Jackie Robinson and the creation of a modern rarity: The Uncirculated 1997-W Jackie Robinson gold $5 half eagle

In 1947 Robinson became the first African American to break the color barrier in baseball
Published : 04/22/14
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The 1997 Jackie Robinson commemorative coins came during a time of extreme commemorative coin fatigue following the 32-coin 1995–1996 Atlanta Olympic Games program, which drained collector wallets and dampened enthusiasm for commemorative issues more generally. 

The U.S. Mint anticipated that the Jackie Robinson issue would be a strong seller, as Robinson is a household name with broad appeal beyond numismatics. 

In 1947 Robinson became the first African American to break the color barrier and play in Major League Baseball in the modern era. He was the recipient of the first MLB Rookie of the Year Award in 1947 and won the National League Most Valuable Player in 1949. He later became the first black television analyst in Major League Baseball and served as the first black vice president of a major American corporation.

The legislation that authorized the coin provided for the production of up to 100,000 gold $5 coins and up to 200,000 silver dollars. While the silver dollars were a modest success, with 110,002 Proof and 30,180 Uncirculated pieces struck, the gold $5 coins fell far below expectations: 24,072 Proof gold $5 coins and just 5,174 Uncirculated examples were released. These low figures followed the passage of special legislation in 1998 that allowed for an extension period that opened up sales for coins that remained unsold in the Mint’s inventory. Ultimately the Jackie Robinson Foundation did not take advantage of the opportunity to buy additional coins. 

At the time, collectors and the Mint shared the concern that the Robinson sales extension would prompt other program beneficiaries to seek similar extensions if sales weren’t up to expectations. 

Then-Mint Director Philip N. Diehl said that he received letters from collectors threatening to return their Robinson coins if the extension was approved. The Citizens Commemorative Coinage Advisory Committee called the extension “a serious breach of trust by the Congress.”

Almost immediately after the final mintage was reported, the secondary market shot up. For comparison, the 1996-W Smithsonian Institution 150th anniversary gold $5 Uncirculated coin had a distribution of 9,068 pieces and the Uncirculated 1995-W Civil War Battlefield Preservation gold $5 coin saw 12,735 Uncirculated coins released. The Uncirculated Jackie Robinson gold $5 coin had an issue price of $205 and a year after its issuance the price doubled in the secondary market to $400. 

Today, the prices for the Jackie Robinson gold $5 coins have settled down considerably from their highs of several years ago. On Feb. 28, two coins, each graded Mint State 70 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp., each sold for $2,585 in Heritage auctions while an NGC MS-69 coin brought $1,468.75 in the same sale. These prices are roughly half of what comparably graded coins brought in 2010. 

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