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An Introduction to Commemoratives Coins

By Kathleen Duncan of Pinnacle-Rarities

Texas Commemorative Half DollarThis is the place to start learning if you’re unfamiliar with US Commemorative Coins.

What are commemorative coins, you ask?

Commemorative coins are coins issued by the US Mints to recognize the achievements of the Nation. The are coins, and not medals or medallions, because they are monetized, they have a face value and can be used as money, for example a half dollar coin. They differ from regular issue US Coin because they are are struck primarily for collectors, rather than to circulate as money although they are legal tender. Most commemorative coins were struck in conjunction with a large exhibition and festival where they were sold for collectors. The legislation allowing for the issuance of these coins normally also assigned an agency to oversee the distribution or sale. These coins were sold to collectors at a premium to their face value, say $1.00 for a half dollar coin. The two main uses of the proceeds of sale were to raise money for a monument to be built or to defray the costs of the celebration.

How to collect commemoratives.

Between 1892 and 1954, there were just 50 different silver commemoratives and nine different gold issues authorized by Congress and produced. Because many of these coins were issued for multiple years, were struck at the Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco Mints, and were issued with subtle design variations, there are a total of 144 different silver coins and 13 gold commemoratives.

When collectors buy one coin of each design, they are assembling a Type Set. This is the most popular way to collect silver commemorative coins, the 50-coin set. Most collectors of gold commemoratives will purchase the nine gold dollars and two quarter eagles ($2.50 gold coins) and build a set of 11 coins. Excluded are the two scarce Panama-Pacific $50 issues – visit the Panama-Pacific Gold Commemoratives page by using the scroll-list above to learn why. With that said, there is no one way or best way to collect US commemorative coins. Collectors owe it to themselves to take ownership of their own collections. They should buy what they like and what is interesting to them. Many advanced collectors choose to buy only the five issue related to the Civil War, to buy the ten coins with ships on them, etc. There are nine issues that relate to the western United States, and this has always been a particularly interesting yet overlooked subset.

When a coin was issued at all three mints, in Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco, during the same year, the three coins together are called a PDS-Set. The Philadelphia coins do not have a mint mark, but the coins struck at Denver will have a small “D” and the coins struck at San Francisco will have a small “S” to identify their origin. Many collectors will choice to build a complete set by date and mint. For example, the Texas Half Dollar was issued from 1934 to 1938. In 1934, it was struck at just the Philadelphia Mint, but from 1935 to 1938 it was struck at all three Mints, creating a total of 13 coins. Collectors will set out to build a complete set in a particular condition. The variations in number produced, production quality, and handling means that some issue are harder to locate in better condition than others.

It should be mentioned here, even if just briefly, that many collectors of commemorative coins often place more emphasis on the visual appeal than the technical merit of the coins they purchase. Some collectors like especially lustrous white examples. Other collectors perfer coins that have a ring of color around their peripheries, caused when the silver in the coin reacted with oxygen and the sulphur-containing papers of the old coin albums. Most prized in today’s marketplace are coins with vibrantly colored original patina. Examples of these coins can be seen in throughout the site.

Why should you collect commemoratives?

This section will be brief. Collecting is a natural and often self-guided thing. No one can tell someone else what to collect. There must be a spark of interest to pursue such an involved and complex endeavor. But, it seems that there are three major reasons why people like commemoratives, 1. Historical Interest, 2. Aesthetic Appeal, 3. Scarcity and Value. Each is discussed below.

1. Historical Interest – There is a beautiful and succinct passage about commemorative coins in the Redbook, the authoritative one-volume reference guide to US coins, which seems to summarize things well:

“The unique position occupied by commemoratives in United States coinage is largely due to the fact that with few exceptions all commemorative coins have real historical significance. The progress and advance of people in the New World are presented in an interesting and instructive manner on the commemorative issues. Such a record of facts artistically presented on our gold and silver memorial issues appeals strongly to the collector who favors the historical side of numismatics. It is the historical features of the commemoratives, in fact, which created interest among many people who would otherwise have little interest in coins.”

These coins are tied directly and are a part of history. This is interesting.

2. Aesthetic Appeal – Many of the coins were designed in contest by important sculptors. The designs were at once of national and historical relevance, and among them are some of the most creative examples of the coinage art in the history of numismatics. They are beautiful objects in their own right.

3. Scarcity and Value – Many of these coins were issued in very small number. Fully seventy coins of the 144 Silver Commemorative series have an original mintage of under 10,000 pieces. None of these coins is overly abundant. Since many of them are available for a few hundred dollars in gem uncirculated condition, it’s easy to see why collectors and dealers alike call them the best values in the numismatic marketplace.

Having read this brief introduction, you’re more than ready to start exploring this series. You can also contact Pinnacle with your questions. Have fun with these unique historical coins.

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