Legislators debate, stall and compromise in commemorative program development

Making Moderns: Result is three-piece Olympic $1 set
By , Special to Coin World
Published : 10/28/16
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Making Moderns column from Nov. 14, 2016, issue of Coin World:

Today it may seem a curious thing that the 1983 Olympics dollar was offered in a three-coin “P-D-S set.” The set consists of a coin struck at three Mints: Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco. Of all the modern commemoratives, only the 1983 and 1984 Olympics coins were offered in this way. Why?

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The answer is a little compli­cated. Legislation that authorized commemorative coins for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics was exactly as numismatist Q. David Bowers described it: “a political football.” 

At one side were those in favor of a massive 50-plus coin program that sought to offset the expenditures of the host city and U.S. Olympic Committee through the sale of coins. In this scenario, private companies were to market and sell the coins. Part of the proceeds would go to the host city and USOC. Private companies, supporters argued, would sell the most coins and raise the most money.

At the opposite end were many (but not all) prominent numismatists and Treasury officials who favored more modest programs of two or three coins sold by the U.S. Mint. The sales price would include a surcharge for the host city and USOC. Debate lasted a year. The Olympic Games neared. A bill for a three-coin program passed the house.

Wanting to raise money and move forward, the sponsors of the larger coinage bill in the Senate relented. The Mint would be the sales agent of the new commem­orative issue. 

Now, the Mint had to prove itself by inducing collectors to buy more coins. They did so with the three-piece set that contained Denver and San Francisco Mint coins available only in the set. The set was offered initially for $89, increasing to $100 by the end of 1983. This figure included $30 surcharges for the Olympic committees. 

The coins didn’t fair well in the aftermarket and even today can generally be bought for less than their issue price. 

They are, however, very scarce in the highest Mint State 70 grade, where they trade for more than $1,000 each graded by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. or Professional Coin Grading Service.

In total, the Mint collected more than $70 million for the Los Angeles and U.S. Olympic committees, less than what was hoped for, but a figure routinely touted as plans were drawn for future Olympic coinage issues, including the ill-fated 1996 Atlanta Centennial Olympic Games coins. 

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