New deal for dime?

FDR collector’s expertise enlisted by McGovern in battle to preserve current coin
By Pamela H. Sacks

Dr. Joseph J. Plaud’s immediate reaction was stunned disbelief.

Dr. Plaud learned of an attack on the Roosevelt dime when he opened an e-mail from U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester, asking for his help.

“I couldn’t believe it,” said Dr. Plaud, a Whitinsville resident who is an avid collector of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt memorabilia. “I had to read it several times to comprehend what the proposal was.”

The proposal, fashioned by U.S. Rep. Mark E. Souder, R-Indiana, is to replace the profile of Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the 10-cent coin with that of Ronald Reagan. Mr. Souder’s bill seeking the change is co-sponsored by 89 other members of Congress, including the entire House leadership.

Mr. McGovern, who represents the 3rd Congressional District, wasted no time in mounting a counterattack. He filed his own bill to leave Roosevelt on the dime and quickly lined up 80 co-sponsors.

The two legislators have engaged in some intense verbal sparring over the issue since Mr. Souder filed his measure earlier this month.
`Roosevelt was an important figure when liberal, big government responses were what we did, and he was a very important figure in ending the Great Depression and World War II,” Mr. Souder said. “Ronald Reagan represents limited government, lower taxes and a strong fight against international communism and a lot of international trade.”
Mr. McGovern said he has no problem honoring Reagan, but suspects there are other motives underlying Mr. Souder’s move. “They are trying to erase history and diminish the legacy and memory of a great man who thought government could play an important role in people’s lives,” he said. “That is troublesome.”
No one feels more strongly about the matter than Dr. Plaud, who has amassed what experts describe as the most extensive assemblage of FDR memorabilia in private hands.
“It’s the largest collection I know of, and I’m pretty well traveled in those circles,” said John Reznikoff, president of University Archives, which specializes in the sale of historically significant letters, documents and autographs.
Dr. Plaud, a forensic psychologist, has collected FDR artifacts and signed documents since he was a teenager. Among the thousands of items are many unique pieces, such as the Panama hat Roosevelt wore at the Tehran conference in December 1943 and the Tiffany watch given him as a birthday gift by members of the press corps shortly before he died.
“Many historians rank Roosevelt, Washington and Lincoln as the country’s three greatest presidents,” Dr. Plaud said. “He served the longest and under the most trying circumstances.”
Dr. Plaud, whose knowledge of arcane FDR facts and figures is staggering, recounted an exchange the president had with a friend as he took office in 1933, when the country was deeply mired in the Great Depression and the future was cloudy.
“If the New Deal is a success, you will be remembered as the greatest American president,” the friend told Roosevelt. “If I fail, I will be remembered as the last one,” Roosevelt replied.
FDR was memorialized on the dime in 1946, the year after his death, because of his role in the creation of the March of Dimes. Comedian Eddie Cantor in 1939 urged Americans to send dimes to the White House to raise money for the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, which Roosevelt, who suffered from polio, had founded in 1938. In one month, the White House received $85,000 in dimes.
“On the March of Dimes Web site, the first thing that pops up is a big picture of FDR,” Dr. Plaud said. “What did Ronald Reagan have to do with the dime?”
In an effort to fight Mr. Souder’s bill, Dr. Plaud has written to newspapers and contacted historians, museum curators, librarians and FDR fans who make up a group called the New Deal Network.
Others, too, are raising objections. One of them is former first lady Nancy Reagan, who stated: “While I can understand the intentions of those seeking to place my husband’s face on the dime, I do not support this proposal and I am certain Ronnie would not.”
That has not stopped Mr. Souder, who said he understood that it would be “inappropriate for Mrs. Reagan or the president to support the bill. It would be unseemly for her to do so.”
Martin Green, a press aid to Mr. Souder, said the congressman is open to a compromise — for instance, having the two presidents on dimes that would be circulated alternately.
“It’s important that currency reflect prevailing attitudes,” Mr. Green said. “Considering the great influence that Reagan had on the latter part of the 20th century, Mr. Souder feels it is appropriate that Mr. Reagan’s profile be on the dime. It’s time for a change. There will be a change.”
Mr. Green went on to say that the U.S. Mint was considering redesigning the dime before Mr. Souder filed his bill, in part because it is no longer a hot collectors’ item; the Mint, which is self-supporting, gets much of its revenue from coin hobbyists.
Mike White, a spokesman for the U.S. Mint, said the dime has not been specifically discussed, but redesigns of American coinage are under consideration because of the huge success of the 50-states quarters program, which involves minting and circulating a quarter that highlights a different state every 10 weeks until all 50 states have been honored.
“One hundred thirty million people are collecting them,” Mr. White said of the quarters. “It’s surpassed everyone’s expectations, and it’s generated discussion about reinvigorating the designs.”
In any event, Mr. White said, it would be highly unusual to put a living president on a coin. “There’s no law that prohibits it,” he said, “but longstanding tradition is to not do it.”
In Mr. McGovern’s view, anything short of keeping the dime the way it is is unacceptable. “Let’s find a way to honor Ronald Reagan other than taking FDR’s face off the dime. I’d be upset if they were trying to remove Lincoln’s face from the penny. He was a Republican, but he’s a great hero of mine.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Plaud intends to use his collection to ensure FDR’s legacy.
Several years ago, he founded the FDR American Heritage Center, a nonprofit organization that will open a museum and educational center at Union Station in Worcester in the spring.
The collection will be used for displays and research on the New Deal era. The center also will develop a curriculum for use in the public schools.
“We want to keep people coming back, and we have so much material we will have the luxury of being able to do that,” Dr. Plaud said.