The popularity of a commemorative coin can be a hit-or-miss affair, but certain symbols tend to do well. With the possible exception of buffalo, nothing sells quite like the American flag.
On those grounds, officials at the U.S. Mint are confident that Star-Spangled Banner coins being released Monday in honor of the bicentennial of the War of 1812 will be a success.
“You can’t get more universal than the U.S. flag,” said Ronald Harrigal, acting chief engraver for the U.S. Mint in Washington. “I think it’s going to be a big seller.”
Depending on their popularity, sales of the coins could raise up to $8.5 million for the Maryland War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission in support of activities related to the 200th anniversary of the conflict.
The coins are going on sale at a special launch event Monday at Fort McHenry in Baltimore with members of Congress, officials from the Mint and National Park Service, and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. They will also be going on sale at noon Monday on the U.S. Mint Web site.
Since it was begun in 1982, the Mint’s commemorative coin program has raised more than $418 million for a variety of efforts, including restoring the Statue of Liberty, maintaining the Vietnam War Memorial, preserving George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon, protecting the bald eagle and supporting U.S. Olympic programs.
In addition to flags and buffalo, military themes are popular. A coin commemorating the U.S. Marine Corps did so well that the Mint went back to Congress for authorization to produce more.
The legislation authorizing the Star-Spangled Banner coins allows the Mint to issue up to 100,000 gold coins and 500,000 silver coins. The initial prices range from $44.95 for the uncirculated $1 silver coin to $529.30 for the premium, or proof, $5 gold coin.
The price of the gold coins will fluctuate weekly based on the market.
The cost of producing the coins is covered by sales, and a surcharge included in the price will be directed to the Maryland bicentennial commission, which is expected to also raise matching funds.
“We have to match that amount dollar for dollar,” said Bill Pencek, executive director of the Maryland bicentennial commission. The commission has raised more than $1 million toward the goal, he said.
The money will be used to provide matching grants to federal, state and local governments as well as nonprofit agencies for programs, events, preservation efforts and educational activities related to the War of 1812 bicentennial.
It begins in June with events marking the U.S. declaration of war on Great Britain and will continue for three years.
Among the projects that might benefit from the funding are the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail, which is being developed by the National Park Service in the Chesapeake Bay region.
The Mint is authorized to issue two commemorative coins per year. Last month, coins honoring U.S. Army infantry soldiers were released.
A spokesman for the Mint said there is little risk of the government being stuck with unwanted coins.
“We mint to demand,” Michael White said. “We are required to operate at no loss to the taxpayer.”
The Star-Spangled Banner coins commemorate the writing of the national anthem by Francis Scott Key after the bombardment of Fort McHenry in September 1814.
The gold obverse, or heads side, depicts a naval battle scene, with an American sailing ship in the foreground and a damaged British ship fleeing in the background. The reverse side shows words from Key’s song against a flag backdrop.
The silver coin’s heads side shows Lady Liberty waving the Star-Spangled Banner with Fort McHenry in the background, while the reverse depicts a modern American flag.
“To be involved in a project like this, personally, the chills are still there,” said Joel Iskowitz, the designer of the silver obverse.
Iskowitz set up a fan to blow on a flag in his Woodstock, N.Y., studio “to get the right rippling effect,” he said.