In this second part of our series featuring Olympic coinage, we will look at the beginning of commemorative coins featuring the Olympics. While the first Olympic Games of the modern era were held in 1896, the first modern-era coin struck to commemorate the quadrennial Games wouldn’t come until 1951, with the production of the Finland 500 Markkaa. The coin was to commemorate the 1952 Summer Olympic Games in Helsinki, Finland. This coin started a numismatic trend that continues to this day.
Helsinki hosted the 15th Olympics Games in 1952. It had been selected as the host city for the 1940 Olympiad before those Games were canceled because of World War II. The city was selected again to host the Olympics in the 1947 selection for the 1952 Games. This Olympics saw many firsts. It was the Olympic debut for The Bahamas, People’s Republic of China, Gold Coast (now Ghana), Guatemala, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Israel, Netherlands Antilles, Nigeria, Soviet Union, Thailand, and Vietnam. Because of the admission of the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan withdrew its participation in the Games. Germany and Japan were invited to the Olympics after the 1948 banning. Germany had three separate state teams, West Germany, East Germany, and Saarland.
The 1952 Games, in which 69 countries participated, had medals awarded in 149 events. The Games also saw the most world records being broken of any Games until the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The winners of the Games were the United States, with 76 total medals and 40 gold medals, followed by the Soviet Union with 71 total medals including 22 gold, and Hungary with 42 total medals and 16 gold. By 1952, the Cold War was in full swing and the USSR used the gold and other medals won as propaganda for their greatness. At that time, football (soccer) was an Olympic sport, and the match between the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia showed the tensions between those two countries country’s political split in 1948.
Most important for numismatics was the first Olympics commemorative coin. The coin struck in .500 fine silver by Finland for circulation featured the Olympic rings center on the obverse with “OLYMPIA XV - 1952 HELSINKI” above and below. The reverse featured a simple wreath with 500 in the center and “SUOMI FINLAND MARKKAA” around the rim. The coin comes dated both 1951 and 1952, with 1951 having only 18,500 minted and 1952 having 586,000 minted. The 1951 is scarce today with uncirculated examples bringing around $200. The 1952 is more common and can be bought in circulated condition for a premium to their bullion value, with uncirculated examples selling for $50 to $100.
In 2002 the government of Finland issued commemorative coins to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games. Issued in both MS with a mintage of 10,000 and Proof with a mintage of 34,800, the coin was a non-circulating 10 Euro commemorative struck in .925 silver. The coin featured part of the 1952 Olympic 500 Markkaa coin on one side and a globe and flame on the other.
The commemorative coin is important, as it ushered in a future for Olympic commemorative coins for collectors.