What is a Commemorative Coin?
All US coins commemorate something, right? Typically, US coins commemorate unity. They commemorate freedom. Our States, animals, Presidents and Native Americans are all commemorated on coins.
Yet, we there is a distinction. So, let’s look at the definition of Commemorative from the U.S. Mint:
“Commemorative: A special coin or medal issued to honor an outstanding person, place, or event.”
A “coin” is small piece of metal, usually flat and circular, authorized by a government for use as money.
Let’s also define “Medal” since it is used in the definition of “Commemorative”.
“Medal: A metal object resembling a coin issued to recognize an event, place, person or group, with no stated value and not intended to circulate as money.”
A commemorative coin is also defined by the U.S. Mint as:
“These coins honor famous people, places, and events by highlighting important parts of American history and culture.”
Commemorative Coins Past
The first commemorative coin was in 1848. It was a normal Liberty Head Quarter with California abbreviated as “CAL.” on the reverse.
“On December 9, 1848, the governor of California Colonel R.B. Mason sent 230 ounces of gold to Secretary of War William L. Marcy. This bullion was subsequently sent to the Philadelphia Mint where it was used to strike medals for Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott along with specially produced quarter eagles. A total of 1,389 pieces were struck with the abbreviation “CAL.” stamped above the head of the each on the reverse. The letters were manually punched into the coin following its minting, although it is believed the die was still in the coining press when the letters were punched into the field.”
~ My Coin Guides, Liberty Head Quarter
Subsequent to that, in 1892, an uncirculated commemorative dollar was coined in honor of Christopher Columbus, who had discovered the Americas 400 years earlier in 1492. There was a huge fair which also celebrated Columbus’s journey called the Columbian Exposition (also known as the Chicago World’s Fair). The coin commemorates the fair as well. On the obverse of the coin, it reads “Columbian Exposition”.
There have been many innovative commemorative coins. For example, the Lewis and Clark Exposition gold dollar, coined in 1904, actually had two heads. It had Lewis on one side and Clark on the other.
In 1915, a commemorative coin was released to showcase the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. This fair celebrated the completion of the Panama Canal. This was the second half dollar to be released as a commemorative coin.
A commemorative coin depicting both George Washington Carver and Booker T. Washington was released in 1951 and continued until 1954. The purpose was to promote freedom and opportunity for all.
1954 saw the end of an era for commemorative coins. Three commemorative half dollars were proposed for issue in 1954, but all were vetoed by president Dwight D. Eisenhower due to the lack of interest expressed by collectors, and the period of early commemorative coins ended that year with the 1954 Carver-Washington half dollar.
For a full list of U. S. commemorative coins, 1892 to 1954, click HERE.
For a full encyclopedic study of U.S. Classic Commemorative Coins, see the YouTube video in the References section below.
Modern Commemorative Coins
1982 saw a rebirth of the commemorative coin, with the George Washington 250 Anniversary half dollar.
Happily for coin collectors, the mint continued to create commemorative coins throughout the 80’s.
In the year 2000, the U.S. Mint created it’s first bi-metallic coin. In this case, “bi-metallic” means the coin is arranged with an outer ring around a contrasting center. For this Library of Congress coin, the outer ring is gold and the inner ring is platinum.
In more recent times, in 2014, the Baseball Hall of Fame commemorative coin was minted. It is shaped like a baseball on one side, curved to give the impression of a baseball. The reverse has a baseball mint.
Commemorative Coins in the (Near) Future
In 2020 there will be commemorative coins dedicated to the sport of basketball and the Basketball Hall of fame!
These words from the US Mint:
“The United States Mint 2020 Basketball Hall of Fame Commemorative Coin Program celebrates the 60th Anniversary of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, with a collection of curved coins, including a special keepsake just for kids.
The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame pays tribute to the beloved game of basketball invented by Dr. James Naismith to represent what have become known as “The Naismith values”— Teamwork, Sportsmanship, Fitness, Leadership, Integrity, Respect, and Perseverance. To honor these values, the Basketball Hall of Fame recognizes and honors the achievements of its greatest players, coaches, referees, and contributors who make basketball an exciting thrill to play and watch for fans all over the world.
Available in gold, silver, and clad, these exquisite curved coins will be available for purchase in Spring 2020. Surcharges are authorized to fund an endowment for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame to support operations and educational programming.”
US Mint – Coin Term Glossary
US Mint – United States Mint Hosts Ceremonial Strike of 2020 Basketball Hall of Fame Commemorative Coin
US Mint – Commemorative Coins from 1892-1954
Wikipedia – Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
My Coin Guides, Liberty Quarter Eagle
Wikipedia – World’s Columbian Exposition
Wikipedia – United States commemorative Coins
Dave’s Coins Glossary – Coin Definition
YouTube – Interesting Facts About U.S. Classic Commemorative Coins – Coin Seminar Weekend (It takes about two minutes for the video to start)