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Surcharges add up to one big gift

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Half a billion dollars is a lot of money. Wouldn’t you agree?

Anyone or any group of someones who would donate such a large amount of money would have to be generous.

A thank you even might be in order.

So next time you shave or comb your hair, say thank you to the person in the mirror staring back at you.

The donor is you, or more precisely, it is we collectors who have collectively paid $501 million in surcharges that were applied to all of the commemorative coins we have purchased since the Olympic coin program began in 1983.

The Mint very thoughtfully has tallied up the figures and placed the total in its press release announcing the availability of the National Baseball Hall of Fame commemorative coin program, which began March 27.

Those of us buying the new cupped baseball coins will pay $35 in surcharges for every gold $5 we buy, $10 for every silver dollar and $5 for every clad half dollar.

Those sums add up. The National Baseball Hall of Fame hopes to collect $9.5 million from a sellout of 50,000 gold coins, 400,000 silver dollars and 750,000 clad half dollars. It is possible that the program will not sell out, so the museum might have to settle for less.

Perhaps they could give us a little encouragement by issuing a special thank you during the All-Star Game in July. By then we will know whether collectors have come through for baseball, or whether the sales downtrend that caused the Girl Scouts to get no surcharge income continues.

Whatever the final sales total, we collectors will be setting off down the path toward raising $1 billion for other people’s causes – though it might take longer than 30 years to get that second half billion dollars raised.

I write “other people’s causes” because collectors no long feel quite the same about the recipients of surcharges. For the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles it was a heady, flag-waving experience. To restore the Statue of Liberty in 1986, it was more of the same, but then it became more like a routine shakedown, a numismatic protection racket.

“You wouldn’t want anything to happen to the commemorative coin program, now would you?” asks Congress.

Thirty years ago, that sort of appeal worked. We were starved for new issues and we paid surcharges to insure the modern program’s survival.

As time has passed, many collectors have walked away. Others became much more choosy. I was trying to remember the last time I purchased a commemorative. I opened Coin Digest to look at the listings. With this mental prompt I recalled that the last commemoratives I purchased were for the Old San Francisco Mint in 2006.

Now if surcharges disappeared tomorrow, I wouldn’t expect it to change collector behavior, mine included, but it would be nice to hear an expression of gratitude for surcharges we have already paid.

 

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• Build an impressive collection with Coin Collecting 101.

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