This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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The 1996 Wheelchair Paralympics silver dollars issued to commemorate the Atlanta Olympic Games seem to be coins on a mission. It is really getting difficult to imagine the two already high-priced Paralympics dollars not going to even higher levels as everything seems to be working in favor of the 1996-D, which is the BU example, becoming one of, if not the most expensive modern commemorative silver dollar while the 1996-P, which is the proof, seems also destined for even bigger things simply because it is the lower cost version that people can use for a type set.
The story of the 1996 Wheelchair Paralympics dollar, while new to the United States, was not really new. Canada had done it, the old Soviet Union had done it and in 1995 and 1996 the United States followed the same well worn path to frustration.
Governments simply assume making more coins means making more money and when you are hosting an Olympics you need every dime you can get. So they come up with programs stretching for a couple years involving a lot of coins in the hope that somehow buyers will buy them all.
It doesn’t really work that way. All the publicity means some people buy the first coins, but they quickly get discouraged as there are too many of them. You might be able to afford one group, but when there are multiple groups the the overall cost of the full set mounts quickly. People simply stop ordering, leaving their sets unfinished and a bad taste in their mouths.
There was certainly no problem with the price of the Wheelchair Paralympics dollar as the proof was $34.95 ($30.95 in the discount period), while the BU was $31.95 in the regular ordering period and $27.95 in the pre-issue period.
It’s never the price of one coin in a set. It’s the cumulative price of all the coins in the set as well as the extended period during which you need to make payments. You can afford the one shot payment, but when that is repeated over and over there are usually other priorities that emerge and while you might buy some of the 1995 issues or even all of them, many do not buy the issues of the second year.
This happened with Canada and its Olympic coins for the 1976 Games and the Soviet Union for the 1980 Games it happened with the United States for the Atlanta Games as well. The 1995 sales were not that strong, but the 1996 totals were much lower.
In the case of the 1996-P proof Wheelchair Paralympics dollar, the sales were 84,280. The BU was far lower, with sales of just 14,497. That BU sales total would be modest at best for a $5 gold coin, but this was a silver dollar.
That number of 14,497 drove the price of the 1996-D BU Wheelchair Paralympics dollar to its current retail price of $365. There is really no reason for it to go down as with that mintage it is one of the lowest mintage non-gold U.S. commemoratives in history. That’s right. It’s not just one of the lowest mintage modern commemoratives, it’s one of the lowest mintage commemoratives period and that should mean continued although perhaps modest increases.
The larger mintage proof has a bright future because of the BU. The 1996-P proof is a low mintage for a proof and its supply will be tested simply because people will want to assemble commemorative dollar type sets. They only need one example of each design and that means the cheaper version. At $82, the proof is safely that choice, but the supply is not strong. That can easily mean prices will increase in the future if the commemorative market continues to grow. We cannot know for certain whether it will, but it seems like a reasonable bet to make.