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    

1936 Pcgs Ms64 Colorful Toned Gettysburg Commemorative Half Dollar 1851 Booker Half Pcgs Ms64 + Obw Silver Dollar Roll Gem 1871 Seated + 1878 Trade1918 Abraham Lincoln Half Dollar - Illinois Centennial - Au/unc - Excellent1922 $1 Gold Grant Commemorative Dollar Ngc Ms64 **with Star**1900 Lafayette Dollar Early Silver Commemorative Pcgs Au 58 Very Pq1900 Lafayette Dollar Early Silver Commemorative Brilliant Uncirculated 100%origUncirculated 1892 Columbian Exposition Half Dollar Free Shipping  Ω 1921 Missouri Centennial 2x4 50c Silver Commemorative Au1949-d Booker T Washington Commem Half Dollar Rainbow Toned~colorful Toning~bu 1900 Lafayette Commemorative Dollar, Highly Desired , Denominationally Scarce!1936s San Francisco-oakland Bay Bridge Commemorative U.s. Silver Half Dollar1936-s Bay Bridge Commemorative Half Dollar, Gorgeous Gem Bu ** Free Shipping!1936 Wisconsin Commemorative Half Dollar, Solid Gem Bu++ ** Free Shipping!1947-s Booker T Washington Commem Half Dollar Rainbow Toned~colorful Toning~bu B1928 Oregon Trail Commemorative Half Dollar- Pcgs Ms65- Green HolderΩ 1927 Vermont Sesquicentennial 50c Silver Commemorative Unc1934 Texas Commemorative Half DollarUncirculated 1893 Columbian Exposition Half Dollar Free Shipping    1935 Hudson Commemorative Silver Half.. Above Average Luster And Strike1936 50c Battle Of Gettysburg Commemorative Silver Half Dollar1936 Ngc Ms66+ Plus Superb Gem Rhode Island Commemorative Half Dollar1925-s Pcgs California Commemorative Half Dollar Pcgs Ms 285 ** Tougher Date!1936 Albany 50c Ngc Ms 651892 Isabella Quarter Early Silver Commemorative Ms+++ Reflective1926 Oregon Trail Commemorative Half Dollar, Solid Gem Bu++ ** Free Shipping!1933-d Oregon Trail 50c Commemorative Ms-641926-s 50c Oregon Trail Commemorative Silver Half Dollar1918 Abraham Lincoln Silver Half Dollar - Illinois Centennial - Nice Coin!!!1918 Abraham Lincoln Half Dollar Coin In Bezel1893 Isabella Early Commemorative Quarter Pcgs Ms631936 Texas Commemorative Half Dollar Ngc Ms67 Gem+++ Original1936 Lynchburg Commemorative Half Dollar, Solid Gem Bu++ Better Date, * Free S/hPcgs Ms 64 Ogh "rattler" Oregon 19261935 50c Spanish Trail Silver Commemorative1925-s California Commemorative Half Dollar, Gem Bu++ ** Free Shipping!1949-s Booker T. Washington Commemorative Half Dollar Silver Ngc Ms66 Toned #121925 Stone Mountain Commemorative Half Dollar, Lustrous Gem! ** Free Shipping!1936-s San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge Comm 1/2 Dollar P2031950-s Booker T Washington Commem Half Dollar Rainbow Toned~colorful Toning~bu 21900 Lafayette Dollar Early Silver Commemorative Uncirculated Light CleaningRoll (20 Coins) 1892 Columbian Expo Commemoratives.. Choice Bu+1936-s Cincinnati Commemorative Half Dollar, Gorgeous Superb Gem Bu+ Better Date1935 Connecticut 50c Ngc Ms 64 1936 Long Island Ngc Ms 65 Commemorative Half Dollar1925 Stone Mountain Half Dollar Ngc Ms64 Choice White! 1892 Isabella Quarter Early Silver Commemorative Boarder Line UncirculatedTexas 1934 Uncirculated Commemorative Half Dollar1926 Oregon Trail Commemorative Half Dollar, Solid Gem Bu++ ** Free Shipping!Estate Find Silver 1937 Texas Independence Half Dollar Nice Shape !!1924 Mint Huguenot & Walloon Silver Tercentenary Silver U.s. Half Dollar1936-d San Diego Commemorative Silver Half Dollar1925 Lexington Commemorative Half Dollar ** Free Shipping!1951 Booker T Washington Commem Half Dollar Rainbow Toned~colorful Toning~bu1925 50c Stone Mountain Silver Commemorative Half Dollar 21926 Oregon Trail Commemorative Half Dollar, Avidly Pursued Tough Commem!1934 Boone Pcgs Ms65 Cac Guttag Commemorative Half Dollar1893 Isabella 25 Cent Silver Comm. About Uncirculated Details, Gc9468.siel1936-s Bay Bridge Commemorative Half Dollar, Superb Gem Bu++ ** Free Shipping!1920 Maine Commemorative Half Dollar Graded Ms 64 By Icg! No Reserve! 1925-s California Commemorative Half Dollar ** Free Shipping!