Commemorating the Past through Coinage
Explore Classic Commemorative Coins in Rago’s August 24 Coins + Currency Auction
10 August 2017
by Samuel Grillo, Rago Coins and Currency Cataloger
Not all that glitters is gold, and not all that is coined is to be spent! Commemorative coins are coins that were issued and minted to commemorate historic events or highlight a particular issue. Rago’s upcoming 400+ lot Coins and Currency Auction contains several of these commemorative coins. Rago Coins and Currency Cataloger, Samuel Grillo, explores a few of his favorite commemoratives below.
Commemorative United States coinage has been minted for over a century. From 1892 to approximately 1954, about 57 different designs were minted, with some designs spanning several years. Commemorative coins produced during this period are known as “classic” commemorative coins. Most of these coins had a mintage of between 10,000 and 50,000 pieces. While commemorative coins can come in any denomination, or no denomination at all, the most common commemorative denomination during the classic period was the half dollar. The majority of these coins were minted in silver, though there were a handful created in gold.
Minted in 1893 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in the Americas, the Isabella 25c commemorative coin is the first and only commemorative quarter to be issued in the U.S. and features a portrait of a young Queen Isabella. The coin was designed by Charles Barber, who served as Chief Engraver for the U.S. Mint from 1879 to 1917.
The Isabella Quarter has a mintage of only about 24,000 coins and was originally sold as a souvenir for $1. Never released for circulation and highly prized by early purchasers, these coins are quite desirable for collectors of classic commemorative coins.
The only silver $1 classic commemorative coin, the Lafayette commemorative sports a conjoined bust of George Washington and General Lafayette on the obverse, making it the first coin to officially bear the portrait of a U.S. President. The reverse features Paul Wayland Bartlett's statue of Lafayette which stands in France. The date 1900 also appears on the reverse, though there is no official date for this coin.
This commemorative coin was also minted under the watch of Chief Engraver Charles Barber. Approximately 50,000 coins were created, of which only about 36,000 exist today. This coin can be quite pricey in mint state; due to the way they were minted it is exceedingly difficult to find a perfect one.
The Isabella quarter and the Lafayette dollar are also popular because they are the only denominations in the classic commemorative coin series struck in silver which are not half dollars.
Struck in 1928 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Captain Cook’s arrival in Hawaii, this coin is considered a pinnacle of the classic commemorative series. With a mintage of only 10,000 coins and an original issue price of $2 (which was high for the time) they sold out quite quickly. Very popular among collectors and available in decent condition, these commemoratives often fetch a high price.
One of my favorite designs of the classic commemorative half dollars, the 1935 Connecticut tercentenary coin features the famous Charter Oak on the obverse and an eagle on the reverse. The coin was minted to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Connecticut colony.
Supposedly, the Charter Oak, which fell in the late 1800s, hid the colony’s charter during the rule of King James II. The tree is also featured on the Connecticut state quarter. A total of about 25,000 1935 Connecticut halves were minted and this coin can be secured in high grade at an attainable price. Quite popular as a one-year-type coin due to its very attractive design.