Guide to Commemorative Values
Silver commemorative coins were struck as a means of raising money for many large events in American history. Read More
Gold commemorative coins were much less common than Silver, but they were struck as fundraisers for a few events in the early 20th century. Read More
The American Innovation dollar is a successor to the Sacajawea dollar. It is struck for collection, not circulation. Read More
Modern Gold U.S. commemorative coins began with a coin struck for the Olympics. Regular issues have continued since. Read More
A commemorative coin is a coin designed to honor important events. The historic context makes these a much more appealing type of coin for people who are not necessarily interested in coin collecting as a hobby. Before 1982, commemorative coins often were offered by a commission in charge of an event. Commemorative coins were usually used at the event the coin celebrates. The general public only recently really became aware of them, so numismatists had these coins to themselves when it came to collecting for a while.
There are also commemorative issues in circulating coinage — for example, the 1909 Lincoln Penny or the Bicentennial half dollars of 1976. These are not counted among commemorative editions as they were actual circulating coinage.
From 1988 to 1990, prices for commemoratives climbed through the roof in higher grades. Investors pushed MS-65 graded coins and higher through the roof, but eventually prices stabilized. Commemoratives tend to have a roller-coaster pricing cycle.
There are a dizzying number of commemorative coins minted within the United States, but there are some well-known issues worth mentioning.
The World’s Fair Columbian Exposition half dollar had an obverse engraved by Charles E. Barber and a reverse engraved by George T. Morgan. Barber and Morgan were both hugely influential engravers responsible for some very popular series of American coinage, including the famous Barber quarter and Morgan dollar. This was the first U.S. commemorative coin.
1900 saw the release of the Lafayette dollar, produced for sale by the Lafayette Memorial Commission. This was the first dollar commemorative and the first authorized U.S. coin to have a portrait of a U.S. president. These were created by Charles E. Barber.
Barber was also responsible for the 1903 Louisiana Purchase Exposition coin, the first gold commemorative U.S. coin. There were two issues of this coin, one with the head of Thomas Jefferson and one with the head of William McKinley.
The Alabama Centennial half dollars were supposed to be for 1920 but were not struck till 1921. These were designed by Laura Gardin Fraser and presented during then-president Warren Harding’s visit to Birmingham. The obverse has two portraits, one of the first governor of Alabama William Wyatt Bibb and one of then-governor T.E. Kilby. This was the first use of a living person’s portrait on a U.S. coin.
Philadelphia held a fair celebrating the 150th anniversary of the founding of the United States in 1926, and they released coins to raise money for it. These commemoratives were the first to have an image of a living U.S. president, as Calvin Coolidge and George Washington both appear on the obverse.
The Long Island Tercenary commemorative was the first issue with a specified date irrespective of mint or issue year. This allowed for the possibility of extending the coin’s mintage without changing details.
The Carver/Washington commemorative was issued from 1951 to 1954 and featured the portraits of Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver, two prominent black Americans responsible for wide advances in education and science. This was the last issue of a commemorative till 1982.
Mintage of commemorative half dollars began again with the George Washington 250th Anniversary of Birth in 1982. This was also the first 90% Silver coin struck by the U.S. mint since Silver was removed from circulating coinage in 1964.
The 1984 Los Angeles Olympiad Gold commemorative was the first U.S. Gold piece in more than 50 years, and the first coin to ever have the W mint mark (signifying it was struck at the West Point mint).
The first cupro-nickel clad half dollar commemorative was the 1986 Statue of Liberty Centennial, and the half eagle of the same issue was the first half eagle minted in more than 50 years.
There have been many, many more commemoratives struck, but these are the important firsts and milestones for these unique examples of U.S. coinage.
Lower-condition commemoratives are within reach of casual collectors, but prices rise rapidly for MS-65 and above, and the commemorative market as a whole is more volatile than many other collectible markets. It’s hard to say with any degree of certainty what coins will be worth.
As with anything, mintage numbers, high conditions, rare mint marks and key dates will be worth more.
The Price Guide
The PCGS Price Guide prices apply only to PCGS-graded coins. The PCGS Price Guide is a guide to assist the coin buying public in determining values for all important United States rare coins. The prices listed in the PCGS Price Guide are average dealer asking prices for PCGS-graded coins. The prices are compiled from various sources including dealer ads in trade papers, dealer fixed price lists and website offerings, significant auctions, and activity at major coin shows.Learn More