Posted on January 20, 2017 by

I’ve always liked U.S. commemorative coins, especially the so-called “classic” silver and gold commems (those issued from 1892 to 1954).  Two to three decades ago, this enthusiasm was shared by many collectors.  Today, however, interest in this series seems to have waned.  The justification for this judgment is the declining and flat prices for many of the coins in this series, especially among the silver versions.

What has happened?  This is a closed series, mintages are fixed, and the only changes have been an increase in the number of certified coins.  The designs are beautiful, mintages are low in many instances, and the coins are almost always Mint State, and nice.  Why are prices so low?  Or, asked another way, why aren’t collectors paying more attention to this series?  Regardless of why or how they have been lured away from classic commems, now might be a time for collectors to take another look at this fascinating group of coins.

Commem Index


Where, in fact, are commem prices today relative to the past prices?  Perhaps an examination of pricing history can gives us some context and perspective.  As a service to collectors, PCGS has built price guides for most U.S. series that go all the way back to 1970 and which are presented in graph form.  The graph of the index for classic silver and gold commemoratives shows a sharp peak in April 1989 followed by a sharp decline that ended nine years later, then ticked up gradually until October 2006, then declined gradually until the present time.  In 2016, the index began the year at approximately 25,000 and fell to an ignominious 21,000 by the end of the year.  The last time the index was this low was sometime in 1983!  Can you imagine being able to purchase any other U.S. coin today at a 1983 price?

Here are some of my favorites in the series:

1939 Arkansas1939-P, D, or S Arkansas.  Extremely low mintage of 2,103 coins (2,104 for the 1939-S).  Current PCGS Price Guide in MS65: $525 to $650 each.  In 1988, the Redbook listed an MS65 price of $950, and that was for the most common type!

1935s San Diego1935-S or 1936-D San Diego.  I live in San Diego, so naturally, I like this coin.  Current PCGS Price Guide in MS65: $120 to $135.  Huh?  The lowest Redbook price in 1988 was $600 in MS65.

1946 Iowa1946 Iowa.  This is a common coin in high grade, but $225 for a PCGS MS67?  A real no-brainer.  MS65s were $550 in the 1988 Redbook.

1928 OregonOregon Trail (any, but especially the 1939’s).  One of my favorite designs in the series.  As with the 1939 Arkansas commems, the 1939 Oregon Trail commems have low mintages (just over 3,000 each).  Current PCGS Price Guide in MS65: $550 to $575 each.  Again, the TYPE price for these in the 1988 Redbook was $750 in MS65 – and they certainly have not become more common.

If you’re a contrarian, give the classic U.S. commemorative coins a look.  You’ll find tremendous values there.  Have fun!



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Comments (3)


  1. colin james says:

    I started collecting these about 2 years ago because of what you have stated, I also feel that they will increase in popular demand because of the low mintage on many of them. I have just finished the 144 set of them in 65 to 67 grade.
    I hope we are right.

  2. Gerald Hoffman says:

    U.S. Silver Commemoratives have traditionally been grouped as the 50 Piece Type Set and the 144 Piece Mintmark & Variety Set.

    I’m sure there are many commemorative coin collectors, who after completing the type set are tempted to go beyond collecting only the 50 basic coins; but, just aren’t interested in going all out and accumulating another 94, inexpensive (for the most part) coins in order to complete a 144 set collection.

    The Redbook description of the Grant with star, Alabama 2×2 and Missouri 2 star 4 does grab one’s attention and makes one want to own them as well as their plain brothers. Even though the Booker T. Washington is one of my top five favorite commemoratives and I do own the key 1947-D in MS66, I just don’t have the interest to buy all eighteen inexpensive BTWs. Since most of the PDS commemoratives were a result of political shenanigans, they are also a bit of a turn-off particularly in light of today’s political and economic environment. Thus, the 144 coin set is never going to become a reality for me and probably not for a lot of collectors.

    Instead I recommend collecting a 55 Piece Specialized Type Set which would include both Alabama, Grant and Missouri coins as well as single date and two date Boone and Pilgrim coins. The additional five coins included in a 55 coin type set would add another 20% to the cost of completing the collection in MS64 or MS65 and would represent money well spent.

    Encouraging collectors to think in terms of a 55 commemorative coin set is an opportunity to expand collector interest in commemoratives especially if that category were created at the Registry Set level.

  3. Frank Draskovic says:

    Hi Ron,

    Aside from the current valuation issues you discuss, an important appeal of classic commem half dollars is that they were real money at the time of issue, actual coin of the realm that could be and was spent contemporarily for goods and services, unlike current NCLT with no claim to being real everyday money.

    I haven’t searched rolls for over 50 years, but for fun a few moths ago, I asked a local bank for half dollar rolls. They produced three rolls. Imagine my shock and joy when one entire roll was 90% and another almost all 40% silver. Among the 90% coins was a Booker T. Washington half in EF condition! For me, this circulated coin is far more evocative of that period than one in MS-67. Other classic commem halves did enter circulation for various reasons, very often economic necessity. What an interesting challenge it would be to put together a circulated set in EF condition. My plate is full so I’ll leave it to others to try.

    See you at Long Beach. Regards, Frank Draskovic

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