Friday, May 28, 2010

Coin (Friday and) Monday: World Cup Commemoration

May 28,2010

Written by John Dale

(With Memorial Day on Monday, next week's Coin Monday is appearing here early. -- The Heritage Blog)

It’s just about World Cup time, when the greatest footballers from around the globe put on the national uniforms to seek out glory. Like just about every other World Cup tournament, this go-round has had its controversies. The host country! The Thierry Henry handball incident! The anthem! (Though you’d never hear me complaining about the opportunity to see...I mean, listen to Shakira.)

All of these seem pretty trivial, though, compared to the controversy when the United States was chosen to host the World Cup in 1994. At the end of the 1980s, when the selection was made, there was no prominent professional “football” league (as the rest of the world understood it) in the United States, and the country hadn’t qualified for the World Cup since 1950.

The U.S. national team qualified for the 1990 World Cup, however, starting a streak of World Cup appearances that will continue in South Africa. Major League Soccer, which had its roots in the 1994 World Cup bid, is going strong and expanding. And the 1994 World Cup left a numismatic legacy for U.S. collectors as well: a trio of commemoratives.

The middle coin of the set is a silver dollar, a proof example of which appears in the June Long Beach U.S. Coin Auction. On the obverse, two players are pursuing a ball; no word on whether the player wearing number 7 is going to flop and get the player wearing number 10 stuck with a spurious red card. The reverse is a shared reverse among all three coins, with the official logo of the 1994 World Cup squarely in the middle.

The silver dollar proved extremely popular, with more than half a million proofs sold. The less expensive clad half dollar did even better, with a slightly greater number of proofs and more than twice as many uncirculated-finish coins in the final tally. Even the gold half eagle, notable for showing the World Cup trophy almost alone on its obverse, sold better in proof format than any commemorative half eagle issue had in the previous four years.

While the Dallas experience has evolved from World Cup action in the Cotton Bowl to Major League Soccer in Pizza Hut Park, the 1994 World Cup commemorative coins offer reminders of how “the beautiful game” was reborn in the United States. If the World Cup ever returns to the United States (2018? 2022?), perhaps commemorative coins will come again; if so, I hope the designs are worthy of celebration.

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