Description and Analysis

Modern Commemoratives

Description & Analysis

The silver dollar struck in commemoration of the Special Olympics World Games was a controversial coin from the outset. The idea of portraying a living person on a United States coin was protested vigorously by both the Commission of Fine Arts and the Citizens Commemorative Coin Advisory Committee. That the person so honored was perhaps not the most worthy selection also drew its share of criticism.

The idea of having an Olympics-like competition for people with mental and/or physical disabilities arose in 1965 as the brainchild of Anne Burke of the Chicago Parks Department. In 1968 she received a grant from the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation that permitted the program to grow into a national event. As Kennedy’s daughter, Eunice Kennedy Shriver became involved at that time, and her celebrity enabled her to garner support for the games from wealthy and well known individuals and institutions. Whether the coin approved by Congress February 3, 1995 should portray Burke or Shriver was as controversial as the depiction of a living person at all.

The obverse design was submitted by James Wyeth of the famed Wyeth Family of artists. This was then sculpted at the Philadelphia Mint by T. James Ferrell. In addition to the left-facing bust of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, this side features around its upper periphery the inscription “SPECIAL OLYMPICS WORLD GAMES.” The date 1995 is at the bottom, with the coin’s mintmark above and to the right of it, and Ferrell’s initials appear beneath the bust. The usual statutory mottoes complete this side.

Thomas D. Rogers, Sr. of the U. S. Mint designed and modeled the reverse. It features a medal of the Special Olympics, its lanyard entwined around a rose. Above this is the inscription “AS WE HOPE FOR THE BEST IN THEM, HOPE IS REBORN IN US.” EUNICE KENNEDY SHRIVER, FOUNDER. Rogers’ initials appear to the left of the medal, while the balance of the reverse is comprised of statutory legends.

Offered in both uncirculated (West Point Mint) and proof (Philadelphia Mint) finishes, the Special Olympics Silver Dollar was a surprisingly good seller for a coin that received so much criticism from the numismatic community. This appears to have been a rare instance in which sales beyond the usual collector base accounted for much of the net total.