Description and Analysis

Modern Commemoratives
1988 D OLYMPICS S$1 MS

Description & Analysis

The summer games of the 24th Olympiad were held in Seoul, South Korea in 1988. Though the USA did not host any of the events, the issuance of commemorative coins was justified as a means of raising money for training our athletes. This argument did not convince everyone, and there was some considerable protest among hobby figures that this program was inappropriate and exploitative of collectors. Nevertheless, a bill was passed October 28, 1987 that authorized the coining of not more than ten million silver dollars and not more than one million gold half eagles. In addition to whatever price the U. S. Mint determined for these coins, surcharges of $7 and $35, respectively, were to be applied to each silver dollar and half eagle sold. This money would be forwarded to the United States Olympic Committee.

As was true of several of the modern commemorative programs, both coins turned out to be collaborative efforts. The silver dollar was designed by Patricia Lewis Verani (obverse) and Sherl J. Winter (reverse). Verani’s obverse features two torches held in upraised hands. The torch of Lady Liberty is seen lighting the Olympic torch, and both are framed by olive branches symbolizing peace. The date and the coin’s mintmark appear in the right field, while the initials ‘PV’ are seen below the arm at left. The reverse design by U. S. Mint Engraver Sherl J. Winter depicts the USA Olympic logo at center, flanked again by olive branches, though these are more natural in appearance than the stylized branches employed by Verani. Winter’s initials ‘SJW’ are placed below the stem of the right olive branch. The balance of both sides is comprised of statutory inscriptions.

An uninspiring work, the 1988 Olympic silver dollar looks more like an award medal than a United States coin. The uncirculated version was struck at the Denver Mint (letter ‘D’ below the date), while proofs were produced in San Francisco (‘S’). The list prices of these coins were $22 and $23, respectively, during the pre-order period, but these were later raised to $27 and $29 after May 15, 1988. Such figures applied to coins purchased singly or in small quantities. To encourage large sales, however, the Mint offered quantity discounts on purchases or 10,000 or more coins. A number of large wholesale and retail coin dealers took advantage of these options. A similar sliding scale was offered for the Olympic Half Eagle. In fact, the number and complexity of pricing and packaging options for this program were bewildering to many.

From an artistic standpoint the gold half eagle was far superior to the silver dollar. Indeed, it was among the very few highlights in an otherwise somewhat mediocre series of modern commemoratives. For the obverse U. S. Mint Chief Engraver Elizabeth Jones created a facing bust of Nike, the goddess of victory, adorned in a laurel wreath. The simplicity of this imagery, with just the date at left and LIBERTY superimposed across Nike’s neck, proves once and for all that United States coins are usually ruined through the placement of too much statutory text (the motto IN GOD WE TRUST is tastefully concealed on the ribbon that secures Nike’s laurel wreath). Marcel Jovine’s reverse is more routine, with a stylized Olympic flame beneath the USA Olympic logo, yet it is handled with such care that it transcends the typical treatment of these stock elements. The initials of Elizabeth Jones appear on the truncation of Nike’s bust, while those of Marcel Jovine are placed on the rightmost flame of the torch.

Both the proof and uncirculated editions of the Olympic Half Eagle were coined at the West Point Mint (‘W’). Like the dollar coins, they sold quite well, despite the convoluted sales program with its too many options. The half eagles were priced at $200 for uncirculated coins (becoming $225 after May 15, 1988) and $205 for proof pieces ($235 for coins ordered after May 15). The silver dollar was included in 1988’s Prestige Proof Set, in addition to the regular complement of cent through half dollar. These sets were priced at $45, the same as in the previous year, but sales were just over half of what they had been in 1987.