Inside the World of U.S. Commemorative Coins

Commemorative coins serve a special purpose: they mark notable people and events in United States history. Each has a specialized design, and most are only sold to collectors.

Although commemorative coins are considered legal tender, they are often not intended to enter general circulation. Their cultural, and often monetary, value far exceeds their face value.

History of the U.S. Mint Commemorative Coin Program

The first commemorative coin, the Columbian Exposition half-dollar, was minted in 1892. It marked a world’s fair held in Chicago celebrating the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s voyage to the Americas.

Since then, the U.S. Mint has released various commemorative coins and coin series. There have been coins celebrating Mark Twain, The Civil Rights Act, the Star Spangled Banner, desegregation, the Olympics, and countless other people, events, and essential entities.

Here are some of the significant commemorative coins every numismatist should know.

Apollo 11

The Apollo 11 50th Anniversary gold and silver coins were released in 2019, which marked the 50th anniversary of the 1969 moon landing.

The coins came in a five-dollar gold half-eagle, a half-dollar, and two different silver dollars.

The Obverse features the print of a boot on the moon, and the reverse depicts a view of the landing reflected in a space helmet. Notably, Apollo 11 coins are curved.

Today, you can find these coins for about $50–$2,000.

Apollo 11 50th Anniversary $5 Gold Coin

Bald Eagle

The Bald Eagle commemorative coin was authorized in 2008. Its coin surcharges went to the American Eagle Foundation of Tennessee, an organization dedicated to the conservation of eagles across the United States.

The coins came in three varieties: a five-dollar gold coin, a silver dollar, and a half-dollar.

The silver dollar’s Obverse shows an eagle in flight, and its reverse depicts a heraldic eagle. On the half-dollar Obverse, there is a close-up of an eagle’s head against a flowing American flag, and the reverse depicts a portrait of two eagle chicks.

The gold coin from the bald eagle set features a pair of eagles on the Obverse and a heraldic eagle on the reverse. Today, you can find these coins for about $50–$1,000.

Bald Eagle

Bill of Rights

These 1993 coins (a five-dollar gold coin, a silver dollar, and a half-dollar) commemorated the Bill of Rights added to the Constitution.

Each features a different portrait of James Madison on the Obverse. On the reverse, the half-dollar features a torch, the silver dollar Montpelier, and the gold coin the quote, “Equal laws protecting equal rights are… loyalty and love of the country.”

These coins are worth between $50 and $700 today.

bill of rights

Statue of Liberty

These coins, authorized in 1986, commemorated the centennial of the dedication of Lady Liberty. The half-dollar, dollar, and gold five-dollar coins depict different illustrations of the Statue of Liberty. 

The dollar’s reverse features a torch and the famous Emma Lazarus quote: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…”

On the reverse, the half-dollar shows an immigrant family, and the gold coin shows an eagle in flight. The coins are worth about $40–$700.

statue of liberty

Library of Congress Bicentennial

Struck in 2000, these coins commemorated the anniversary of the Library of Congress. There are two coins: a platinum and gold $10 coin and a silver dollar.

The $10 coins can be found for about $900–$2,000, and the silver dollars are about $35–$500.

Library of Congress Bicentennial commemorative coins

World Cup Tournament

These coins celebrated the World Cup tournament held in the United States in 1994. Like many commemorative coins, they were released in five-dollar, dollar, and half-dollar increments.

Ten percent of sales were dedicated to providing scholarships for United States students. The coins can be found for about $25–$700.

World Cup Tournament

Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial

Abraham Lincoln graces the penny, so it’s only fitting that the 2009 Lincoln Bicentennial

One Cent Program marked the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln penny and the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth. These coins can be worth anywhere from about $7 to around $6,000.

They feature four different reverse designs, each commemorating a part of Lincoln’s life.

Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial commemorative coins

American Buffalo Commemoratives

These 2001 silver dollar coins recreated the famous Buffalo Nickels from the early 1900s.

