Q. David Bowers
The 1992 Olympic Games
The Summer Olympic Games held in Barcelona, Spain were commemorated by the issuance of souvenir half dollars, silver dollars, and five-dollar gold pieces. The issue of Olympic commemoratives had by 1992 become something of a tradition in the United States. Profits accruing from the sale of the coins were to be earmarked for the United States Olympic Committee. Surcharges on the different coins were as follows: $1 for each Olympic half dollar, $7 for each Olympic silver dollar, and $35 for each Olympic $5 gold piece. As of August 1992, the Mint projected that $12.8 million in surcharge revenues would be raised.
The "Nolan Ryan" Design Controversy
In 1991, the Treasury Department sponsored a nationwide design competition for the 1992 Olympic coins and consequently received some 1,107 entries from interested artists. Treasury Secretary Nicholas F. Brady, together with a group of Olympic athletes, selected the winning designs on October 1, 1991. The design for the obverse of the Olympic silver dollar, featuring a baseball pitcher "firing the ball to home plate," was prepared by the freelance illustrator John R. Deecken of Fairfield, Connecticut.
An unsigned "Nolan Ryan on Olympic dollar?" published in the March 31, 1992 issue of Numismatic News, called attention to "a striking similarity between the baseball pitcher represented on the 1992 Olympic commemorative U.S. silver dollar and a 1991 Fleerbaseball card showing pitcher Nolan Ryan in action .... " The article continues: "When the designs were unveiled Oct. 1, 1991, at the Treasury, reporters asked Deecken who the baseball player was. He responded that it was a composite and not representative of any single person .... "
Comparison of Fleer's Nolan Ryan card with the Olympic dollar design reveals that the two are nearly identical. The only differences that can be readily seen are details of the face, and the lettering on the uniform and cap.
According to Numismatic News, some baseball fans have exclaimed on seeing the coin, "Oh, that's Nolan Ryan," the 45-year-old Texas Rangers star. Ryan entered the 1992 season with 314 career wins, and his 5,511 career strikeouts places him more than 1,300 whiffs ahead of second place Steve Carlton. The veteran right hander is one of only two players to have won 10 or more games in 20 different seasons. At the Mint, comment was limited to a statement that, as previously reported, the designer did not model the player after one person but that the image is a composite from several sources.
"It sure does look like Nolan Ryan," said Ted Taylor, director of hobby relations for the Fleer Corp. "It certainly is a similar picture, but not exactly the same. I don't know if anything can be done about it. They say that copying is the sincerest form of flattery."
The Numismatic News article went on to note that if the design were in fact a specific representation of a single player, it would be in violation of a federal law that prohibits using a likeness of a living person on a U.S. coin, although living people have been depicted on earlier issues (President Coolidge on the 1926 Sesquicentennial half dollar, Senator Joseph Robinson on a 1936 half dollar, etc.).
American Numismatic Association President Edward C. Rochette reported that on April 2, 1992, while attending a ceremony at the Philadelphia Mint marking the 200th anniversary of the institution, he went up to the sales counter at the Mint and asked for a "Nolan Ryan dollar," not giving any other description, and the Mint employee handed over an 1992 Olympic dollar without question!'
The reverse design, by Marcel Jovine of Closter, New Jersey, features a broad heraldic shield with stylized olive branches on both sides. Above the shield is the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and the Olympic five-ring motif with the letters USA in the top three rings. Below the shield is the denomination ONE DOLLAR and a scroll inscribed with the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM.
Of special interest to collectors, the 1992 Uncirculated silver dollar is the first U.S. coin to bear edge lettering since the Saint-Gaudens double eagle series of 1907-1933. The phrase "XXV OLYMPIAD" appears on the edge four times.
Options and Prices
The 1992 Olympic dollars were produced in both Uncirculated and Proof formats. Proofs were coined at the San Francisco Mint, and Uncirculated pieces were produced at the Denver facility. Over-the- counter sales of the 1992 Olympic coins commenced on March 3,1992. Players and coaches of the United States Olympic Team for Baseball were honored on July 4, 1992, as each was presented with a gift of the 1992 U.S. Olympic silver dollar, at a game between the Olympic Team and the Cuban National Baseball Team at Mile High Stadium in Denver.
Options and prices for the 1992 Olympic coins are given below (Options 1, 4, 6, and 9 did not relate to silver dollars and hence are not enumerated here):
(2) Proof 1992-S silver dollar. Pre-issue price: $28. Regular price: $32.
(3) Two-piece Proof set comprising both the 1992-S Olympic half dollar and dollar. Pre-issue price: $35. Regular price: $39.
(5) Three-piece Proof set including the 1992-S Olympic half dollar and dollar, together with the 1992-W Olympic $5 gold piece. Pre-issue price: $225. Regular price: $255.
(7) Uncirculated 1992-D silver dollar. Pre-issue price: $24.
Regular price: $29.
(8) Two-piece Uncirculated Olympic set comprising both the 1992-P half dollar and the 1992-D silver dollar. Pre-issue price: $28. Regular price: $33.
(10) Three-piece Uncirculated Olympic set including the 1992-P half dollar, the 1992-D dollar, and the 1992-W $5 gold piece. Pre-issue price: $210. Regular price: $235.
(11) Six-piece set including all the Proof and Uncirculated varieties described in options 5 and 10. Pre-issue price: $445. Regular price: $495.
(12) 1992 Prestige Proof set, which includes the 1992-S Olympic half dollar and silver dollar together with the regular Proof issues of the year from the cent through the half dollar. Pre-issue price: $49. Regular price: $56.