A successful commemorative program takes a multiprong approach and Congress is instrumental in defining each of these.
➤ Interesting topic: The topic should have broad appeal to collectors and noncollectors alike.
➤ Great design: The coins should have an interesting designs or be innovative in some way.
➤ Sales support: Recipients of commemorative surcharges should be prepared to take an active role in the promotion of the coins.
If one prong is strong, the weaknesses in the others can be overcome. Congress, when it passes the legislation authorizing a commemorative coin program, provides maximum mintages, compositions and denominations, identifies surcharge recipient organizations, and can have a heavy hand in the design the coins.
For example, the 2009 Abraham Lincoln Birth Bicentennial silver dollar sold out of its maximum mintage of 500,000 coins. The obverse portrait was solid and the reverse had a long passage from the Gettysburg Address. In this case, the broad appeal of Abraham Lincoln, rather than technical or design innovations, carried the dollar to success.
Take the 2001 American Buffalo silver dollar, which also sold out of its maximum mintage of 500,000 coins. The coin was made available for purchase from the U.S. Mint June 7, 2001, and sold out on June 21. A surcharge of $10 per coin helped raise around $5 million for the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.
Here, the main draw of the coin was the design, mandated by legislation, which was based on James Earle Fraser’s Indian Head (Buffalo) 5-cent coin.
Compare the 2010 Boy Scouts of America commemorative coin program, which sold out of its mintage of 350,000 silver dollars and delivered around $3.5 million to the organization, with the 2013 Girl Scouts of the USA Centennial program, which saw a mintage of less than 40 percent of the 350,000 authorized coins and no surcharges delivered to the recipient organization.
The Boy Scouts coin’s success and the Girl Scout coin’s failure are directly related to the actions (or inactions) of the recipient organizations to help sell the coins.