1982 commemorative coin results in many firsts: Making Moderns

George Washington 250th Birth Anniversary half dollar an often overlooked issue
By , Special to Coin World
Published : 03/24/16
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Making Moderns column from April 11, 2016, issue of Coin World:

The 1982 George Washington 250th Birth Anniversary half dollar is a coin of many “firsts.”

It revitalized the United States commemorative coin program, being the first produced since a hiatus began in 1954. It was issued in 90 percent silver, the first U.S. coin of that composition since the 1964 coins. It was the first coin designed by U.S. Mint Chief Engraver Elizabeth Jones, who created a handsome portrayal of George Washington on horseback for the obverse and his home, Mount Vernon, on the reverse.

The 250th anniversary of Washington’s birth was widely felt to be worthy of recognition.

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Surcharges from the sales would be used to pay down the national debt, a use finding broad support. 

The coin had special interest support. At the time, the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles were upcoming. Some felt that a commemorative coinage series could help offset costs, but only if the United States had a vital commemorative coinage program.

The 1982 George Washington half dollar would revive it. A subsequent bill would authorize the 1983 and 1984 Olympic issues.

Legislation authorized up to 10 million 1982 coins, divided among Proofs struck at the San Francisco Mint and Uncirculated versions struck at the Denver Mint. The scale of the program and the offering of two finishes were particularly novel features. Compared to early commemoratives, which often had mintage figures well below 100,000, this coinage was huge.

Interest was estimated based on the performance of the 1976 U.S. Bicentennial coinage silver sets, which sold 4.9 million in the Uncirculated version and 4 million in a Proof version.

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