Collecting US commemoratives is a terrific way to assemble a potentially valuable and very interesting collection of rare coins. Commemorative US coins are those that are minted to commemorate an event, person, place or institution. Although they are legal tender, the majority are not intended for general circulation. Today, you can collect both early and modern US commemorative coins.
Commemorative coins that are considered “early” were minted from 1892 through 1954, although some collectors consider the 1848 $2.50 gold piece stamped “CAL” the first example, as it commemorates the discovery of gold in California. There is no doubt about the end of the “early” commemorative coin period in US history, as the last issue was the 1954 Washington-Carver 50 cent coin.
The US Mint stopped producing commemorative coins consistently between 1954 and 1982, so those issued after 1982 are usually considered “modern.” The suspension of these coins was the result of criticism of the Mint for commemorating events, occasions and personages of questionable significance or worthiness for recognition on US coinage.
Between 1892 and 1954, 53 different people, events and occasions were commemorated in 157 non-circulating commemorative coins in various designs. Today, these are highly sought after by collectors, especially specimens in exceptional condition.
US commemoratives are sought after as rare coins, as many were issued in very small quantities. Consider that seventy of the original 144 silver commemoratives issued have low mintages of 10,000 or less. Higher grade specimens of commemoratives tend to be less common than you would think, given that they were never circulated. Although uncirculated, the vast majority of these coins were handled extensively by their owners, causing wear and damage.
Today, many people are familiar with modern circulating coins, such as the Bicentennial Washington quarter, Kennedy half-dollar and Eisenhower dollar. The State Quarters, program started in 1999, includes commemoratives for each of the 50 states. Four commemorative nickel 5 cent coins were minted in 2004-2005. Although these and other modern circulated commemoratives are not rare coins, many collectors include uncirculated or proof specimens of these interesting coins in their collections.
Depending on your budget and the time you have to seek out the right commemorative coins for your collection, it may well be a long-term endeavor. Collecting US commemorative coins can be a wonderful way to enjoy working on what may well end up being a very valuable collection over the course of a lifetime.