The Coin Analyst: Baseball Commemorative Coins Expected to Draw Widespread Interest

by Louis Golino for CoinWeek ………

The U.S. commemorative coin program has been in the doldrums to some extent for the past couple of years. That can be seen in declining sales and mintage numbers, especially of the $5 gold coins, which have seen lower lows for each of the past three years.

Moreover, the designs of recent issues have often been criticized for being uninspired with the exception of last year’s Star Spangled Banner coins. And the selection of themes has skewed heavily towards military subjects. I certainly agree with those who want to honor our military, but there are so many other important aspects to the American story that also deserve to be commemorated. For example, there is widespread interest among collectors for coins honoring NASA and the space program.

Yogi_photoThe 2014 National Baseball Hall of Fame commemorative coin program, which was authorized into law last year with Public Law 112-152, will honor the 75th anniversary of the Cooperstown, New York Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum that opened in 1939.

The popularity of baseball, which has been called America’s pastime, and certain unique aspects of the program should help breathe some new life in the modern commemorative coin program. According to Dr. George Early of George Washington University in Washington, DC, 2,000 years from now America will be most well-known for the Constitution, jazz, and baseball.

The baseball coin program calls for the minting of up to 400,000 silver dollars, 750,000 clad half dollars and 50,000 $5 gold coins. That represents a smaller maximum authorized mintage for the silver dollar and $5 gold coin than in most past programs, which is a good idea since actual sales never come close to the usual half million silver dollars and 100,000 gold coins authorized.

There are several interesting and unique aspects to this series. The first is that the silver dollars and gold coins will be minted with a curved shape so they look like a baseball, or rather half a baseball. This will be the first curve-shaped American coin. The obverses will be concave, and the reverses will be convex. It would not have been practical to mint a coin in the exact shape of a ball, though France came close to that with its unusual curved coin to mark the end of French Franc.

In addition, it was reported in he April 15 issue of Coin World that the Mint consulted with an expert at the Perth Mint in Western Australia on the special shape of the coin, specifically on coin fill, die polishing, and other technical issues. That individual was involved in creating the popular 2012 Royal Australian Mint astronomy coin that marks the Southern Hemisphere Crux or Southern Cross, which is one of the best world coins minted last year and a likely nominee for the Krause awards. The special shape of the coin was also inspired by the 2009 French astronomy gold coin, which is mentioned in the text of the legislation that authorized the coins.

convex_coin

In addition, there will be an open competition for the design of the common obverse that will be used on all three coins that should be “emblematic of the game of baseball.” It is open to anyone 14 or older who is a citizen or permanent resident, and the competition runs from April 11 to May 11. Designs should be submitted at www.challenge.gov. Treasury Dept. employees and their immediate families are not eligible to enter. The winner will receive $5,000 and their initials will appear on the coin. There is a separate design challenge for children 13 and younger.

The designs cannot include references to any real baseball player or other person, or any existing team or stadium. For additional information, see this section of the Mint’s web site.

The Citizens Advisory Coinage Commission  recently reviewed the design candidates for the reverse of the coin, which like the obverse will be shared on all three coins. The reverse will depict a baseball similar to those used in Major League Baseball. The commission had a lively discussion of the various designs that Mint employees submitted, and after some issues were raised by the Chairman and others about those designs, a new design was sketched by a Mint staff member present at the meeting that quickly received approval.

The only inscriptions on the coin’s reverse are “United States of America,” “E pluribus unum,” and the denomination. The obverse inscriptions will be “Liberty,” “In God We Trust,” and “2014,” although CCAC members said they were open to other possible inscriptions for the obverse.

The reverse of the coin will prominently feature the laces of a baseball. The CCAC and its counterpart, the Commission on Fine Arts parted company on the inscriptions for the middle, or so-called sweet spot of the reverse design, the part that a player signs. The CCAC wanted that part to have the inscription “United States of America, whereas the CFA suggested instead that it include “E Pluribus Unum” right under “United States of America” on that part of the design.

During its deliberations, two members of the CCAC proposed that either the half dollar have an unlimited mintage and be a circulating commemorative, and that it be given out in change at ball games, or that a fourth coin be minted that would be a circulating half dollar.

