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Thematic Collecting of US Silver Commemorative Coins

By Kathleen Duncan – Pinnacle Rarities

The silver commemoratives produced between 1892 and 1954 are remarkably adaptable in terms of collectibility. Most collectors assemble a standard fifty piece type set which includes a single example of each basic half dollar type plus the Isabella quarter and the Lafayette dollar. This set can then be expanded to fifty-three coins with the addition of the basic major varieties: 1921 Alabama 2×2, 1922 Grant With Star and the 1921 Missouri 2×4. Taking this a step further, the collector can assemble a complete 144 piece set which contains an example of the branch mint and multiple year issues, where applicable.

What about the more casual collector who likes silver commemoratives but who doesn’t have the resources (or perhaps level of interest) to delve this deeply into these issues? We recommend thematic (or topical collecting) which is very popular in the field of stamps and which can be very well adapted to silver commemoratives.

In a nutshell, a thematic collecting of silver commemoratives takes a group of approximately four to six coins which are tied together by a basic theme. Four examples which we find appealing are as follows:

(NOTE: Because of the relative availability of these coins in lower grades, we suggest the collector stick to PCGS or NGC graded examples in the Mint State-66 to Mint State-67 range. The values listed below are for attractive, nice quality coins.)

I. Civil War Issues

There are a number of commemorative half dollars that are related to battles or great leaders of the Civil War. Listed alphabetically (along with the year in which they were issues), these are as follows:

* Antietam (1937). This issue was produced to commemorate the 75th anniversary of this epic Maryland battle. It is a very affordable coin with nice MS-66 examples currently valued around $750-1,000 and MS-67’s at $1,350-1,650.

* Gettysburg (1936). This issue was also produced to commemorate the 75th anniversary of an epic battle from the Civil War. It is regarded as one of the loveliest designs in the series and is valued at $700-950 in MS-66 and $2,000-2,500 in MS-67.

* Grant (1922). A 100th anniversary coin struck in honor of the birth of the Union general and future President, this issue is found with both “plain” and “star” varieties. The former is the more common and it is currently valued at $1,250-1,750 in MS-66 and $3,500-4,500+ in MS-67.

* Lincoln/Illinois (1918). The Lincoln commemorative is not a true Civil War issue (it actually honors the Centennial of the state of Illinois) but it features the bust of this important Civil War figure on the obverse. In MS-66, an example is currently worth $600-800 while an MS-67 is valued at $2,500-2,950.

* Stone Mountain (1925). This half dollar depicts the Confederate generals Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee and it helped to fund the Stone Mountain Civil War memorial in Georgia. An MS-66 is currently valued at $400-500 while an MS-67 costs $2,450-2,950.

SUMMARY: The five coin Civil War set can be assembled in Mint State-66 for $3,700-5,000 while an MS-67 set should cost $11,800-14,550+.

COLLECTING HINT: Try and assemble a set that is nicely matched. In other words, don’t buy two deeply toned coins and three bright white examples.

II. California Issues

Being the most populous state, it is only natural that California should have a number of commemorative issues that celebrate its heritage. There are four California-related issues and each is remarkable for its beauty. Listed alphabetically (along with the year in which they were issues), these are as follows:

* Bay Bridge (1936). When the San Francisco Bay Bridge was opened in 1936, this issue was struck in commemoration. As with most of these California issues, it is affordable with MS-66 examples currently costing $450-650 and an MS-67 worth $1,100-1,550.

* California Jubilee (1925). More formerly known as the California Diamond Jubilee, this issue was struck to celebrate the 75th anniversary of California into the Union. An MS-66 will cost $1,250-1,500 while MS-67’s are priced at $2,500-3,500.

* Panama-Pacific (1915). The 1915-S Panama-Pacific Exposition half dollar is the scarcest of the California quartet of commemorative silver half dollars. At one time, this was among the more expensive commemorative half dollars but prices have decreased in recent years. Today, an MS-66 should cost in the area of $2,500-3,250 while an MS-67 sells for $4,950-5,750+.

* San Diego (1935-1936). The San Diego half dollar was struck in 1935 and in 1936 to honor the California Pacific Exposition. The 1935-S is the more common of the two issues and has a mintage figure of 70,132. It is common in MS-66 and sells for just $150-200 while an MS-67 should cost $1,250-1,500.

SUMMARY: This four coin set should cost $4,350-5,350 in MS-66 and $9,800-12,300+ in MS-67. Given the large number of coin collectors who either live in California or were born there, this amount seems very reasonable.

