Description and Analysis

Modern Commemoratives
1991 S USO S$1 PF

Description & Analysis

Since 1941 the USO has provided places where Americans serving in the armed forces can rest and enjoy a bit of recreation in a regulated environment. The popular image is of Hollywood celebrities such as Bob Hope and the Andrews Sisters performing for “our boys,” but far more common are simpler entertainments such as a ping pong table or just a television set and a comfortable chair. The goal is to provide some break from the frequent monotony of military life in a safe setting that serves as an alternative to the more sinister diversions to which service men and women may be susceptible.

The 50th anniversary of the USO was the occasion for coining silver dollars that both honored the organization and provided funding for its activities. Congress passed a bill on October 2, 1990 that called for the coining of not more than one million silver dollars having the USO 50th Anniversary theme. This issue was to be dated 1991 and struck entirely within that year. Incorporated into the sales price of each coin was a $7 surcharge to be divided evenly between the USO and the U. S. Treasury.

The design competition for this coin was open to all of the Mint’s engravers, as well as five artists from the private sector invited by the Treasury on the basis of their previous work. The obverse came from a drawing submitted by artist Robert Lamb, though it had to be sculpted by William Cousins of the Mint’s engraving staff. The design was borrowed directly from existing imagery of the USO’s logo of a banner bearing those letters. Above this logo is the calligraphic inscription “50th Anniversary,” while the date of coining and statutory legends comprise the balance of this side. The initials of Lamb and Cousins appear beneath the banner where it meets the flagstaff.

The reverse of the USO Silver Dollar is the work of U. S. Mint Sculptor-Engraver John Mercanti. It shows the American eagle perched atop a globe, a banner inscribed “USO” grasped within its beak and eleven stars below in a semicircle. Flanking this central imagery is the inscription “FIFTY YEARS SERVICE TO SERVICE PEOPLE,” written in two lines. The arrangement of this text is such that it’s easily read out of sequence, a point brought up by the Commission of Fine Arts during the approval process, yet the Commission’s recommendations were overruled. Completing the reverse design are various statutory inscriptions, as well as the designer’s initials at left and the coin’s mintmark at right.

The combined obverse and reverse designs resulted in something that looked much more like a medal than a coin. Collectors evidently agreed, as sales for this issue were very disappointing. The Uncirculated pieces were struck at Denver (‘D’ mintmark) and were priced at $23 through July 26, 1991 and at $26 afterward. During the pre-issue period, San Francisco (‘S’) Mint proof coins were priced at $28, this figure then rising to $31. Despite a grand debut of the new silver dollar at a parade for American troops returning from Operation Desert Storm on June 8, little interest was shown in this uninspiring coin. The combined mintages of Uncirculated and Proof dollars were less than half of the authorized total, and the unsold coins went to the melting pot.