Guide to U.S. Early Commemorative Coins
Commemorative coins were first issued by the United States Mint in 1892 to mark the World’s Columbian Exposition. The silver half dollars depicting Christopher Columbus were sold at the expedition for one dollar each. In subsequent years, the US Mint would continue the tradition of issuing gold and silver commemoratives to honor the important people, places, and events of the country. Profits earned from the sale of coins were generally used to fund a specific project or an anniversary celebration.
Early commemorative coins were issued between the years 1892 and 1954 and have included primarily silver half dollars and gold dollars. Over the years, additional denominations have been used including the silver quarter, silver dollar, several gold quarter eagles, and one $50 gold piece. In total there were 50 different silver commemorative coin designs and 9 different gold commemorative coin designs. Each issue was typically authorized by an act of Congress, which provided a specific maximum or minimum mintage requirement. Because legislation often did not specify otherwise, some commemorative coin issues were produced in multiple years or struck at multiple mints.
Collectors can pursue a collection of early commemorative coins in a variety of methods. Some may seek to acquire coins for a certain theme such as the Civil War, designs by a certain artist, or particularly beautiful or meaningful designs. A popular type of collection is to acquire one example of each of the silver commemoratives issued between 1892 and 1954, which would include 50 different coins. A more expansive collection including all dates and mint marks would result in a collection of 144 coins. The addition of the gold commemoratives can further expand the scope of the set.
Collecting early commemorative coins can be a rewarding experience for a number of reasons. Historically, the coins provide an informative window into the progress of the nation and some of the great people, places, and events that have shaped it. Aesthetically, the coins provided a diversity of images and themes not explored on circulating coin issues. In many cases, these early commemorative coins were designed by some of the most renowned artists of the day. Financially, the coins may provide value as an investment. Many of the issues have extremely small mintages and some are difficult to find in higher uncirculated grades. Coins which exhibit colorful toning can often command incredible premiums.
This site will provide collectors with a look at each of the 59 different early commemorative coins issued by the Untied States Mint. This will include background for the issuance of each coin, description of the design, mintages, specifications, and coin images.