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Capitol commem early sign of decline

This article was originally printed in the latest issue of Numismatic News.
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Sometimes you have to question precisely what lawmakers are thinking when it comes to modern commemorative programs. Actually, we may know what they are thinking and just don’t want to say it.

Consider for a moment the fact that in 1992 there was the 500th anniversary of the first voyage of Columbus to the New World and that was going to be a three-coin spectacular because an important congressman wanted it to be spectacular. The Olympics also got three coins even though they were being held in France and Spain, but there are a lot of  lawmakers who want to be on good terms with Olympic officials. However, the White House didn’t really have any particular friends in Congress, so it got a single silver dollar.

It may, however, be that routine national landmarks don’t always fare as well as other topics. In 1994 it was the U.S. Capitol’s turn to celebrate its bicentennial. That year there was the single silver dollar for the Capitol and three for veterans, so it did not seem unusual to just have a Capitol dollar. It seemed unusual in 2001 when three coins were authorized for a Capitol Visitor Center, which ended up being years late in completion and way over budget. Of course, that may mean another program to pay for the cost overruns but the fact remains that without the original Capitol that got only a silver dollar for its bicentennial, we would not even be talking about a visitor’s center.

In some respects 1994 was the calm before the storm as the following year would see the beginning of the Atlanta Olympic program and it, along with others, would see the market flooded with new issues and the sales drop considerably from the levels officials had come to expect.

In reality, the 1994 Capitol dollar was probably an early indication that sales of modern commemoratives were declining, and at an alarming rate. There was nothing wrong with the idea or the design that featured a William Cousins obverse and John Mercanti reverse. It might have been a fairly basic design, but what can you do with the Capitol building? You can’t really jazz it up by throwing in a buffalo, although heaven knows some would like that.

There was also little they could do to jazz up the marketing. There was a $46 set involving a proof example of the Capitol dollar and an architectural history. That is actually selling for $58 today, making it the one offering of the program that has risen in price.

The lack of price increases for the other coins is especially tough to understand. Today the proof sells for $22.50, but in 1994 its pre-issue price was $36 and the regular price was $40. The BU is at just $18. Its pre-issue price had been $32 while its regular price was $37. One point that might be made is the issue prices were high at about $5 more than the silver dollars in the Veterans program of the same year.

What is so unusual about the price today is that the proof 1994-S Capitol dollar had a mintage of 279,416 while the 1994-D BU Capitol dollar was at just 68,352. It’s odd that the BU is the lower-priced version. It’s also odd that when compared to many other issues with far higher mintages, the Capitol dollar is so inexpensive. There is no way to explain why it is so inexpensive except to suggest that, just like in 1994, there is currently a lack of demand. Enough new commemorative dollar collectors should change that and these levels should rise.

Modern Commemorative Coins
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