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Congressional coins are not selling well

The nation's coin collectors have turned thumbs down on a set of three coins that Congress ordered the Mint to issue last year in celebration of the legislative body's 200th anniversary. Despite the hoopla of a first-strike ceremony on the Capitol steps and a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign, sales figures released by the Mint show that the three coins are proving to be among the least popular of any commemorative coins released since 1982. That is when the Reagan administration ordered the Treasury Department to resume its long-dormant commemorative coin program.

Sales figures for the new Congressional coins show that they are nowhere near the levels Mint officials had predicted in 1988 when Congress enacted legislation authorizing the coins. Mint Director Donna Pope then estimated that the surcharge on the coins _ $35 for the $5 gold coin, $7 for the $1 silver and $1 for the 50-cent coin _ would raise $22-million for the Capitol Preservation Fund. As of the end of 1989, the sales had raised only $13.7-million.

Year-end records showed that collectors and investors last year purchased 154,800 of the $5 gold coins in the highly polished proof quality and another 45,757 of them in uncirculated condition.

That is far below the number of gold coins sold in 1987 for the bicentennial of the Constitution. Collectors bought 651,659 copies of those in proof condition and 214,225 in uncirculated condition.

As expected, the silver Congressional dollars proved to be more popular than the gold coins, with 703,788 of them in proof condition and 128,489 in uncirculated condition selling. The Congressional half dollars sold at about the same level as the silver dollars: 702,952 in proof quality and 152,133 in uncirculated condition.

Send changes or additions to Coins, Newsfeatures Department, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, Fla. 33731