Monday, April 6, 2009

Coin Monday: A 1995-P Olympic Gymnastics Commemorative Silver Dollar Reverse Die at CSNS

April 6, 2009
Posted by John

In most of Heritage’s U.S. Coin auctions, there are a handful of items that are not coins, but are coin-related. Packaging for commemoratives is a favorite, particularly the elegant copper-and-glass frames used to house cased sets of 1915-S Panama-Pacific commemoratives. Slightly more unusual is a die used to strike commemorative coins, specifically proof 1995-P Olympic silver dollar commemoratives with the Gymnastics design, in our April Central States auction to be held in Cincinnati.

This isn’t the first time that Heritage has offered coinage dies at auction, but few of them ever make it into the marketplace. For obvious reasons, the Mint doesn’t want stray dies on the loose, so each one is given a unique serial number and carefully logged and tracked as it goes through creation, use, and (for most) destruction.

For the Atlanta Olympic commemorative program, however, an exception was made, and selected coinage dies were saved from destruction, canceled with an ‘X’ pattern that stretches from rim to rim but leaves most of the design intact, and offered for sale. At the time, interest was low and few actually sold; collector fatigue may have been a factor, since someone who purchased each coin created for the Atlanta Olympics in both Uncirculated and Proof finishes would have bought 32 separate coins, eight of them gold! When faced with the option of buying a coinage die used to strike one of the 32, it is little wonder that most would-be purchasers declined.

When handling this die, I first noticed its heft; despite being only the size of a large shotglass, a cylinder made of solid steel is heavy indeed, and dropping it on one’s toes is not recommended! In contrast to the dulled, industrial appearance when the die is viewed from the side, its face is highly polished and seemingly delicate, with wide, mirrored fields and light metal-frost texture on the figures of the two gymnasts. The cancellation mark is multiple millimeters deep, just in case anyone was entertaining devious thoughts. (Counterfeiting is bad, okay?)

As delicate as the surface appears, the face of the die is just as tough as the body, since the minting process involved tens of tons of force, applied multiple times, to produce each of the proof Gymnastics silver dollars. One comment that many visitors to a Mint will make is that they are surprised how much the production floor resembles a factory; in fact, the Mint is a factory, and even though it may make coins instead of cast-iron pipes, the principles of production are the same. If you’re ever in Philadelphia or Denver, a Mint Tour is highly recommended, and if you’re ever in Dallas, so is a visit to Heritage!