Why Collectors Enjoy Commemoratives


Depending on how you become interested in coin collecting, and where your interest leads you, you may someday find yourself talking to a Grand Rapids coin dealer about U.S. commemoratives. For those not familiar with the term, commemorative coins in the United States are issued to honor people, events, institutions, or places. Commemoratives have developed into a separate class of coins, intended as collector’s items or as an economic investment. They can be either circulating or non-circulating.

  • Circulating: Technically, there are a few examples of circulating commemoratives that are intended to be used for commerce, and the U.S. Bicentennial Quarter (1975-1976) and the 50 State Quarter (1999-2009) programs serve as prime examples. For these programs, the designs were only issued for a limited time, and were intended to draw some attention to a specific event or person.
  • Non-circulating: In most cases, commemoratives are non-circulating legal tender (NCLT), and are often produced in gold or silver.  The funds raised by the sale of commemoratives have been used to pay for monuments or fund a specific project, as an alternative to raising taxes. For example, the 1925 California Diamond Jubilee half dollar was issued to help fund the state’s celebration, and the famous 1893 Isabella Quarter was issued to help raise funds for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

Most collectors also draw a distinction between early and modern commemoratives. Modern commemoratives began in 1982 with the issue of a silver George Washington half dollar, and are regularly issued by the U.S. Mint. Since 1982, commemoratives have been issued in silver, clad, and gold.  Regular issue circulating legal tender coins are no longer made of precious metal. Early commemoratives (1892 to 1954) were either silver or gold coins – mostly half dollars, but also dollars and other denominations – minted from precious metals as befitted the subject. When a Grand Rapids coin dealer talks about early commemoratives, virtually all will have a high premium over face value.   Those in nice uncirculated condition bring a significant premium.   Modern commemorative coins are almost always seen in uncirculated condition and in original mint packaging.  While worth more than face value, modern commemorative prices can vary dramatically.

People who enjoy early commemoratives are often attracted to them for particular reasons:

  1. Historical interest and value. Commemoratives have a certain patriotic appeal because they allow you to own a tangible bit of history that once supported a cause important to the U.S. people.
  2. Gift potential. Although non-collectors may not be aware of the various U.S. commemoratives available, they can be a surprising keepsake gift if aligned with the recipient’s interest in a place or historical person.
  3. Artistic value. Many early commemoratives have artistic appeal.
  4. Investment. Early commemoratives are a store of value. Prices of early commemoratives fluctuate over time, but some collectors have become interested in these coins for investment purposes.

If you find yourself interested in early commemoratives, contact Mullen Coins to see the current inventory of a Grand Rapids coin dealer. Or browse our current inventory from the comfort of your own chair.

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