Two headlines dominated page 1 of the May 20, 1981, issue of Coin World.
The first, a double-decker banner, announced the unanimous
subcommittee passage of a proposal to honor George Washington on the
250th anniversary of his birth in 1982.
The second headline, “Olympic committees offer commem plan” was a shocker.
Even before the Washington commemorative legislation could be
voted on by the full House of Representatives, legislators from
California joined by other influential leaders in Congress, at the
behest of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, were
introducing bills in both the Senate and the House seeking a massive
29-coin commemorative program.
Fundraising was of prime concern for the Los Angeles Olympic
Organizing Committee. Unlike many other Olympic host nations, there
would be no U.S. government (taxpayer) funding. Money to pay for
refurbishing some sports venues and building new ones had to come from
the private sector.
Los Angeles had hosted the 1932 Summer Games, but the 1984
production would be larger and grander than anything ever planned in
the United States. Plus, U.S. prestige was on the line. The United
States had boycotted the Moscow Olympics in the summer of 1980. It was
important to not only have showplace venues, but to train athletes to
“bring home the gold.”
Los Angeles Olympic planners did what many fundraisers do. They
devised a budget and then set about raising the money to fund the budget.
Recent Olympic coin programs of other nations pointed to large
commemorative coin issues. Canada had issued 28 silver coins and two
gold coins honoring the 1976 Montreal Games.
The Soviet Union had issued 28 silver coins and six gold coins to
honor the 1980 Moscow Games.
From the perspective of Los Angeles Olympic planners, domestically
it would be a patriotic sell. Everyone in the United States would buy
Olympic coins to support staging the Los Angeles Games and to ensure
U.S. athletes would have the best of Olympic training facilities. But
planners had their eyes on the world market, also.
Since the U.S. Mint, at the time, had little marketing experience,
the legislation called for the coins to be delivered to the Los
Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee for distribution and sale
worldwide through a marketing entity that LAOOC would select.
The legislation appeared to be on a fast track, with a July 14
Senate hearing already scheduled.
Next month: Standing tall.
beth deisher was editor of Coin World for 27 of the 31 years she
was on the publication’s staff. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.