COLLECTING HINT: The Pan-Pac is, obviously, the key to this series. Collectors should, avoid dark or dull examples and search for an original gem with pretty light to medium color.

III. Art Deco Issues

The Art Deco style began in Europe during the 1920’s and spread to America soon thereafter. By the mid-1930’s it was very popular in this country and it can be most easily identified by streamlined or severely angular designs. There are four silver commemorative half dollars which display classic Art Deco motifs and these would make a great set for the collector with an artistic inclination. Listed alphabetically (along with the year in which they were issued), these are as follows:

* Bridgeport (1936). The Bridgeport half dollar commemorates the 100th anniversary of the incorporation of this town and it features the portrait of P.T. Barnum on the obverse. The reverse, with a very Art Deco-influenced eagle, is a favorite of collectors. An MS-66 is currently valued at $400-600 while an MS-67 costs $2,500-3,250.

* Cincinnati (1936). The obverse of this issue displays a portrait of Stephen Foster while the Art-Deco reverse honors Cincinnati as a center of American music. This coin was struck at the Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco mint in 1936 only. A single “type” example will be priced at around $1,250-1,500 in MS-66 and $4,000-5,000 in MS-67.

* Connecticut (1935). The stylish Art Deco eagle found on the obverse of the Connecticut Tercentenary half dollar is one of the finest designs on any silver commemorative half dollar. A nice MS-66 is valued at $800-1,000 while an MS-67 costs $2,500-3,500+.

* Hudson (1935). The reverse of this issue features an appealing Deco-inspired rendering of the seal of the city of Hudson. An MS-66 trades for $1,750-2,000 while MS-67 are quite scarce and, when available, sell in the $7,500-8,500+ range.

SUMMARY: From an aesthetic point of view, it would be hard to pick a more attractive quartet than these Art Deco issues. If you believe (as we do) that pretty coins “sell themselves,” then this is an interesting set to assemble. In MS-66 condition this set can be assembled for around $5,000. Since the Hudson, and to a slightly lesser extent the Cincinnati, are among the most challenging issues in MS67, the price of this set jumps to around $20,000 at the next grade level.

COLLECTING HINT: The great beauty of these designs lend themselves especially well to color and we recommend searching for attractive toned examples.

IV. New York Issues

New York has long been a major center of numismatic activity and there are thousands of serious, active collectors who reside in the Empire State. The five commemorative half dollars that relate to New York make a great set and include some of the most attractive designs in the entire series. Listed alphabetically (along with the year in which they were issues), these are as follows:

* Albany (1936). The capital city of New York was chartered in 1686 and is commemorated by this issue. In MS-66, the Albany half dollar is very reasonably priced at its current $500-600 level; MS-67 examples can be purchased for $1,250-1,500.

* Hudson (1935). The Hudson half dollar, which has mentioned above because of its lovely Art Deco design, is an integral member of this New York-related quintet. An MS-66 trades for $1,750-2,000 while MS-67 are quite scarce and, when available, sell in the $7,500-8,500+ range.

* Huguenot-Walloon (1924). New York (originally known as New Netherlands) was founded by these Dutch colonists in 1624 and this issue was struck to commemorate the 300th anniversary of this settlement. In MS-66, the collector can expect to pay $850-1,100 while MS-67 examples should sell in the $2,850-3,500 range.

* Long Island (1936). The 300th anniversary of the founding of the first settlement in Long Island by the Dutch is the subject of this issue. The design has slight Art-Deco overtones and could be added to the Art Deco set listed above. MS-66 Long Island halves are currently valued in the $800-1,000 range while MS-67’s are scarce and valued at $4,750-6,250+ when available.

* New Rochelle (1938). The New Rochelle half dollar commemorates the 250th anniversary of the founding of this town in Westchester county by the French Huguenots. It is attractive and reasonably priced with MS-66 pieces currently selling for $550-650 and MS-67’s for $1,500-2,000.

SUMMARY: In Mint State-66, a New York set of silver commemorative half dollars will cost $4,450-5,350 while an MS-67 assemblage will cost $17,850-21,750+.

COLLECTING HINT: A number of these issues are very hard to locate in properly graded Mint State-67 and the collector may have to pay a higher price than the suggested value ranges listed here. However, we suggest the collector be careful about paying extremely high premiums for a high end PCGS or NGC MS-67 unless the coin(s) in question is exceptionally nice.

We have listed just four thematic sets of silver commemorative half dollars. There are many others to choose from including animals, midwestern states, New England states, western themes and more.

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