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    

1918 Lincoln Illinois Centennial Early Commemorative Half Dollar-pcgs Ms 661935 Pcgs Hudson Commemorative Half Dollar Pcgs Ms 65 ** Key Date Commem!1938-s Oregon Trail Commemorative Half Ms-66 Uncirculated1901 Lafayette Commemorative Silver Dollar Au/uncirculated Toned (at)1938 New Rochelle Early Commemorative Silver Half Dollar-pcgs Ms 651915 S $2.50 Pan Pac Early Commemorative $2.50 Gold 1926 Pcgs Sesquicentennial Commemorative, $2.5 Gold Commem, Ms 63 ** Super Pq++!1938 New Rochelle Commemorative Half Dollar- Pcgs Ms65- Green HolderUncirculated 1936-d Denver Mint Silver Texas Comm Half Dollar Free S/h1937 Roanoke Early Commemorative Silver Half Dollar-ngc Ms 661934 Maryland Silver Commemorative Half Dollar Pcgs Ms65 Cac Toned *no Reserve*1936-s Texas Half Dollar In Uncirculated Condition (unc)1938-p Oregon Trail Commemorative Half Gem Bu+ Uncirculated1936 Bridgeport Silver 50 Cents Outstanding Uncirculated1939-p Oregon Trail Commemorative Half Ms-66 Gem Uncirculated Boy Scouts .925 Fine Silver Heraldic Art Unc Gem Coin W/ Envelope - 73001 1939-s Oregon Trail Commemorative Half Ms-66 Gem UncirculatedAlbany N. Y. Commemorative Silver 1936 Half Dollar1937 D Arkansas Commemorative Silver 50c Pcgs Ms 651926-s Oregon Trail Commemorative Half Gem Bu+ Uncirculated1936 Lynchburg Commemorative Half Dollar - Pcgs Ms65 Gem - Old Holder - No Res1900 $1 Lafayette Silver Commemorative Dollar No Reserve1937d Texas Commemorative Half Dollar. Ms63! Stunning Coin!!Elgin (pioneer) Commemorative Silver 1936 Half DollarCirculated 1934 Philadelphia Mint Silver Texas Comm Half Free S/hSan Francisco-oakland Bay Bridge Commemorative Silver 1936-s Half Dollar!1903 Louisiana Purchase Thomas Jefferson Commemorative Gold $1 Ngc Ms661936 Elgin Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Pcgs Ms66 CacNgc Graded 1918 Lincoln Illinois Half Dollar Ms631922 50c Grant Commemorative Half Dollar Ms65 Ngc Great Toning 1939-d Oregon Trail Commemorative Half Ms-65 Gem Uncirculated1936-d San Diego 50c Commemorative Ms66 Ngc (no Reserve)[e703]1925 S California Diamond Jubilee Early Commemorative Half Dollar Pcgs Ms 661936 50c Gettysburg Silver Commemorative Au1946 Iowa Centennial Early Commemorative Silver Half Dollar-pcgs Ms 671935 S Arkansas Centennial Commemorative Half Dollar Pcgs Ms 66-low Mintage 55061935-s Daniel Boone Commemorative Half Ms-64+ Uncirculated1935-d Texas Commemorative Half Gem Ms-66 Uncirculated1926 Oregon Trail Memorial Early Commemorative Silver Half Pcgs Ms 661922 Grant Commemorative Half Dollar, Tougher Date Commem, ** Solid Gem Bu++!1937-p Texas Commemorative Half Gem Bu+ Uncirculated1925 Stone Mountain Commemorative Half Dollar ** Free Shipping!1915-s Panama Pacific Exposition Commemorative Silver Half1953 S Washington-carver Commemorative Silver 50c Ngc Ms 66 Pony Express .925 Fine Silver Heraldic Art Unc Gem Coin W/ Envelope - 73000 N.j. Tercentenary .925 Fine Silver Heraldic Art Gem Coin .4oz 31.5mm - 72999 1892 Columbian Expo Silver Commemorative Half Dollar Coin - Worlds FairPcgs Graded 1893 Isabella Silver Commemorative 25c Quarter Dollar Vf30 Coin1920 50c Maine Silver Commemorative Ms-64 Ngc(no Reserve)[e704]1926 Sesquicentennial Commemorative Half Pcgs Ms63 Light Rainbow Toned~colorful~1936 S Bay Bridge Commemorative Silver 50c Ngc Ms 64Ngc Graded 1925-s California Half Dollar Unc Details Cleaned Circulated 1922 Philadelphia Mint Silver Grant Comm Half Dollar Free S/h1936-s Daniel Boone Commemorative Half Gem Bu+ Uncirculated1920 Maine Commemorative Half Dollar, Great Luster! ** Free Shipping!1936 Bridgeport Commemorative Silver Half-dollar Pcgs Unc Details1954 Washington-carver Commemorative Silver 50c Ngc Ms 661923-s Monroe Commemorative Half Dollar, Lustrous Solid Gem Bu++ ** Free S/h!1925 Stone Mountain Civil War Comemmorative Au Silver Confederate Half Dollar1920 50c Pilgrim Silver Commemorative-almost Uncirculated-lovely-"d"