I am not sure why both sides of the coins had to have the same design across all three denominations apart from the fact that no real player or team could be depicted. Some CCAC members suggested that an American symbol like an eagle be included.

Nevertheless, I think the coins should elicit considerable enthusiasm within and outside the coin collecting community, especially if the Mint markets the coins to non-collectors and baseball fans in particular. I have heard several coin collectors note that they are excited about the coins.

It is also good to see the Mint consulting with foreign mint officials, who have more experience with innovative coin designs. as minting this coin is likely to be a challenge. And the public competition, which was also specified in the legislation, and which is the first such competition held in 20 years, should also help increase interest in these coins.

Louis Golino is a coin collector and numismatic writer, whose articles on coins have appeared in Coin World, Numismatic News, and a number of different coin web sites. His column for CoinWeek, “The Coin Analyst,” covers U.S. and world coins and precious metals. He collects U.S. and European coins and is a member of the ANA, PCGS, NGC, and CAC. He has also worked for the U.S. Library of Congress and has been a syndicated columnist and news analyst on international affairs for a wide variety of newspapers and web sites.

About the Author:

Louis Golino is a numismatic journalist and writer specializing in modern coin issues. He has been writing a weekly column for Coin Week since May 2011 called "The Coin Analyst," which focuses primarily on modern U.S. and world coins and developments at major world mints, and is also a contributor to two magazines, American Hard Assets and the Numismatist, the American Numismatic Association's monthly publication. His work has also appeared in Coin World, Numismatic News, and various coin web sites. He collects classic and modern U.S. coins and modern world coins from a number of different countries. He first joined the ANA in the 1970's. He has also worked for the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress and has been a syndicated columnist and news analyst on international affairs for a wide variety of publications. He has been writing professionally since the early 1980's.

13 Comments on "The Coin Analyst: Baseball Commemorative Coins Expected to Draw Widespread Interest"

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  1. Hi Louis,

    Good write-up on these coins. I have high hopes that these will outperform some of the more bland issues we’ve seen. In recent years I feel like only the gold Medal of Honor coins and the Star Spangled Banner coins have really stood out. Given the experiment with the shape they’re doing, this will be something that is really new.

    I also thought it was interesting that they conferred with the Perth Mint on this. That gives me a lot of hope we’ll see some really quality pieces this time around. I do agree with your comment that both sides should not all depict the same image. While I do think all the reverses should depict baseballs, I really think they ought to do a different image for each obverse if only to give people more options should they not like a particular obverse.

    I think, though, for the coin to be a success the US Mint is going to need to find some way advertise it. I’ve argued before the biggest mistake the Mint made with the AtBs was a failure to push the program. I am hoping they have learned their lesson and we will see a big advertising push for the new commemoratives outside the numismatic community. Perhaps they could find some way to work together with MLB to promote the coin!

  2. Louis says:

    Thanks, CO. I agree very much with what you said. They will also work with the Hall of Fame to sell the coins.

  3. Dave in CT. says:

    Hi Lou,
    Adding to what CAP has stated, our mint should be working with all the commercial outlets that sell MLB merchandise. Such as all of the baseball stadiums, including the minor leagues, the stores that sell jerseys, hats, etc., along with the online stores, have an area within these places. At the stadiums, have these displayed for sale with the rest of the other souvenirs, and at sports stores, have them show behind the cashier, or under the glass display case, where the more expensive items be.
    Young folks will see these, and they will start to ask questions, along with other folks of other ages. Then maybe they’ll buy this coin/’s, and then they get excited, and this gets them into this hobby. This is such a tremendous chance to gain thousands of new collectors, and if the US mint plays this correctly, and advertises this, as the CAP has suggested, this could be a gold mine to everyone. I have said many times, this hobby is dying, the smart people know it is dying, not dead mind you, but slowly dying. This is the chance to fix it somewhat. Then you introduce coins of the other sports of the big 4. But over the few years, not all at once. All those potential new collectors coming into this coin hobby, and then you might have other coins commanding new premiums. You know, supply and demand ! Just the US mint, and the other folks, must act on this, and do it right. Advertise your product, because word of mouth isn’t going to help, as it has proven time over and over folks !!

