Fifty years after Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball's color barrier, the diamond trailblazer became the first African-American to be featured on a gold commemorative coin issued by the U.S. Mint.
In all, four different Robinson coins were created in 1997 - including two versions of a gold five-dollar coin and two versions of a silver dollar - to honor the 50th anniversary of the baseball pioneer's first big league game.
David Hall, President and founder of Collectors Universe, Inc., feels strongly about the appeal of these commemorative coins, both from a numismatic and sports collectible perspective.
"The U.S. Mint has struck 39 different gold commemorative coins off and on since 1903. And the Mint has struck about 200 different silver commemoratives since 1892. The theme of most commemorative coins has been historical events (the 1936 Gettysburg for example) or historical persons (the 1982 George Washington). Jackie Robinson is the only sports figure to ever have a commemorative coin. Jackie Robinson didn't just change baseball, he changed the world! As a life-long coin dealer and baseball nut, the 1997 Jackie Robinson commemorative coins hit the spot for me," says Hall.
According to Jaime Hernandez, price guide editor at PCGS, just 5,174 examples of the uncirculated (mint state) gold coin were produced, making it the rarest and most desirable of the four coins today.
"It's the lowest mintage U.S. commemorative produced since 1982," noted Hernandez. "Because of its low mintage, it's also the most valuable of any gold modern commemorative coin."
This coin and a second proof version showcase a headshot of a mature Robinson on the obverse, with the years that Robinson lived (1919-1972) and the words "Legacy of Courage" inside a baseball design on the reverse.
Uncirculated (mint state) Robinson coins that have received the vaunted MS 70 grade - the coin equivalent of PSA GEM-MT 10 - list for $6,000 in the PCGS price guide. Not bad for a coin that was offered for a pre-issue price of $180 between July 3 and August 15, 1997, and for $205 for a one-year period starting on August 16, 1997.
The proof version of this coin, which is easily distinguished by its shiny, mirror-like quality, was originally more popular. Almost five times as many (24,072) of the proof coins were produced as the uncirculated (mint state) coins. Hernandez says that more proof versions were likely purchased by customers simply because they're more visually attractive.
Of the 1,875 proof versions submitted to PCGS for grading, 134 have been deemed PR 70, which is the equivalent of a PSA 10. The pre-issue price of the proof was $195, but from August 16, 1997, to August 16, 1998, they were sold for $225. Today, a PR 70 example lists for $1,650 in the PCGS price guide.
Surprisingly, however, sales of the gold coins were disappointing. Hernandez notes that the U.S. Mint was authorized to produce as many as 100,000 of the uncirculated (mint state) gold coins, but due to a lack of demand, they manufactured less than six percent of that number.
He says that the U.S. Mint may have oversaturated the market with other commemorative coins that year, or the marketing could have been poor. The price point of the coins may have also scared customers away.
"Not everyone can afford a gold coin," said Hernandez.
But those looking for a less expensive alternative to the gold coins could purchase a commemorative Robinson silver dollar. Both the uncirculated (mint state) and proof versions of the silver dollar depict Robinson sliding into home plate on the obverse, while the reverse showcases a 50th anniversary logo surrounded by inscriptions that celebrate Robinson's 1947 Rookie of the Year award and 1962 Hall of Fame induction.
A May 13, 1997, U.S. Mint press release indicates that the Mint intended to produce 200,000 silver dollars, but again sales weren't particularly strong and a smaller quantity was produced. Just 30,180 examples of the uncirculated (mint state) version of the silver dollar were manufactured. Of the 1,629 submitted for grading, there have been 56 MS 70s. Originally available for a pre-issue price of $30, which was upped to $32 during a one-year sales period starting August 16, 1997, a MS 70 example now lists for $750 in the PCGS price guide.
Similar to the gold coin, a larger number of the proof versions of the silver dollar were produced (a mintage of 110,002). Of the 1,827 evaluated by PCGS, 81 have received the perfect PR 70 grade. The pre-issue price of these was $33, which was increased to $37 between August 16, 1997, and August 16, 1998. The PCGS price guide indicates that a PR 70 example is now valued at $1,050.
All of the Robinson coins could be purchased individually, but they were also available in sets. Two-coin sets - that featured proof versions of the gold coin and silver dollar - were available for a pre-issue price of $217, while the price was later increased to $240 during the regular, one-year sales period. One could also purchase all four coins in a set for a pre-issue price of $425. That price was later elevated to $460.
So while it may have seemed like a lot of money for the Robinson coins in 1997, those who did ante up the cash for these commemoratives at the time have made an excellent investment.
Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any additional information or comments. Images provided courtesy of PCGS CoinFacts, the ultimate, single source of information on U.S. coins. Please note that the population report figures and coin prices are those as of February 2013.