Commemorative coins are special edition coins that are minted to recognize and honor an important person, personality, landmark, or event.
In 1892, the first U.S commemorative coin was minted, a half dollar for the Columbian Exposition, an event which commemorated the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in the U.S. One of the most popular commemorative coins among collectors was the Washington coin. The Mint sold over 2.2 million uncirculated versions and nearly 4.9 million proof versions.
Guide for collectors
Commemorative coins are a valuable addition to a coin collection, both for their cultural and historical value. Collectors often enjoy history and choose commemorative coins depending on an era they are interested in.
The value of a commemorative coin depends on its rarity and cultural and historical relevance. Investing in commemorative coins can prove very lucrative if you sell your pieces at the right time.
Coin collectors focusing on coins from the United States may try to get a complete collection of all the commemorative half dollars, silver dollars, and gold coins produced. However, this can be a daunting task. Collectors can also collect commemorative coins according to the appeal of the coin’s design or theme (such as presidents, sports, women, or military themes). Collectors can also focus on denomination by choosing a particular coin value.
Commemorative coins can be found at coin shows and shops, as well as hobby publications such as Coins magazine. There are also many commemorative coins available online.
Notable Auction Sales
Commemorative coins can be purchased at a premium above face value from the U.S Mint.
The most expensive commemorative coin from the United States is the 1915-S Panama Pacific $50 gold round. In mint state, this coin can fetch between $50,000 and $150,000:
In September 2008, a 1915-S Panama-Pacific 50 Dollar Round was sold by Heritage Auction Galleries for $90000.
Also in September 2008, a 1915-S Panama-Pacific 50 Dollar Round went for $80000 through Heritage Auction Galleries.
A 1915-S Panama-Pacific 50 Dollar Round sold for $75000 in July 2008 through Heritage Auction Galleries.
Coins are often sold in batches or collections. For example:
Various coins from Germany – including 5 marks, 1913, Prussia, 3 marks (4), 1908, mounted, 1912, 1913 Jubilee, 1914 and Saxe-Meiningen, Death of Georg, 1915, 3 marks; together with Federal Republic, Olympic commemorative 10 marks (7), all 1972 and other commemorative 5 marks (5), 1970 (3), 1974, 1975, all virtually mint state (18) – sold for $240, $40 higher than the estimate. This lot was sold through Sotheby’s.
From Christie’s, a Panama-Pacific Exposition, 1915, Set of three Commemorative coins including $2½, 1915S, mintage 6749 pieces, Gold Dollar, 1915S, mintage 15,000 pieces, and Half-Dollar, 1915S, mintage 27,134 pieces, all in mint state or better(1 set; 3 coins) for $5,500, sold well above the estimate of $1,500 - $2,500, auctioned off at $5, 500.
The highest price paid for a commemorative coin was for a John Lennon gold coin. Bonhams auction house in London sold the coin for a record $119,780 (including 24% value added tax). The coin was sold on 29 June 2011, but was released on what would have been Lennon’s 70th birthday in 2010. The John Lennon coin was specially created for Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono and form part of the ‘Great Britons’ series that depicts famous British people in history.
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