    Dave in Ct…

    • Louis says:

      Thanks for your comments, Dave. I would also like to see that happen, though I believe there may currently be some restrictions on who can sell the commemoratives. I like the circulating half dollar idea, as those would probably be very popular.

    • Dave,

      Your suggestions are pretty much what I have in mind. TV commercials during select baseball games would help, too. Of course, this advertising is not cheap and I imagine some of it would depend on how much the Mint could get MLB and the HoF to help them promote the coin. I think the Mint would be foolish to just rely on the numismatic community to spread it by word of mouth.

      In terms of what is happening to the hobby, I think it is changing more than dying. I tend to divide coin buyers into roughly three spheres: investors (people buying bullion and rare coins either as a hedge against economic disaster or to flip on eBay), collectors of modern issues that like to buy modern US Mint and world coin releases, and collectors who buy historic US coins.

      I definitely think the first two, especially the investor types, are currently in ascendancy. In spite of some struggles at the US Mint, the RCM is selling more coins than ever and you’ve probably followed the US Mint stats showing new record highs in silver sales in the last three months.

      • Louis says:

        Great points, Capt. There is a virtual frenzy these days of bullion buying, as discussed in an article in the Christian Science Monitor this week, and some of those buyers will get interested in numismatic coins too.

      • Dave in CT. says:

        CAP;, yes and thanks. What I was thinking in my statement about we are losing collectors, is the latter 2 groups you mentioned, but I do get you point. The folks that buy bullion, to me, ok, to me, does not qualify them as collectors, just investors, (hey CAP, that rhymes). Just a little windy city, and South Side humor..
        When you going to start writing again CAP ? Louis is on a roll.

        thanks…………..dave in ct…..

  4. Louis says:

    Just to be clear- the Australian astronomy coin depicted above, in which the obverse is convex, and the reverse is concave will basically be flipped upside down in the baseball coin, which will have a concave obverse and convex reverse.

  5. Personally, I’m not a fan of this coin or many of the coins that are being struck now. MLB is a multi-billion dollar industry that has made its own “coins” over the years. This is really a chance for baseball to allow collectors and taxpayers (the Mint is not supposed to lose money coining these, but that is usually done through creative bookkeeping) to foot the bill for their sport’s hall of fame and museum.

    the Jackie Robinson coin did not sell particularly well and you’d think Congress would have learned by now…

  6. Louis says:

    The Robinson coins were issued not long after the slew of Olympic commemorative coins that burned a lot of people out on modern U.S. commemoratives, plus from what I have heard it was not well marketed to the baseball community.

    And anyway, let’s be more clear here, the silver dollar sold pretty well (134,072, which is in line with mintages of other silver dollars from that period), it’s the gold coin that is today so desirable because so few were sold.

    I am not sure what you are suggesting Dave in CT. JR was a major figure not just in baseball history but in American history because he broke the color barrier in his sport at a time when there were no other African-American players, and that was no easy task from what I have heard. His story is the subject of a major motion picture that opens very soon. I am proud to own both coins.

  7. Louis says:

    Charles,
    No taxpayer money is ever used to mint commemoratives. They must first pay for themselves before any proceeds are sent to the groups or institutions being honored. In fact, all numismatic coins issued by the Mint are minted at no net cost to the taxpayer. That is stated very clearly on the Mint’s web site.
    As far as collectors footing the bill for the hall of fame, just don’t buy the coins if that bothers you. No one is forcing any collectors to buy anything. But I don’t mind if a few dollars of my purchase price goes to what I think is a good cause, and I am not even a baseball fan (hard as that is to believe since I am a red-blooded American male). For the silver dollars it’s $10 out of $50-55, which is fine with me.

  8. Louis,

    “Costs” to the taxpayer are a matter of debate, as I’ve talked to two mint directors on the topic- and they both mentioned to me that the way costs are accounted for may not actually cover all of the actual cost to the government.

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