US Coins

One 1982 coin results in many firsts: Making Moderns

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.

The half dollars were struck in 1982 and 1983 and offered for sale through 1985. Initially they were priced at $8.50 for the Uncirculated coin and $10.50 for the Proof coin; prices were later raised to $10 and $12, respectively.

Sales finished at 2,210,458 for the Uncirculated coin and 4,894,044 for the Proof version. In the mid-1980s values hovered above the offer price, but by the 1990s they fell below issue prices.

Today, it’s easy to find 1982 Washington half dollars in their original packaging for little more than the issue price. Because the Uncirculated version didn’t receive the special handling of current commemorative issues, it is scarce in the very highest Uncirculated grades and the finest examples command big premiums.

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