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    

1922 Grant Commemorative Half Dollar, W/ Star, Avidly Pursued Gem Bu++ Key Date!1935 Spanish Trail Commemorative Half Dollar, Lustrous Solid Gem Bu++ Key Date!1915-s Panama Pacific Gold Commemorative, $1 Gold, Scarce Gem Bu++ Key Date!1915-s Panama Pacific Commemorative Half Dollar, Scarce Date Commem, Free S/h!1935 Connecticut Commemorative Half Dollar, Gorgeous Superb Gem Bu++, Free S/h!1915 S Panama Pacific Exposition Commemorative Silver Half Dollar1936 Norfolk Commemorative Half Dollar, Distribution Holder, & Norfolk Large Map1893 Isabella Quarter Au-58 Pcgs1925 Stone Mountain Commemorative Half Dollar 50c Silver Au+ Circ. Coin Rare!1925 Lexington-concord Commemorative Half Dollar (90% Silver) Coin1893 Isabella Silver 25 Cents Choice Uncirculated Scarce!1936 Gettysburg Commemorative Half Dollar Icg - Ms641936 S Oregon Trail Commemorative Half Dollar 50c1934 Texas Commemorative Half Dollar, Solid Gem Bu++, ** Free Shipping!Uncirculated 1892 Columbian Exposition Silver Half Dollar Free Shipping!        1893 Isabella Commemorative Quarter, Deeply Toned Sharp Better Date, Free S/h!1936-s South Carolina Silver 50 Cents Gem++ Uncirculated Rare!!1927 Vermont Commemorative Half Dollar, Tough Gem Bu++ Better Date, ** Free S/h!1934-d Oregon Commemorative Silver Half Dollar ~ Bu1926 Sesquicentennial $2.50 Gold, Pcgs Ms64, Superb Color Davidkahnrarecoins1922 Grant Memorial Commemorative Half Dollar1921 Pilgrim Commemorative Half Dollar, Nice Gem Bu++, ** Free Shipping!1935 Alamo Texas 90% Silver Commemorative Half Dollar Old Us Coin Nr Free Ship1921 2x4, Missouri Commemorative Half Dollar, Tough Gem Bu++ Key Date, Free S/h!1926 Oregon Trail Commemorative Half Dollar Xf- Au 50c Coin Starts At 99 Cents! 1936 Gettysburg Commemorative Half Dollar - Purple Bronze Toned - Choice Unc.1925 Stone Mountain Memorial Commemorative Half Dollar Au1935 Hudson Commemorative Half Dollar, Very Tough Gem Bu++ Key Date, * Free S/h!1926 Sesquicentennial Gold Commemorative, $2.5 Quarter Eagle, Choice Bu++!1893 Isabella Quarter1935-d Texas Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Pcgs-ms65 Gem Uncirculated 1936 ☆ Pcgs Ms65 Cac Ogh ☆ Texas Commemorative1936-d South Carolina Silver 50 Cents Gem++ Uncirculated Rare!!1946-d Booker Washington Comm, Paper Holder, Mailing Envelope And Btw Brochures1920 Maine Commemorative Half Dollar ** Free Shipping!$1g 1915-s Panama Pacific One Dollar Gold Xf-au Details * Avenuecoin1926-s Oregon Commemorative Silver Half Dollar ~ Bu1925-p Stone Mountain Half Dollar.!!! Nr.!!1936 50c Gettysburg Silver Commemorative1921 Missouri Commemorative Half Dollar, Tough Choice Bu++ Key Date, Free S/h!1893 25c Isabella Silver Quarter Us Commemorative Coin Uncirculated1935 S ☆ Pcgs Ms65 Cac Ogh ☆ Texas Commemorative1936 Wisconsin Commemorative Half Dollar - Stunning Blazer - Anacs Ms651893 Isabella Quarter - World's Columbian Exposition - Uncirculated DetailsAntique 1934 Texas Centennial Commemorative Silver Half Dollar, Xf Condition1925 Stone Mountain Commemorative Silver Half Dollar ~ BuUncirculated 1893 Philadelphia Mint Columbian Expo Silver Comm Half Free S/h1900 Lafayette Dollar High Grade1936 Pcgs Bridgeport Commemorative Half Dollar Pcgs Ms 66 ** Great Eye-appeal!1922 Grant Memorial, With Star Half Dollar1936 Cincinnati Commemorative Half Dollar, Tough Near Gem Bu++/gem Better Date!1926 Pcgs Oregon Commemorative Half Dollar Pcgs Ms 65 ** Free Shipping!1936 South Carolina Silver 50 Cents Gem++ Uncirculated Scarce!!1934 50c Texas Silver Commemorative Half Dollar 11936 York Commemorative Half Dollar, Superb Gem Bu++ ** Free Shipping!1925 Lexington Commemorative Half Dollar, Nice Luster! ** Free Shipping!1923 Commemorative Monroe 90% Silver Half Dollar Old Us Coin Nr Free ShipOregon Trail Half Dollar 1926-s, CleanedTwo(2) 1926 Oregon Trail Vf/xf Commemorative Half Dollars-see Pictures1937-d Pcgs Oregon Trail Commemorative Half Dollar Pcgs Ms 66 ** Gorgeous Commem