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.
The 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.
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.