Q. David Bowers
The Constitution Bicentennial
In 1787 the Constitution of the United States mandated the creation of a new United States Congress consisting of two representative bodies, the Senate and the House of Representatives. This two-house or bicameral system was intended to be a compromise between the conflicting interests of large and small states and was an important step in the development of democratic government. With the addition of the executive branch (the president), an effective check and balance system was implemented. The first United States Congress to meet under the Constitution convened early in 1789 in New York City, then the capital of the United States. In 1800 Congress moved from the then-capital, Philadelphia, to the unfinished Capitol building in Washington, D.C.
The 200th anniversary of Congress operating under the U.S. Constitution furnished the reason to produce three commemorative coins. The original enabling legislation (Public Law 100-673 approved by President Ronald Reagan on November 17, 1988) authorized mintage of up to four million clad (92% copper and 8% nickel) half dollars, three million silver dollars, and one million gold $5 pieces.
The bill further provided that:
The Secretary shall make any bulk sales minted under the Act at a reasonable discount to reflect the lower cost of such sales. 50% of the first $40,000,000 in surcharges that are received from the sale of coins minted under this Act shall be deposited to theCapitol Preservation Fund .... The balance of the surcharges received by the Secretary shall be deposited in the General Fund of the Treasury for the purpose of reducing the national debt.
Surcharges amounted to $1 for each half dollar, $7 for each silver dollar, and $35 for each $5 gold coin. The legislation was later revised to provide that all surcharges (instead of 50% as originally specified) should become part of the Capitol Preservation Fund.
The 1989 Congress Bicentennial silver dollar was made of .900 silver. Designs were by William Woodward. Models of Woodward's motifs were prepared by Chester Y. Martin of the Mint staff. Depicted on the obverse was a view from the pedestal level, looking upward, of Thomas Crawford's Statue of Freedom (original name Armed Liberty) on the U.S. Capitol dome, with clouds and rays in the background. The reverse of the design depicted the ceremonial mace of the House of Representatives, consisting ofan eagle perched on a globe mounted on the top of a fasces. The mace is displayed in the chamber of the House of Representatives in the Capitol when the House is in session.
Several purchase options were given, the following including silver dollars: (2) Proof 1989-S silver dollar. $25 preissue price (through July 17, 1989); $29 regular price. Sales amounted to 145,798 coins through this option.
(3) Two-coin set containing the 1989-S Proof half dollar and 1989-S Proof silver dollar. Pre-issue price $31.50, regular price $34. Sals amounted to 269,550 sets.
(5) Three-coin Proof set containing the 1989-S half dollar, 1989-S silver dollar, and 1989-W $5 gold. Pre-issue price $220) regular price $245. Sales amounted to 110,976 sets through this option.
(7) Uncirculated 1989-D silver dollar. Pre-issue price $23, regular price $26. Sales amounted to 37,242 coins through this option.
(8) Two-coin Uncirculated set containing the 1989-D half dollar and 1989-D silver dollar. Pre-issue price $27, regular price $29.50. Sales amounted to 57,054 sets this way.
(10) Three-coin Uncirculated set containing the 1989-D half dollar, 1989-D silver dollar, and 1989-W $5 gold. Pre-issue price $205, regular price $225. Sales amounted to 15,940 sets through this option.
(11) Six-coin Proof and Uncirculated set containing the 1989-D Uncirculated half dollar, 1989-S Proof half dollar, 1989-D Uncirculated silver dollar, 1989-S Proof silver dollar, and Uncirculated and Proof examples of the 1989-W $5 gold. Pre-issue price $435, regular price $480. Sales totaled 24,967 sets.
(12) Prestige Proof set containing the regular 1989 Proof coins plus the 1989-S Congress Bicentennial half dollar and 1989-S Congress Bicentennial silver dollar, Pre-issue price $49, regular issue price $52. Sales totaled 211,087 sets.
Uncirculated 1989-D Congress Bicentennial silver dollars were produced at the Denver Mint and Proof 1989-S silver dollars of the same type were struck at San Francisco. Final distribution figures amounted to 135,203 Uncirculated Denver Mint coins and 762,198 Proof San Francisco Mint coins. On June 14, 1989, in front of the Capitol in Washington, D.G, a few pieces Were struck at a provisional minting facility set up as part of a ceremony.
A Curious Error
A number of 1989-D Congress Bicentennial dollars were made with the reverse oriented in the same direction as the obverse, rather than 1800 apart. Harry J. Forman provided this information: "I have handled 18 of these coins, and I have sold most in the $1,500 to $2,000 range. I doubt if more than 50 pieces are known, and I am sure the mintage can't be over 200 pieces." By April 1, 1991, Numismatic News staffer Alan Herbert knew of 29 specimens.
Collectors and the Market
Since their release in 1989, Congress Bicentennial silver dollars have been popular with collectors of modern issues. The coins are readily available today in condition as issued.