Early Commemorative Coins of The United States

During the past 120 years, the United States has released hundreds of commemorative coins. Commemorative coins are always minted for a specific reason such as to honor a person, institution, place or some historic event that has shaped America.
The U.S. first began to mint commemorative coins in the late 1800’s and stopped producing them for awhile back in 1954. It wasn’t until 1982 that the United States began minting commemorative coins again and any coins minted after this date are referred to as Modern Commemorative Coins.
Legislation instated in 1996 limited the number of commemorative coins that Congress could require the mint to produce to only two different coins annually. It also put a limit on the number of commemorative coins that could be minted during a year.

1848 $2.50 Gold Commemorative Coin
1848 Gold Commemorative Coin

For some coin collectors, the first commemorative coin is considered to be the 2 1/2 dollar that was released in 1848 because it commemorated the famous gold strike in California. But, most standard coin lists note the 1892 Colombian half dollar that was minted to honor the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage to America and to celebrate the Colombian Exposition in Chicago as the first commemorative coin.
Although the coins main purpose was to commemorate the exposition it wasn’t the only coin minted for the occasion. The following year, the first quarter dollar coin was issued to honor Queen Isabella of Spain, who had helped fund Columbus’s travels. The quarter coin was the result of a petition for a souvenir coin for the event made by the lady managers of the exposition.
The standard list ends with the second Booker T. Washington half dollar issue from 1951 to 1954 as the last early commemorative coin minted. The first commemorative coin Washington appeared on was the Booker T. Washington Memorial Half Dollar minted from 1946 until 1951. Washington holds the honor of being the first African American to ever be featured on a U.S. coin.
1892 Colombian half dollar commemorative coin
1892 Colombian Half Dollar

Many commemorative coins have been released to obtain money for various causes as an alternative to raising taxes to raise money. The sales from the 50 cent coin that was minted in 1924 was used towards having the Confederate monument at Stone Mountain carved. The coin depicted Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee and read “memorial to the valor of the soldier of the south”.
The George Washington commemorative coin produced in 1932 was minted to celebrate the 200th anniversary of his birth. The circulated coin became the regular issue coin in 1934 since there were no other quarters minted in 1933. The same design was also used to commemorate the bicentennial.
With the release of the new state quarter commemorative issues, the popular hobby has attracted a whole new group of collectors. These coins were minted for circulation as well as collecting. But, many commemorative coins are minted solely for the purpose of ending up in prized collections and are never seen in the every day world of money!
Written by Connie Corder, Copyright 2009 CoinCollectorGuide.com

7 thoughts on “Early Commemorative Coins of The United States”

  1. an Ameican Commemortive coin with Pilgrims landing on one side and Signing of the Declaration of Independence on the other. Large 2.5 inch silver coin. Can you help me with info on this.

    • Are you sure that it is a commemorative coin? Does it have a dollar value? It sounds to me like you are describing what is referred to as a “silver round”. If so it is 1 troy ounce of silver and was not made by the US Mint.
      Post a reply here and let us know what words appear on the coin

  2. I have a 1939D Half Dollar and part of the eagle on the back of the coin is gold. Ever heard of this? It might have been commemerative.

  3. The early commemorative coins, especially the half dollars, are extremely beautiful coins that do a wonderful job of commemorating US history. There are some modern commemoratives that come close to the beauty and appeal, such as the 2005 US Marine Corps silver dollar, but a lot don’t even come close. I think that there should be a movement amongst the American people to bring forth commemorative half dollars with significant historical value, like the battles America has fought in or, in emulation of the National Parks quarters, many of the nation’s monuments and historic sites. Not parks, but monuments such as the Washington Monument, the Marines Corps Memorial Monument, the Statue of Liberty, and other monuments. The monuments that everyone in the country knows and is familiar with. They are a part of this country’s identity that should be even further immortalized in our coinage. I feel it would be better to put them all in a series rather than commemorate things as they come along the pike. Commemorative coinage is important however, and some commemorative coinage is better than none I suppose.

  4. Hi, i found a whole display case of old 1800’s western coins, with pictures such as “Battle of Little Big Horn” and “The First Covered Wagon” I was wondering if these were of any worth?

  5. Hi! I recently bought a complete set of US Commemorative silver rounds. Each coin depicts one of the early US commemorative half dollars in one ounce form. It is in a Dansco album. I would like to find out who minted these beautiful silver rounds. Do you have any idea where they may have originated?

    • Hello Richard, those silver rounds are not actually coins and were produced by a private company (I dont know which). I will do some looking to see if I can find out.

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