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Collecting United States' Classic Commemorative Coins (1852-1954)

Updated: Jun 22

According to the US Mint: “The 1892 Columbian Exposition half dollar was the first commemorative coin authorized by Congress. From 1892 through 1954, subsequent legislation authorized the U.S. Mint to produce commemorative coins for 53 different events, occasions, or individuals.


Coin Collection
Coin Collection

This resulted in the Mint producing over 180 silver and gold commemorative coins.” Taking the gold coins out of the picture, there are 144 silver issues left, 142 half dollar denominations, one quarter dollar, and one dollar. These are all legal tender United States coins but were designed to collect and not go into circulation. While commemorative coins serve the purpose of recognizing and honoring important people, places, things, and events, commemorative coins also often serve the function of raising funds for and awareness of the subjects depicted on the coins. Some of the designs are beautiful and some not so but with all the history involved these are so fun to collect. Even on a budget there are small subsets one can specialize in within the series.


If I had to chose I would start a set of the most in demand or scarcest coins first. These would include:


1922 Grant with Star Memorial Half Dollar
1922 Grant with Star Memorial Half Dollar

1922 Grant with Star Memorial Half Dollar


The Grant Memorial Commemorative was authorized on February2, 1922. Most of these have no star on the obverse. The star was a mistake and only 4,256 of these were distributed. The no star version is less valuable and had a net distribution of 67,405 coins. The obverse depicts Grant in profile in the later stages of his life. The reverse depicts Grant’s log cabin birthplace. The coin was designed by Laura Garden Fraser. The silver piece commemorated the 100th anniversary of Grant’s birth. Any profits from the coin went to the Ulysses S Grant Centenary Memorial Association which was formed in 1921. They spent the money on projects around Grant’s birthplace to honor him. The next coin is almost as scarce.


1928 Hawaiian Sesquicentennial Half Dollar
1928 Hawaiian Sesquicentennial Half Dollar


1928 Hawaiian Sesquicentennial Half Dollar


The Hawaiian commemorative honored the 150th anniversary of Captain John Cook’s landing in Hawaii. There were 9,958 uncirculated coins distributed and a few Sand Blast Proofs. The obverse has a portrait of Captain Cook and the reverse has a standing Hawaiian chieftain. Well known Honolulu artist Juliette May Frazer designed the coin. The proceeds from the selling of the coins would go to form a collection of Captain Cook memorabilia for Hawaii. The next coin commemorates a social event.