The Exchange : Let the Games Begin- A Brief History of the Numismatics of the Olympic Games

Let the Games Begin- A Brief History of the Numismatics of the Olympic Games

As it gets closer to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, this article talks about some of the history of the Olympic Games as it relates to coins. That would include the coins issued by host nations honoring the event as well as the famous "Lucky Loonie" from the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. With the 2014 Olympic Games coming up in Sochi, Russia, it is now the time for a new set of numismatic collectables commemorating the event. In this article, I am going to talk about the series of coins issued by the host nations as well as some of the numismatic history behind the Olympic Games as we make our way on the road to Sochi.

The Olympic Games was founded in 1896 by Baron Pierre de Coubertain in Athens as a way to commemorate the games of the same name that happened in ancient times in nearby Olympia, Greece. The modern Olympic Games take place every two years alternating between the Summer and Winter Games. While the history of the modern Olympic Games only begins in 1896, the first coins were issued in 1951 and 1952 commemorating the 1952 Olympic Summer Games in Helsinki, Finland.

The first coin issued by a host nation honoring a modern Olympic Games was in 1951 for the 1952 Olympic Summer Games held in Helsinki, Finland. Organizers of the games believed that this was a very affordable way for people who were attending the games to bring home an affordable souvenir of their experience. The coin pictured the Olympic rings and the inscription "Olympia Helsinki," a relatively simple design compared to the designs of recent Olympic coinage. With a mintage of 586,500, it makes this coin one of the rarest coins in this series. Minting the coin produced major financial spin-off from it with a profit of $6.5 million to finance paying the debt of the Olympic host committee. 

1952The obverse and reverse of the 1952 500 Markkaa issued by Finland honoring the Olympic Games

Through the years of Olympic coinage, the designs change dramatically to become more and more complex. While many of them display a cultural image of the country, most ones of recent memory depict the athletes of the games or the sports that are contested at the games. The first design of this collection to depict an athlete was during the 1964 Olympic Winter Games in Innsbruck, Austria where they produced a silver fifty schilling which depicted a ski jumper jumping across an image of the Tyrolean Alps. With a mintage of just under 70,000, this coin is also one of the more sought after coins in early Olympic history.

1964
The obverse and reverse of the 1964 50 Schilling issued by Austria honoring the Olympic Games

Coins have also played a major role in a lot of parts of Olympic history. Most prominently being the story of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games men's ice hockey tournament. Trent Evans, the ice maker for the arena where the tournament was being played was flooding the ice to prepare for the next day of play. To mark the spot at centre ice, he originally put in a Canadian 10-cent piece. Unlike most rinks in the NHL, the E Center did not have a spot to measure the center of the ice.  After finding out that the way that they marked the ice in the other rinks was the size of a Canadian one dollar coin, he replaced the coin with a Canadian one dollar coin (the loonie). The Canadian team eventually went on to break the 52 year streak of the team not winning gold at the Olympic Games. Wayne Gretzky along with the ice maker later removed the coin from the ice and it was donated to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Ontario.

Don Cherry

Canadian Sports Broadcaster Don Cherry touching the Lucky Loonie in it's display at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Ontario

In conclusion, coins issued by host nations in honor of hosting the Olympic Games have become very collectable. Through their low mintages, unique designs and unique connection to Olympic History, it makes them a unique field to collect. With the next Olympic Games beginning in just under 50 days, it is a perfect time to find that perfect coin to commemorate the event and cheer on your country as they go for gold.

 

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Written by John Siteman at 00:00
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