When the first Olympic Games were held in Ancient Greece in 776BC, there was only one event: the stadium race. Gradually, more events were introduced including discus and wrestling.
The concept of Olympic coins developed as a means through which residents of the city could still feel involved in the Games even if they could not witness them in the stadium. That would have been especially useful for women, who were banned from watching the Games.
Originally, Greek coins honoured the patron saints of Greek cities, such as Athena and Apollo. The existence of historic Olympic coins therefore proves that the Games inspired the same pride in citizens of Ancient Greece as it does in the hosting nations today.
The coins’ designs were based upon the various events that athletes could compete in, and depicted Olympians taking part in their sports. The coins reveal interesting facts about the Ancient Games, for example, athletes are depicted in the nude – this was in fact a true representation of how the Olympians competed!
Olympic Coins and the Modern Era Games
The tradition of commemorative coins was re-introduced into the Modern Era Olympic Games by Finland for the Helsinki 1952 Games. From that point onwards, hosting nations have minted commemorative coins in honour of the event. The number of coins produced has mostly increased over the last couple of decades, making coin memorabilia a significant feature of commemorating each Olympic Games.
Controversy of Coins for the Los Angeles Olympic Games
The coins have not been without controversy, however. In 1984 the Summer Olympic Games were hosted by Los Angeles, but the USA government refused to fund them. For the first time, private funds were required to pay for the event. After months of delays in legislation to authorise the production of commemorative coins, private mints that had agreed to manufacture the coins were forced to pull out. Organisers condemned this forced cancellation of coin production and claimed it would lose the state of Los Angeles millions of dollars in revenue. Luckily, legislation originally passed in 1882 was employed to authorise the minting of $1 and $10 coins. However, the six coins produced was a notably fewer number than the 45 previously produced by Moscow and the 32 subsequently produced by Seoul.
To mark the centennial of the Modern Era Games, the International Olympic Committee approved a yearly issue of commemorative coins from 1992 to 1996. They were designed by five mints - Canada, Australia, France, Austria and Greece. Each mint produced one gold and two silver coins, incorporating a different set of themes, such as Australia’s focus on fair play and participation. This union of different countries successfully embodied the spirit of global friendship that the Olympic Games evoke.
Commemorative coins are just as valued today as they have been throughout history. The Royal Mint has manufactured an excellent collection of coins that, as in the ancient tradition, give everyone a chance to feel a part of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and commemorate the occasion perfectly. Browse the collection of London 2012 memorabilia now to ensure you acquire a part of this history.