She concluded her remarks by stating, “Long after the 1984 Olympics fade into history, I hope we will still have a worldwide respect for the U.S. dollar. We should maintain the integrity and control of our national coinage.”
In thanking Brooks, Annunzio commented “I only wish that all of the Members of the Congress could have been here today to hear you. My fight would be much easier. In fact, there would be no fight at all.” When asked if she believed Congress should authorize a coin program to raise money for the LA Olympics, Brooks replied “”I believe the concept of the commemorative coins for the Olympics would be a proper use of the Nation’s coinage. What I object to is it being turned over to private companies for their own profit.”
Annunzio could not have had a better ally in his fight to defeat the program favored by the Olympic committees. He was certainly aware of the fact that Brooks’ position and comments so closely aligned with his that some might believe that they had coordinated her testimony. To proactively diffuse the potential issue, he took the time to confirm for the Subcommittee that the two had not formally met before and had not discussed her testimony in any fashion before it was presented.
Annunzio then called the panel of numismatists forward. Neil Berman of First Federal Coin Corp. (FFCC) was the first to speak. He spoke in favor of a program featuring one or two silver dollars, and recommended that if a gold coin were to be included that it only be struck in an uncirculated version as “Gold proofs have historically been expensive items, and should continue to be regarded as such. There is nothing to be gained by mass-producing gold proofs, which will tend to lessen the historical importance of their predecessors.”
FFCC agreed with Mary Brooks and supported the direct sale and distribution of the coins by the US Mint. Berman believed “that a private marketing plan would tend to lessen the importance of the coins and add unnecessarily to their cost.” He also stated that FFCC was “against any marketing plan that would demean or question the basic integrity of our national coinage. We are against fancy packaging, flashy advertising campaigns, etc. The coins should be sold plainly and professionally, with the least amount of unprofessional fanfare.”
Q. David Bowers, then Vice President of the American Numismatic Association (ANA) was next to make a statement. He offered his support for Annunzio’s HR6158, believing it to be “the best compromise I have seen” and consistent with the ANA’s position; the ANA did not support the private marketing of the Olympic coins. Bowers provided the historical context for the ANA’s position by suggesting “that anyone interested in studying commemoratives has nothing but to go back in history where there are ample situations, illustrations and examples of commemorative coinage, mostly on behalf of vested interests…There were tremendous abuses…anyone who feels that we should [follow the same path in 1982] should study the lessons of history and come to their own conclusions.”
Bowers also reflected on the cost of a large, 17-coin (or more) program. He noted the desire of coin collectors to assemble complete sets and believed that if it would cost $7000 or more to complete a set of US Olympic coins, a large segment of the collecting community would be left out.
Adna Wilde, the President of the ANA, then came forward and quickly made it be known that he, on behalf of the 40,000+ members of the ANA, could not endorse a large coinage program for the Olympics. He presented the resolution the ANA Board of Governors had passed on February 18, 1982:
“Resolve that the members of the American Numismatic Association recommend to the Members of the US Congress that the Olympic commemorative coin issue be limited to uncirculated and proof specimens of one gold and one silver, and that the sale thereof be conducted by the United States Mint or other appropriate governmental agency.”
He went on to cite the successful two-coin commemorative programs for the 1952 Helsinki and 1964 Tokyo Olympics, along with the one-coin issue for the 1968 Mexico City Games. Wilde then contrasted them against the unsuccessful, large-scale coinage programs for the 1972 Olympics held in Munich (48 different coins), the 1976 Montreal Games (58 coins) and the 1980 Moscow Games (84 coins).
It was his belief that a limited number of designs coupled with smaller mintages, relatively short sales windows and reasonable selling prices are the drivers for success, and argued that the unsuccessful programs he listed failed because they did not meet these criteria. He concluded by recommending the passage of Annunzio’s HR6158.
Next up was Coin World editor Margo Russell. As the others before her, she quickly voiced her support for HR6158 and noted that the results of her magazine’s poll showed clear support for a Los Angeles Olympic commemorative coin program along the lines of what Annunzio had proposed. She also commented on how US collectors had unsuccessfully advocated for a 1980 coin in support of the Lake Placid games. Had a “sensible” program been enacted, she believed, the profits from its sale would have already been helping US Olympic athletes.
Russell expressed surprise and disappointment regarding the Treasury’s and Mint’s recent support for the large Olympic coin programs considering that they each had indicated that they were “hard put to produce coinage for the transaction of the Nation’s business” due to its 16% budget cut. It was a reason why collectors had been told that no 1982 uncirculated coin sets were going to be produced.
In introducing the poll results, Russell urged that the advice of coin collectors not be ignored. She reported that over 96% of Coin World’s readers – predominantly well-educated males – supported an Olympic coin program but that less than 5% wanted a large 17-coin program. Support for silver Olympic coins was voiced by 90% of respondents, but just over 36% indicated that they would consider purchasing a gold coin – a likely reflection of available collecting budgets. Regarding the marketing of the coins, less than 10% supported sales via a private marketer; 91% wanted to purchase the coins directly from the US Mint.
Russell concluded her statement by commenting, “Seventeen coins and 33 editions will disillusion the coin collector, but he will support strongly a modest program with all his heart and his dollars. Of this you can be certain.”
Chester Krause, accompanied by Dave Harper, was the next to testify before the Subcommittee. As he had done during his testimony at the July 1981 Senate hearings, Krause expressed his backing for the sale of US commemorative coins as a means to financially support the LA Olympics. His purpose for testifying at the hearing was to “point out the pitfalls encountered by previous Olympic coinage programs…that were conducted on behalf of Canada and the Soviet Union by a private marketing organization that is…essentially the same one that could be given the same responsibility for the United States.”
Krause characterized both programs as “out and out failures, littered with unmet projections” and noted that he didn’t want to see “the US Olympic movement crippled for lack of delivery of promised funds.” He expressed his belief that HR6158 would “show the world how a commemorative coinage program can ideally work.”
He also took the opportunity to take the US Congress to task for not giving appropriate consideration to the views and recommendations given to them by the coin collecting community.
“When Congress needs expert testimony on law, it consults lawyers. When it needs financial data, it consults economists and bankers. Why, then, in matters of national coinage would the opinions of those who have worked and studied in the area for decades seems to count so little, when the opinions of marketers mean so much?”
Krause and his team believed that 90% of the sales of the Olympic coins would come from US buyers and that the US Mint knew how to cost-effectively reach this audience and deliver to them. For this reason, he believed that the arguments put forth by the private marketing groups regarding the value of their expertise in foreign markets (vs. that of the US Mint) was only of minor consequence. He completed his testimony by urging passage of Annunzio’s HR6158.
Up next was a panel of collectors (vs. the preceding panel of professional numismatists) who all expressed their support for an Olympic coinage program in the form of HR6158. They believed the smaller program would be more manageable for the majority of collectors who desired to have complete sets yet still provide the desired funding the US Olympic athletes.
Live testimony for the fourth session of the hearing concluded after the collector panel. In contrast to the previous session, it was a day of complete support for Chairman Annunzio and his proposed coinage legislation. The hearings would have one more session, however, and it would afford St. Germain and the Coin Group one last opportunity to present its case to Annunzio and the House Subcommittee on Consumer Affairs and Coinage.
To be continued…
© Copyright D. Provost 2014. All rights reserved. Used with permission.