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    

1928 Hawaiian Commemorative Half Dollar, Tough Key Date, Unc Details Cleaned1893 Columbian Expo Chicago World's Fair Engraved Colubmian Half Dollar Award1893 25c Pcgs Uncirculated Details Isabella Silver Quarter Columbian Exposition1928 Hawaiian Half Dollar Pcgs Au58 Nr1925 Stone Mountain Commemorative Half Dollar ** Free Shipping!1922 Star, Grant Commemorative Half Dollar, Super Scarce Choice Bu++ Key Date!1936 50c Gettysburg Commemorative Silver Half Dollar1936 Lynchburg Commemorative Half Dollar, Better Date Commem, ** Free Shipping!1926-s Oregon Trail Commemorative Half Dollar1938-d Texas Commemorative Half Dollar, Scarce Superb Gem Bu++ ** Free Shipping!1915-s Pan Pacific Commemorative Gold $1 Dollar High Grade+++1921 2x2, Alabama Commemorative Half Dollar, Tough Gem Bu++ Better Date!1925 Vancouver Commemorative Half Dollar, Tough Commem, ** Free Shipping!1934 Texas Independence Centennial Half Dollar, Silver Commemorative 50c1935-s Texas Independence Centennial Half Dollar, Silver Commemorative 50c1922 Grant Commemorative Silver Half Dollar No ReserveUncirculatd 1925 Stone Mountain Silver Half Dollar Free ShippingUncirculated 1936 Daniel Boone Silver Half Dollar**** 1892 Columbian Expo Commemorative Half Dollar Bu Brilliant Frosty Luster1925-s Stone Mountain Commemorative Silver Half Dollar ~ Bu1936-d Cincinnati Commemorative Half Dollar Pcgs Ms 66 ** Better Date, Tough!1893 Isabella Quarter Certifited Ngc Coin ~ Neat Find! Lqqk 1918-p 50c Illinois Centennial Lincoln Commem. Half Dollar Pcgs Ms64 #322418311936 Wisconsin Commemorative Half Dollar High Grade1936 S Oregon Trail Memorial Commemorative Half Dollar1920 Pilgrim Commem Half Dollar 50c Pcgs Ms64 From Pcgs Rattler Ms65 - Item3171935 Hudson Half Dollar Pcgs Ms63 Nr Isabella Quarter Very High Grade Looks Gem1934 Maryland Half Dollar Pcgs Ms64 NrUncirculated 1926 Philadelphia Mint Oregon Trail Silver Comm Half Free S/h1925 Lexington Concord Silver Commemorative Half Dollar High Grade Nice Coin1935 Spanish Trail Silver Comm. Half Dollar. Ms651936 Lynchburg Half Dollar Pcgs Ms63 Nr1927 Vermont Commemorative Half Dollar, Estate Find 1918 Lincoln Commemorative Half DollarUncirculated 1936 Philadelphia Mint Long Island Silver Comm Half Free S/h1938-d 50c Oregon Trail Silver Commemorative Ms 66 Pcgs (#655)1938 50c Oregon Trail Silver Commemorative Ms 66 Pcgs (#305)1900 Lafayette Silver Dollar Choice Uncirculated Scarce!1922 Grant Commemorative Half Dollar, Nice Solid Gem Bu++ ** Free Shipping!Lot Of (37) United States 1893 Columbus .900 Silver Half Dollars. Circulated.1925-s Silver California Diamond Jubilee Commemorative Half Dollar (ms 62) NgcMaine Cenntennial Commerorative Half Dollar High Grade Rainbow Toning1936-s Bay Bridge Commemorative Half Dollar .99c No Reserve1936 1934 Daniel Boone Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Choice / Gem Bu++1918 Silver Lincoln Half Dollar (illinois Centennial Half Dollar)1926-s San Francisco Mint Oregon Trail Silver Comm Half Free S/h1935 Hudson Commemorative Half Dollar, Richly Toned Gem Bu++ Key Date!1918 Illinois Commemorative Half Dollar Lincoln Low Reserve! Beautiful Coin!1925 U.s. Stone Mountain Commemorative Silver Half Dollar! Au+ ~ Nr!1920 Pilgrim Commemorative Silver Half Dollar No Reserve1925 Rainbow Toned Stone Mountain Silver Commemorative Half Dollar1936 Arkansas Half Dollar1952 George W. Carver Booker T. Washington Half Dollar1927 Vermont Sesquicentennial Half Dollar Pcgs Ms-62 @@@ Must See @@@1893 Columbian Expo Commemorative Half Dollar - Roll Of Twenty1935/34 Boone Commemorative Half Dollar, Gorgeous Look, ** Free Shipping!1922 Grant Memorial Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Ms 64 Pcgs & Cac.1934 Maryland Tercentenary Commemorative Coin 50c Silver Half Dollar 1935-s San Diego California Pacific Expo Half Dollar, Silver Commemorative 50c