The Obverse features a portrait of a Native American, and the reverse shows an American bison. The coins are worth around $125 in mint condition.

American Buffalo Commemoratives

Baseball Hall of Fame

This 2014 coin program celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Baseball Hall of Fame. The gold five-dollar, dollar, and half-dollar coins were all curved.

The Obverse (concave side) features a baseball mitt, and the reverse (convex side) is a baseball. Today, the coins are worth about $50–$1,000.

In 1997, the U.S. Mint also issued a Jackie Robinson Commemorative Silver Dollar coin to honor Robinson for breaking the color barrier in professional baseball.

Baseball Hall of Fame

Basketball Hall of Fame

These 2020 coins (dollar, half-dollar, and gold five-dollar coins) honored the 60th anniversary of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

The reverse shows a basketball and the obverse three players. The coins are usually worth about $60–$2,000.

Basketball Hall of Fame commemorative coins

Benjamin Franklin Commemorative Coins

This 2006 silver dollar series included two coins — one celebrating Franklin as a founding father and the other celebrating him as a scientist.

The coins usually sell for about $40–$700.

Benjamin Franklin Commemorative Coins

Most Valuable Commemorative Coins

Modern commemorative coins are still readily available, so most have a low dollar value. However, earlier commemoratives tend to be more costly. Here are a few examples:

  • 1848 Coronet Head Gold Gold Quarter Eagle – $14,00–$40,000 in mint condition
  • 1936-D 50C Arkansas Silver Commemorative – $37,500–$47,500 in mint condition
  • 1925 50C Lexington Silver Commemorative – $50,000–$75,000 in mint condition
  • 1915-S Panama-Pacific Round $50 coin – $48,000–$420,000 in mint condition
  • 1915-S Panama-Pacific Octagonal $50 coin – $54,000–$360,000 in mint condition

If you’re new to the numismatic world, the good news is that you can start a collection of more recent (and less expensive) commemoratives. Their value will grow over time.

Most Rare Commemorative Coins

Generally, the older the coin, the rarer it is. Here are some of the rarest:

  • World’s Columbian Exposition Half Dollar (1892–1893)
  • Lewis and Clark Exposition (1904–1905)
  • Lafayette Dollar (1900)
  • World’s Columbian Exposition Isabella Quarter (1892–1893)

These coins are notably scarce, so consider yourself lucky if you find one.

Proof and uncirculated commemorative coins have proven popular with collectors for decades. Here are a few other popular series:

  • Centennial Olympics (1995–1996)
  • Jamestown 400th Anniversary (2007)
  • U.S. Constitution Bicentennial (1987)
  • George Washington 250th Anniversary Half Dollar (1982)
  • San Francisco Old Mint Commemorative Silver Dollar Proof (2006)
  • Black Revolutionary War Patriots Silver Dollar (1998)
  • Boys Town Centennial Silver Dollar Coin (2017)
  • Civil War Battlefield Silver Dollar (1995)
  • National Park Service 100th Anniversary One Dollar Silver Coin (2016)
  • Breast Cancer Awareness $5 Commemorative Coin (2018)
  • First Flight Centennial Commemorative Coins (2003)
  • Thomas Jefferson Commemorative 250th Anniversary Dollar Coin (1993)
  • Korean War Memorial Silver Dollar (1991)
  • Marine Corps 230th Anniversary Silver Dollar (2005)
  • U.S. Marshals Service 225th Anniversary Silver Dollar Coin (2016)
  • World War II 50th Anniversary Dollar (1991-1995)
  • White House 200th Anniversary Dollar (1992)

Notably, the George Washington coin was the first modern commemorative coin. According to the United States Mint, over seven million have been sold.

Dive into the World of Commemorative Coins

Generally speaking, modern commemorative coins tend to have a low monetary value.

However, they’re worth much more than their price — each one marks a special moment in our nation’s history. For the avid numismatist, finding them can be an adventure like no other.

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