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AGO 1964 No. 116 - August 25, 1964
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


TAXATION ‑- PROOF COIN SETS AND OLD COINS OF SPECIAL VALUE ‑- STOCK IN TRADE FOR SALE ‑- AD VALOREM PERSONAL PROPERTY TAXES.

1. Proof coin sets are subject to ad valorem personal property taxes based on their market value when they are held as stock in trade by coin dealers for regular sale at retail.

2. Coins of the United States mintage of denominations in regular circulation but having special value to coin collectors are subject to ad valorem taxation in the hands of coin dealers held as stock in trade for sale by the dealers.

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                                                                 August 25, 1964

Honorable Arthur R. Eggers
Prosecuting Attorney
Walla Walla County
407 Drumheller Building
Walla Walla, Washington

                                                                                                              Cite as: AGO 63-64 No. 116

Dear Sir:

            By a previously acknowledged letter you have requested the opinion of this office on two questions as follows:

            "1. Are Proof Coin Sets subject to ad valorem personal property taxes based on their market value when they are held as stock in trade by coin dealers for regular sale at retail?

            "2. Are other coins of United States mintage of denominations in regular circulation but having special value to coin collectors subject to ad valorem taxation in the hands of coin dealers held as stock in trade for sale by the dealer?"

            We answer both questions in the affirmative.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Money is tangible personal property.  RCW 84.04.080.  Pullman State Bank v. Manring, 18 Wash. 250, 51 Pac. 464 (1897); Blodgett v. Silberman, 277 U.S. 1, 18, 48 S.Ct. 410, 72 L.Ed. 749 (1928).  It is considered to be anything which is  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] coined or stamped by public authority, has its determinate value fixed by the government, with the principal functions of (1) a common measure of value, and (2) a medium of exchange.  58 C.J.S., Money, page 848; Webster's Third Int. Dictionary (1963); Black's Law Dictionary, 4th ed. (1951).

            Money may be composed of a precious metal and hence valuable of itself, gaining little or no additional value from its principal functions.  Pirie v. Chicago Title & Trust Co., 182 U.S. 438, 21 S.Ct. 906, 45 L.Ed. 1171 (1901), but it is those functions which distinguish money from other items of property or merchandise and gives to the term "money" its unique and universal meaning.

            Congress has, by statute, 31 U.S.C. § 425, authorized the states to tax currency and coins as money on hand or on deposit.  The state of Washington however exempts money from ad valorem taxation.  RCW 84.36.070 provides:

            "All moneys and credits including mortgages, notes, accounts, certificates of deposit, tax certificates, judgments, state, county and municipal bonds and warrants and bonds and warrants of other taxing districts, bonds of the United States and of foreign countries or political subdivisions thereof and the bonds, stocks or shares of private corporations shall be and hereby are exempted from ad valorem taxation."

            As used in the general taxing statutes:

            "'Money' or 'moneys' shall be held to mean gold and silver coin, gold and silver certificates, treasury notes, United States notes, and bank notes."  RCW 84.04.060.

            It is to be noted that in RCW 84.36.070 money, which is tangible property, is classed with other items which are all generally characterized as intangibles.  This classification was held to be reasonable in State ex rel. Atwood v. Wooster, 163 Wash. 659, 2 P. (2d) 653 (1931), because, as the legislature was aware, all of the property mentioned in the statute is of fugitive character, easily concealed and any attempt to tax it would result in nonenforcement and inequality.  See,  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] also, State ex rel. Wolfe v. Parmenter, 50 Wash. 164, 96 Pac. 1047 (1908).

            It is apparent that when including money as defined in RCW 84.04.060 within the exemption granted by RCW 84.36.070, the legislature had in mind money being used in the customary manner as a measure of value and a medium of exchange, rather than as a commodity having a value of its own.

            Furthermore, as is well known, statutes exempting property from taxation must be strictly construed, and the intention to exempt must be expressed in unambiguous language.Spokane County v. Spokane, 169 Wash. 355, 13 P. (2d) 1084 (1932);Norwegian Lutheran Church v. Wooster, 176 Wash. 581, 30 P. (2d) 381 (1934);Crown Zellerbach Corp. v. State, 45 Wn. (2d) 749, 278 P. (2d) 305 (1954).

            We conclude that money (coins and currency) as a measure of value and the lawful circulating medium of exchange is exempt from ad valorem taxation.  On the other hand, such coins and currency as articles of merchandise, having a value as collectors' items or for some other special purpose are subject to ad valorem taxation based upon their fair market value.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

HENRY W. WAGER
Assistant Attorney General

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