The “Nolan Ryan” Silver Dollar
25 years ago in 1992, when the U.S. Mint’s modern commemorative coin program was still in its infancy, it produced a coin that caused a minor scandal.
To commemorate the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, the U.S. Mint produced a Half Dollar, Silver Dollar, and $5 gold coin. These coins continued a tradition started a few years earlier for the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles and continued in 1988 for the Olympic Games in Seoul.
Although the 1992 coins featured a gymnast (Half Dollar), baseball player (Dollar), and track athlete ($5), the coins were also intended to celebrate the 1992 Winter Olympic Games in Albertville, France. Surcharges added to the coins sold by the U.S. Mint were used to help train American athletes.
When the 1992 Olympic Games Silver Dollar appeared, baseball fans thought the image by John R. Deecken looked familiar. Sure enough, a quick look through the previous year’s baseball cards turned up the exact same image. Deecken appeared to have copied Texas Rangers pitcher Nolan Ryan’s 1991 Fleer baseball card!
The image on the coin and the photograph on the baseball card are virtually identical. They are so similar, right down to the creases in the pitcher’s shirt and position of the ball in the pitcher’s hand, that most people were left with no doubt that the Silver Dollar actually showed Nolan Ryan. However, there was never an official confirmation or denial from the U.S. Mint.
Ryan was one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history. He had a record 5,714 strikeouts and a record seven no-hitters in his record 27-year career, and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999. He also won the World Series in 1969 with the New York Mets.
Almost forgotten in the controversy surrounding this coin was the fact that it was also a historic “first” in U.S. Mint history: the phrase “XXV Olympiad” appears four times around the edge against a reeded background, making it the first commemorative coin in U.S. history to feature edge lettering.
Like all commemoratives, this coin was issued in a limited edition and was made available only in the year of issue. It has been out of issue since 1992 and is increasingly hard to find.