Modern commemorative U.S. coins have been issued by the U.S. Mint since 1982, when George Washington half dollars were struck to mark the 250th anniversary of his birth. Before the Washingtons, as they are known, early commemorative coins were issued between 1892 and 1954 to honor people, places, and events, as well as to raise money for monuments and related activities.

The first such modern-era fundraiser was a trio of coins minted in 1983 and 1984 to support the efforts of the U.S. Olympic Committee. Commemorative coins tied to the Los Angeles summer games of 1984 featured two silver dollars and a $10 gold eagle, which was the first gold coin struck since the last double eagle had circulated in 1933.

Subsequent Olympic coins were struck prior to games in Seoul (1988), Barcelona (1992), Atlanta (1996), and Salt Lake City (2002). In fact, sports themes have been popular on commemorative coins, as seen in coins minted for the 1994 World Cup, which took place in the United States, and two coins (a silver dollar and a gold half eagle) honoring Brooklyn Dodgers star Jackie Robinson in 1997.

Other landmarks and leading lights of American history to be honored include the Statue of Liberty (1986), the 50th anniversary of the start of World War II (1991-1995), and Benjamin Franklin, who got two silver dollars (one showing him flying a kite on the obverse) in 2006.

While most commemorative coins are not intended for circulation—indeed, their face value is typically less than their retail price—some coins blur this line. For example, bicentennial quarters and half dollars issued from 1976 to 1977 were put into circulation, but many people have collected them in the same way as they would commemoratives. An even better example of circulating modern commemorative coins are the U.S. state quarters issued since 1999.

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Society of U.S. Pattern Collectors

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