Within the first half of the modern commemorative coin era, the United States Mint issued Olympic coins with regularity. These coins would highlight the Olympic Games held within an American city or simply the participation of American athletes within the Games. This culminated with the massive program for the 1996 Summer Olympics held in Atlanta, which included 16 different coins in proof and uncirculated versions. After this point, the next coin program would not occur until 2002 for the Winter Olympics held in Salt Lake City, with no other programs in the past decade.
After the massive program in 1995-1996, legislation was passed which limited the number of commemorative coin programs to only two per year. This change in law, combined with negative collector sentiment surrounding the 32-coin program, seem to be the reasons for the lack of subsequent US Mint Olympic coins. While there have been no new issues, there are still plenty to draw on from the past, so I wanted to devote a post to highlighting some of the US Mint’s past Olympic Commemorative Coins which carry some unique aspect.
The 1983 Olympic Silver Dollar depicted a traditional Greek discus thrower, designed by Elizabeth Jones and inspired by the work of Myron. The double outline around the figure is intended to create the impression of motion. The reverse includes the head and upper body of an eagle. A massive maximum authorized mintage of 50 million coins was established across the 1983 and 1984 silver dollars. These coins are widely available and affordable, but hold a place of importance as the first US Mint Olympic coin and the first commemorative silver dollar issued since 1900.
I have previously mentioned the 1988 Olympic $5 Gold Coin issued for the Seoul Olympiad as one of my favorite modern commemorative coin designs. The obverse is designed by Elizabeth Jones and features Nike, the goddess of Victory, wearing a crown of olive leaves. The reverse design features a stylized Olympic flame by Marcel Jovine, which is a bit of a contrast with the classical design of the obverse. A mintage of 281,465 proofs and 62,913 uncirculated coins keeps this issue readily available for collectors.
The 1992 Olympic Silver Dollar was issued to mark the XXV Olympic Games held in Barcelona, Spain and Albertville and Savoie, France. This issue is interesting in that the baseball pitcher depicted on the obverse bears a very close resemblance to Nolan Ryan. Side by side with the 1991 Fleer baseball card shown above, the similarities are almost undeniable. Nonetheless, the designer of the coin John R. Deeken denied that there was any connection.
Another interesting aspect of this issue is that it features edge lettering of “XXV Olympiad” which repeats four times over the reeded edge. I believe that this was the first and only time that edge lettering has been used for a US Mint commemorative coin.
Out of the 32 coins issued for the 1996 Summer Olympics held in Atlanta, the uncirculated 1996 Paralympics Silver Dollar had the lowest mintage at just 14,497 pieces. This also represents the lowest mintage silver dollar across all modern commemoratives, and it seems likely that this will continue to remain the case. The obverse of the coin depicts an athlete in a wheelchair competing in a track and field event. The reverse design was used for all silver dollars within the program and includes the Atlanta Committee for the Olympics Games logo.
The 2002 Olympic $5 Gold Coin was the most recent Olympic coin issued by the US Mint, along with a silver dollar included in the program. These coins were issued for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games held in Salt Lake City, Utah. The design by Donna Weaver is more abstract than typically seen on US coins. The obverse features the emblem of the games, which consists of an ice crystal and the sun rising over a mountain, formed by overlapping geometric shapes. The reverse features the Olympic flame rendered in similar fashion with a jagged series of conjoined shapes at the bottom.