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    

1893 Christopher Columbus Half Dollar Commemorative Coin 1923 Monroe Doctrine Centennial Half Dollar1893 Christopher Columbus Half Dollar Commemorative Coin Stock # 334331893 Columbian Exposition Half Dollar 50c Half, Uncirc. - ***see My Store!***1893 Columbian Exposition Commemorative Half Dollar Us Silver Coin 50 CentsWorld War Ii 1943 5 Coins 2 Stamp Set Ww2 Silver And Steel Coin Walking Liberty1893 Colombian Half Dollar # 8881935 Spanish Trail Half Dollar 50c Pcgs Cac Ms651928 Hawaiian Silver Commemorative Half Dollar 50c Unc Details Ngc Hawaii1892 Columbian Silver Half Dollar Pcgs Ms67 - Toning!!1903 G$1 La Purchase, Mckinley Gold Commemorative Pcgs Ms65 Cac1921 2 X 4 Missouri Commemorative Half Dollar 50c Ms 65 Pcgs 2*41935 Spanish Trail Half Dollar Silver Commemorative 50c Ms 65 Pcgs1935 50c Hudson Silver Commemorative Ms 65 Pcgs (#504)1926 $2.50 Sesquicentennial Gold Commemorative Pcgs Ms64+ Cac1928 Hawaiian Commemorative Half Dollar, Avidly Pursued Choice Unc++/bu Key Date1935 Hudson Commemorative Half Dollar, Highly Desired Superb Gem Bu++ Key Date!1936 Albany Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Pcgs Ms67 - Toning !! Scarce!Texas 1937-d 50c Silver Commemorative Pcgs Ms67 (cac)1936-d 50c Cincinnati Silver Commem Ms 66 Pcgs & Cac (#020)Rare 1915-s Pan Pac Expo $2.50 Gold No Reserve (inv#377)1936-d 50c Cincinnati Silver Commem Ms 66 Pcgs (#192)1939-d 50c Arkansas Silver Commem Ms 65 Pcgs & Cac (#576)1937 50c Antietam Commemorative Half Dollar Ngc Ms631939 Oregon Trail Commemorative Half Dollar Pcgs Ms 66 ** Tougher This Nice!1939-s 50c Oregon Silver Commem Ms 65 Pcgs (#767)Texas 1936-d 50c Silver Commemorative Pcgs Ms67 (cac)1925-s California Silver Commemorative Half Dollar 50c Ms 65 Ngc ~ White1936 Norfolk Half Dollar 50c Pcgs Cac Ms671938-d 50c Oregon Silver Commem Ms 67 Ngc (#002)1924 Huguenot Silver Commemorative Half Dollar 50c Ms 66 + Plus Pcgs1938-d 50c Arkansas Silver Commem Ms 66 Pcgs (#178)1915-s Panama Pacific 1 Dollar Gold Pcgs 50 Looks Better1936-s 50c Cincinnati Silver Commem Ms 65 Pcgs (#252)1936 Gettysburg Commemorative Half Dollar, Gorgeous Superb Gem Bu++ Better Date!1916 Us Gold $1 Commemorative Mckinley Memorial - Pcgs Ms621921 2x4 Missouri Commemorative Half Dollar, Super Scarce Gem Bu++ Key Date!1938 50c New Rochelle Commemorative Half Dollar Ngc Ms651934 Texas Silver Commemorative Half Dollar 50c Ms 66 Ngc ~ White1927 50c Vermont Commemorative Half Dollar Ngc Ms621936 Long Island Silver Commemorative Half Dollar 50c Ms 66 Pcgs ~ Toned1935 Hudson Silver Commemorative Half Dollar 50c Unc Details Ngc1936 Norfolk Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Pcgs Ms-65 Series 100 Coin 331893 Isabella Commemorative Quarter Dollar, Sharp Superb Gem Bu++ Better Date!1938-s 50c Texas Commemorative Half Dollar Ngc Ms641900 Lafayette Commemorative Dollar, Lustrous Silver, Choice Bu++ Key Date!1935 50c Connecticut Commemorative Half Dollar Ngc Ms641935/1934-d 50c Boone Commemorative Half Dollar Ngc Unc Details1936 Gettysburg Commemorative Silver Half Dollar1938 New Rochelle Commemorative Half Dollar, Very Pq Superb Gem Bu++ Better Date1921 Missouri Commemorative Half Dollar, Very Nice Gem Bu++ Better Date Commem!Wisconsin 1936 50c Silver Commemorative Pcgs Ms661900 Lafayette Silver Commemorative Dollar $1 Au Details Pcgs Genuine1893 Isabella Commemorative Quarter Pcgs Ms 64 * Richly Toned Better Date Commem1921 Missouri Silver Commemorative Half Dollar 50¢- Au1893 Worlds Columbian Exposition Isabella Quarter@@ Must See@@1926-s Oregon Trail Memorial Comm. Silver Half Dollar Ms 66 Ngc & Cac1936 Norfolk Commemorative Half Dollar, Beautiful Superb Gem Bu++ Better Date!1915-s Panama-pacific Commemorative Half Dollar, Choice Gem Bu++ Better Date!1921 Missouri Silver Commemorative Half Dollar 50c Unc Details Ngc