Early commemorative U.S. coins were issued by the U.S. Mint from 1892 through 1954. These coins, which ranged in denomination from a quarter to $50, were issued to honor people, places, and events. Often the funds raised by the sales of commemorative coins were used to help pay for monuments and other enterprises. For example, proceeds from the pair of Lewis and Clark gold dollars, sold in 1904 and ’05, were used to erect a bronze statue of Sacagawea, the Corps of Discovery’s Native-American guide.

In general, the mintages of these coins were low—for example, only 10,000 or so of those Lewis and Clark coins were struck. Some coins, however, were produced in the millions, including the very first early commemorative minted in 1892 for the World’s Columbia Exposition in Chicago.

Of particular interest to collectors are the $50 gold coins issued for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. Only 1,100 or so coins were struck, divided almost evenly between octagonal versions (645) and round ones (483). The coin’s obverse featured a helmeted Minerva, a Roman goddess associated with wisdom, while another wise creature, an owl, was depicted on the reverse. The two versions of this commemorative gold coin were the same except for the dolphins that swam around the edge of the octagonal one.

Panama-Pacific coins routinely sell in the five- or six-figure range. More accessible are coins struck in 1936 and 1937 to mark the 75th anniversaries of two Civil War battles, at Gettysburg and Antietam respectively. Other coins seem outright curiosities today, such as the 1936 50-cent piece that celebrated the centennial of Bridgeport, Connecticut’s incorporation by placing a profile of P.T. Barnum on the obverse (the circus impresario resided there) and a stylized Art Deco eagle on the reverse.

The era of early commemorative coins ended in 1954, when the second of two coins honoring African Americans was minted. The first was a half-dollar produced to raise funds for a Booker T. Washington Memorial in Rocky Mount, Virginia. These coins were sold from 1946 through 1951, but they never raised the funds intended. In fact, the coin’s would-be beneficiary ended up in the hole.

A second half dollar, struck from 1951 to 1954, featured profiles of Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver. The bill authorizing the coin was filled with the language of the McCarthy era—the coin’s legally binding purpose was “to oppose the spread of Communism among Negroes in the interest of National Defense." Like the first Washington coin, this one failed to do what its proponents had envisioned, and the entire commemorative coin program was put on hold until the George Washington half dollar was struck in 1982.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Legendary Coins and Currency

Legendary Coins and Currency

This online exhibition from the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History is a great way to get an overview… [read review or visit site]

Society of U.S. Pattern Collectors

Society of U.S. Pattern Collectors

Home to the Society of U.S. Pattern collectors, this well-organized site provides in-depth information on pattern c… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Uncirculated 1926 Oregon Commemorative Half Free Shipping1915-s Panama Pacific Commemorative Dollar, $1 Gold Piece * Scarce Pq Gem Commem1926-s Oregon Trail Memorial Commemorative Half Dollar.1936-d Columbia Commem Half Pcgs Ms67 Cac Rainbow Toned~colorful Toning1893 Pcgs Isabella Commemorative Half Dollar Pcgs Ms 63 ** Price Guide $600!Uncirculated 1921 Missouri Silver Comm Half Dollar Free ShippingUnc 1938-d Texas Commemorative Half Dollar Free S/h!!1938 United States New Rochelle Silver Half Dollar. Pcgs Ms66. Five Rolls (100 Coins) Pre 1921 Morgan Silver Dollars.. Well Circulated1920 Pilgrim Commemorative Half Dollar - Extra Fine Condition - Problem Free1936 Long Island Commem Half Pcgs Ms66 Cac Rainbow Tab Toned~colorful ToningVintage 1936 D Columbia Sc Half Dollar 50 Cent Piece Silver Coin ~ Ms 65 Pcgs 1900 Lafayette Commemorative Dollar.1935 Texas Commemorative 50c Pcgs Ms 66 - No Reserve!Uncirculated 1918 Lincoln Commemorative Half Free Shipping1918 Centennial Of The State Of Illinois~lincoln~Stone Mountain 1925 United States Commemorative Half Dollar Silver Coin1936 Pcgs Lynchburg Commemorative Half Dollar Pcgs Ms 64 ** Free Shipping!1922 Grant Comm Half Dollar Free Shipping1915-s Panama-pacific Exposition Commemorative Silver Half Dollar. Free Shipping1925 Fort Vancouver Commemorative Half Dollar, Tougher Commem, ** Free Shipping!1900 Lafayette Silver Dollar Commemorative....high Grade Coin Look!!!Vintage 1925 Stone Mountain Half Dollar 50 Cent Piece Silver Coin ~ Ms 65 Pcgs 1920 Ngc Pilgrim Commemorative Half Dollar Ngc Ms 65 ** Free Shipping!1900 United States Lafayette & Washington Silver Dollar. Pcgs Xf45. Pq!Estate Find 1925 "california Diamond Jubilee" Commemorative Silver Half Dollar1892 Silver Columbian Exposition Half 50c Philadelphia**whizzed Looks Great1936 Pcgs Albany Commemorative Half Dollar Pcgs Ms 64 ** Beautifully Toned!1922 Grant Commemorative Silver Half Dollar 50c **gem/bu** Us Coin !!!1936 Pcgs Ms65 "albany" Commemorative Silver Half Dollar1936-d San Diego Commemorative Half Free Shipping1925-s California Diamond Jubilee 50c Half Dollar Unc Protected Condition1920 Pilgrim Tercentenary Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Ngc Xf 45 No Reserve!1903 Mckinley Louisiana Purchase Gold Dollar Coin G$1 - Icg Ms 63 No Reserve!!1937 D Oregon Trail Commemorative Half Dollar Ngc Ms 672006-w American Silver Eagle Ase 20th Annisversary 3-piece Set W/ Box & Coa! 1900 Lafayette $1 - Pcgs Au Details - Cleaning - Certified & Graded *no Reserve!Uncirculated 1925 Stone Mountain Comm Half Dollar Free Shipping1893 Quenn Isabella Quarter1892 Columbus Half Dollar (90% Silver) Coin1936 York Commemorative Half Dollar, Stunning Pq Luster! ** Free Shipping!1936 Bridgeport Commemorative Half Dollar, Blast White Commem, ** Free Shipping!1918 Lincoln Commemorative Half Free Shipping1935-s Daniel Boone Commemorative Silver Half.. Gem Bu1926-s Oregon Trail Memorial Commemorative Silver Half Dollar *brilliant Unc.1935-d Daniel Boone Commemorative Silver Half.. Gem Bu1925 California Diamond Jubilee Commemorative Half Dollar ++(.99 Reser Free S/h)1936 Long Island Comm Half Dollar Free Shipping1951-d Pcgs Washington Carver Commemorative Half Dollar Pcgs Ms 65 ** Tough Coin1935 Hudson Silver Commemorative Gem Bu 1936 Battle Of Gettysburg 75th Anniversary Silver Half Dollar Coin1921 Missouri Silver Commemorative Ch/gem Bu 1936-s Oregon Trail Commemorative Half Dollar Pcgs Ms65 *low Mintage Date*1926 Sesquicentennial Commemorative Gold $2.50 Pcgs Ms 64 Brilliant & Lustrous 1936 Arkansas Comm Half Dollar Free Shipping1922 Ulysses Grant Silver Comm Half Dollar Free Shipping1936-d Texas Unc Ms65 50d Pcgs Independence Silver Commemorative Half Dollar 1936 D 50c Texas Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Ngc Ms671925-s California Commemorative Silver Half.. Gem Bu1924 Huguenot Commemorative Silver Half Dollar 50c **gem/bu** Toned Us Coin !!!