,700
El Yunque National Forest Puerto Rico A Puerto Rican parrot and Coqui tree frog 1/23/2012 24,000
Chaco Culture National Historical Park New Mexico The Chetro Ketl Complex 4/2/2012 24,400
Acadia National Park Maine The Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse 6/11/2012 25,400
Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park Hawai'i An eruption of the Kilauea Volcano 8/27/2012 20,000
Denali National Park Alaska Mount Mckinley with a Dall sheep in the foreground 11/5/2012 20,000
White Mountain National Forest New Hampshire Mt. Chocorua with a serene lake in the foreground 1/28/2013 35,000
Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial Ohio Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry with the Peace Memorial 4/1/2013 30,000
Great Basin National Park Nevada A bristlecone pine tree 6/10/2013 30,000
Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine Maryland Fort McHenry during the Defenders Day celebration 8/27/2013 30,000
Mount Rushmore National Memorial South Dakota Workers doing work on Thomas Jefferson's face at Mount Rushmore 11/4/2013 35,000
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Tennessee A log cabin at the Great Smoky Mountains 1/27/2014 33,000
Shenandoah National Park Virginia A man hiking at Little Stony Man summit 3/31/2014 25,000
Arches National Park Utah Delicate Arch 6/9/2014 22,000
Great Sand Dunes National Park Colorado Father and son in the sand next to a creek bed 8/25/2014 22,000
Everglades National Park Florida An anhinga and roseate spoonbill 11/3/2014 34,000
Homestead National Monument of America Nebraska A depiction of homesteading in Nebraska 2/9/2015 35,000
Kisatchie National Forest Louisiana A wild turkey in flight 4/13/2015 42,000
Blue Ridge Parkway North Carolina A winding road on the Blue Ridge Parkway leading up to a tunnel 6/22/2015 45,000
Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge Delaware A great blue heron and great egret 9/14/2015 45,000
Saratoga National Historical Park New York General John Burgoyne's 1777 surrender to General Horatio Gates during the American Revolutionary War 11/16/2015 45,000
Shawnee National Forest Illinois Camel Rock with a red-tailed hawk overhead 2/1/2016 105,000
Cumberland Gap National Historical Park Kentucky A pioneer on a mountaintop gazing to the west 4/4/2016 75,000
Harpers Ferry National Historical Park West Virginia John Brown Fort 6/6/2016 55,300
Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Dakota Theodore Roosevelt on horseback at the Little Missouri River 8/29/2016 40,000
Fort Moultrie South Carolina Sergeant William Jasper returning the regimental flag during the Civil War 11/14/2016 35,000
Effigy Mounds National Monument Iowa The mounds in the Marching Bear Group 2/6/2017 35,000
Frederick Douglass National Historic Site District of Columbia Frederick Douglass seated at a writing desk 4/3/2017 20,000
Ozark National Scenic Riverways Missouri The steel roller mill, Alley Mill 6/5/2017 20,000
Ellis Island New Jersey An immigrant family approaching Ellis Island 8/28/2017 40,000
George Rogers Clark National Historical Park Indiana George Rogers Clark and his men charging toward Fort Sackville during the Revolutionary War 11/13/2017 35,000
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Michigan Chapel Rock 2/19/2018 30,000
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Wisconsin Devils Island and a lighthouse in the background 4/13/2018 30,000
Voyageurs National Park Minnesota A common loon in the water with rock cliffs in the background 6/14/2018 30,000
Cumberland Island National Seashore Georgia A snowy egret on a branch 912/2018 52,500
Block Island National Wildlife Refuge Rhode Island A black-crowned night-heron in flight at Cow Cove 11/26/2018 80,000
Lowell National Historical Park Massachusetts A woman using a power loom at a mill with Lowell in the background 2/7/2019 80,000
American Memorial Park Northern Mariana Island A woman at the Flag Circle and Court of Honor 4/4/2019 80,000
War in the Pacific National Historical Park Guam American troops ashore at Asan Bay during World War II 6/6/2019 72,500
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park Texas Elements of the Spanish Colonial Real coin 8/29/2019 55,200
Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Idaho A drift boat ashore among rocks and trees 11/14/2019 25,000
National Park of American Samoa American Samoa A Samoan fruit bat mother and child 2/6/2020 45,000
Weir Farm National Historic Site Connecticut An artist painting at Julian Alden Weir's studio at Weir Farm 5/18/2020 45,000
Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve U.S. Virgin Islands A red mangrove tree 9/18/2020 45,000
Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park Vermont A girl planting a Norway spruce seedling 11/23/2020 45,000
Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve Kansas A Regal Fritillary butterfly 12/7/2020 45,000
Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site Alabama A Tuskegee Airman pilot putting on his helmet with two World War II-era P-51 Mustangs overhead 4/8/2021 50,000

Reception of the Series

As previously mentioned, the America the Beautiful series was so well-received that it caused a spike in prices before the first coins were even released. And while all five coins released in 2010 were minted at a rate of 33,000, this quickly changed.

Seeing that demand for the coins was so high, the U.S. Mint produced 126,700 bullion coins beginning with the first coin minted in 2011 for Gettysburg National Military Park. While this production continued with the following coin (Glacier National Park), production quickly was reduced again, and by 2012 less than 30,000 coins were being produced for each coin release.

In the past year, demand for the series has heated up. This demand increase has been spurred, in part, by rising silver prices, which have gone from $15 per ounce in 2020 to higher than $25 per ounce in 2021.

ATB Coin Series Today

The most recently released coin honoring Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site was minted with 50,000 silver bullion coins. While many critical national landmarks and sites were honored during this process, plenty of important sites were left off the list. Some notable omissions include:

  • Independence Hall - Pennsylvania
  • Statue of Liberty - New York
  • Golden Gate Bridge - California
  • Mammoth Cave - Kentucky
  • Crater Lake - Oregon

America the Beautiful silver bullion coins are an outstanding achievement for the United States Mint. These coins continue to be recognized and collected for their diversity and beautiful designs, along with their minting quality. 

For more information about each individual coin, check out the Silver America the Beautiful page at BullionMax.