Q. David Bowers
Cornelius Vermuele's Review
Cornelius Vermeule reviewed the design. (Unpublished article, "The George Washington Half Dollar," a copy of which was furnished to the author, April 2, 1991.) "Something more than a red, white and blue postage stamp was needed to commemorate the span from 1732 to 1982. The half dollar designed by Chief Engraver Elizabeth Jones is a coin which, hopefully, will spark the long-needed revival of commemorative coins in the half dollar denomination.
"The obverse follows the icon graphic idiom of a half-figure view of the first president on horseback, a composition recalling the drummer boy on the 1776- 1976 bicentennial quarter .... The reverse sublimates the required eagle and Latin motto to an uphill panorama of Mount Vernon, appearing here from the right front side in contrast to the left front view used for the experimental, clad 'Virginia' half dollar of the mid 1960s, the one with Martha Washington on the obverse.
"Given the epigraphic requirements of our coinage (all the mottos are there), the chief engraver has combined a novel, painterly obverse with a grand architectural reverse to create a worthy inauguration to a new decade of American coins."
Production and Distribution
It was determined to produce the Washington half dollars at two mints: Proofs at San Francisco and Uncirculated (with frosty surfaces) coins at Denver. As always dies for the coinage were produced at the Philadelphia Mint. (During fiscal year 1983 (ending September 30, 1983) the Philadelphia Mint made 3,084 dies for Washington commemorative coins.) At the time the San Francisco Mint was officially known as the San Francisco Assay Office (in 1988 the "Mint" nomenclature, used from 1854 to 1955 but discontinued after that date, was restored).
This was an era of big business, and as time went on the purchase arrangements for commemorative coins-including retail and discount schedules-became increasingly complex. The 1982 Washington half dollars were offered at different prices over a period of time with the initial advertising campaign breaking in magazines in July 1982. Orders for 1982 Washington commemorative half dollars were accepted beginning on July 7, 1982. Issue prices were set at $8.50 for the Uncirculated 1982-D coins and $10.50 for the Proof 1982-S coins. Later the Treasury raised the official issue prices to $10 and $12 each in order to protect earlier purchasers and to stimulate demand. Orders could be placed directly with the Bureau of the Mint, or coins could be purchased through local banks and other agencies, who acquired them in bulk (defined as 100 or more coins) at a discount.
Quantity production of Uncirculated strikes (the term business strikes is not necessarily appropriate, for the coins were not intended for circulation) began in Denver in October 1982, although the first modern commemorative first-strike ceremony had taken place there on July 1, 1982, when Donna Pope pushed a button to stamp the first coin, one of just five 1982-D Washington half dollars struck by five of the nearly 75 guests. The affair was held in a cramped room in the lower-level production area of the Denver Mint. 3 Later in the same day a first-strike ceremony for Proofs took place in San Francisco. By year's end 695,698 pieces had been made at the Denver facility. In 1983 and 1984 some 1,514,804 pieces were restruck at Denver from 1982 dies.
At the San Francisco Mint 3,307,645 Proofs were struck and released through the end of the year 1982. In 1983 an additional 1,586,399 were released including examples restruck from 1982 dies. Additional 1982-S pieces were struck on demand through 1983 until an official end was made to production at both mints by the end of December 1983.
Unsold pieces remained in inventory through December 31, 1985, when the official sales program was terminated. Subsequently, unsold pieces were melted. The final quantities of Washington commemorative half dollars issued were 2,210,458 1982-D Uncirculated pieces and 4,894,044 1982-S Proofs, amounting to 71% of the mintage authorized by Congress. The sale of over seven million coins was a resounding success-a tribute to the new program, the attractiveness of the design, and the Mint administration of Mrs. Donna Pope-and netted over $ 36 million profit, a sum deposited to the Treasury's General Fund to reduce the national debt.
In an interview with the author. (February 11, 1991.) Mint Director Donna Pope told of the success of the Washington coins: "Sales of 1776-1976 regular-issue Bicentennial coins went on and on, seemingly forever. With the 1982 Washington commemorative coin Congress had learned its lesson, and they took my advice that there be a stop date put on the program. I loved the 1982 Washington program. It was very simple with no television or other fancy marketing. It was the first instance in a long time that the Treasury Department, at my request, authorized money for advertising, a simple $500,000. We raised $36 million, which included the profit made on silver. Everyone agreed that the 1982 Washington half dollar was a fine coin and the program selling it was excellent."
Collecting 1982 Washington Half Dollars
Today Uncirculated 1982-D and Proof 1982-S Washington half dollars are plentiful on the market and are readily available in condition as issued. They are popular and highly regarded as part of the modern commemorative series.