At times, the collector community and the U.S. Treasury (read that
U.S. Mint) are at odds with each other, akin to a family squabble. But
when faced with an outside “threat” they put aside their differences
and stand together. One such moment was July 14, 1981.
Outside observers had predicted S. 1230 and its companion bill,
H.B. 3958, which called for the U.S. Mint to strike 29 commemorative
coins to honor the 1984 Los Angles Olympic Games, would sail through Congress.
The legislation had the backing of the Olympic community and
powerful members of Congress. But perhaps more significantly, the
bills had been carefully shepherded by high-powered lobbyists funded
by captains of industry, such as Armand Hammer.
The lead witness at the Senate Banking hearing that day was
Treasurer Angela “Bay” Buchanan. She took issue with the fact that the
proposal, as written, would put the sales and marketing of the coins
in the hands of a private entity, beyond the scrutiny and oversight of
Those pressing for the private marketing scheme may have been
successful had not two prominent and respected members of the
numismatic community buttressed Buchanan’s testimony.
George D. Hatie, president of the 37,000-member American
Numismatic Association, was an astute collector and a skilled lawyer.
He used his legal training to highlight inconsistencies and pinpoint
problems. For example, he noted that the formula for establishing the
specified surcharge of 15 percent on either the face value or the cost
of manufacture of the coins, whichever was greater, excluded the cost
of gold or silver in calculating the surcharge.
Even more compelling was his practical observation that the cost
of acquiring a complete set to a collector “could well be in excess of $5,000.”
Considering that most collectors in 1981 were spending less than
$250 a year to keep their collections complete, Hatie raised for the
first time the specter that Olympic planners could be overly optimist
on their anticipated sales and profits.
Hatie said from his own perspective that 29 coins depicting a
single event would not appeal to him and he would lose interest in
collecting the entire series.
Publisher Chester L. Krause also testified, presenting research
his staff had conducted that directly contradicted Olympic officials
touting the massive Olympic issues of Canada in 1976 and the Soviet
Union in 1980 as programs to emulate. Krause asserted that only three
Olympic coin programs had been successful: those produced for the
Helsinki Games in 1952, Tokyo in 1964 and Mexico in 1968. Each had
produced fewer coins, but had sold out. The later Olympic programs,
such as Montreal and Moscow, had issued large numbers, but had sold
far fewer coins.
Beth Deisher was editor of Coin World for 27 of the 31
years she was on the publication’s staff. Email her at Beth@CashInYourCoins-Book.com.