100 Greatest U.S. Modern Coins Series: 1996-S Centennial Olympics (Swimming) Half Dollar Commemorative

Our 100 Greatest U.S. Modern Coins blog series has taken us on a journey that has already involved a few different commemoratives. According to the Whitman Publishing publication, we have a number to go yet.

But what is most interesting to find out in this fourth edition from authors Scott Schechter and Jeff Garrett, the list of modern commemoratives in this top 100 fall into two categories. There are those commemorative coins that are what they call “thematically relevant” which makes their demand higher. Then there are those that are deemed unpopular at the time which in turn, caused for low mintages. Those coins are now considered to be desirable.

Our breakdown of the next coin in our series looks at the latter. Let us check out where this 90’s half dollar commemorative landed on the list at the hands of the authors in addition to influence from coin dealers across the country.

#70 - 1996-S Centennial Olympics (Swimming) Half Dollar Commemorative

The year was 1996 and the Olympic Games were being held in none other than Atlanta, Georgia. Authorized by Congress in the maximum sum of three million (including both Proof and Uncirculated versions), 1996 Olympic commemorative half dollars were on the menu for grand consumption from the collector community.

With the United States being dominant in the sport that is swimming and the sport holding the most events at the Games, it was only thought logical to feature the sport on the design of the coin itself. However, sales were not as expected and the number of coins that ended up being issued in the mid-1990s was considerably low. It was believed though that the coin and its theme was not to blame as the 1995-1995 Atlanta Olympic Games commemorative program consisted of a staggering 16 different coins (or 32 total for both Proof and Uncirculated versions).

In addition to a high number of commemoratives being released for the Games, there were a large number of commemoratives in general released in those same years. Forty-six total commemorative coins to be exact in just two years. Taking it even further for possible low sales, the Olympics themselves had already been commemorated in 1983, 1984, 1988, and 1992. The addition of the coins from Atlanta meant that 23 Olympic coins on top of the 16 were released in just a short decade.

In the end, the United States Mint finally called it and announced that just 49,571 Olympic Swimming half dollar commemoratives were minted of the 3 million that was authorized. That is just approximately 1.6 percent. The Mint officially released a statement reporting that they took a $3.2 million loss for the Olympics program as of March 31, 1996. This also prompted the Mint to report a series of recommendations that including limiting mintages of commemorative programs.

In the first edition of the publication, the 1996-S Olympics Swimming Half Dollar Commemorative ranked at #52. It moved down one spot to #53 in the second edition and stayed there until it continued to move down to its current rank in the fourth edition (#70).