US Commemoratives were minted to honor a certain person, event or place. They were not meant for general circulation, but as a means to raise money for a particular group or item or to not have to raise taxes for a local area. You would usually get them at the place honoring them. Most of the coins were silver half dollars, but there were other denominations in silver as well as gold. The first commemorative came out in 1892 to commemorate Christopher Columbus’s 400th anniversary of discovering the new world. This would also be the first coin to have an actually person on the obverse. This wouldn’t happen in the regular circulating coins till Abraham Lincoln in 1909.
This post is about the early US Commemoratives from 1892 – 1954. With all the commemoratives coming out in the 1920’s and 1930’s the mint decided to cut down and finally stop producing them in 1954. The mint would not produce another commemorative until 1982 with the 250th Anniversary of George Washington’s birth, but I’ll talk about that in another post.
List of Early Commemoratives
The following are silver half dollars unless otherwise noted.
- Columbian Exposition (1892-1893) – Chicago, IL, 400th Anniversary of Columbus’s Discovery of America
- Isabella Silver Quarter Dollar (1893) – Queen Isabella of Spain who financed Columbus’s voyage
- Lafayette Silver Dollar (1900) – George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette
- Louisiana Purchase Gold Dollar (1903) – St. Louis, MO, 100th Anniversary of purchase of the Louisiana Purchase, two different coins released, one with Thomas Jefferson and the other with William McKinley
- Lewis and Clark Exposition Gold Dollar (1904-1905) – Portland, OR, 100th Anniversary with Lewis and Clark
on either side of coin
- Panama Pacific Exposition (1915) – San Francisco, CA, opening of the Panama Canal, released silver half dollar, gold dollar, gold $2.50 and gold $5
- McKinley Gold Dollar (1916-1917) – Sold to help build a memorial for President William McKinley at his birthplace, Niles, OH
- Illinois Centennial (1918) – Abraham Lincoln on the obverse
- Maine Centennial (1920)
- Pilgrim Tercentenary (1920-1921)
- Missouri Centennial (1921)
- Alabama Centennial (1921)
- Grant Memorial (1922) – 100th Anniversary of Ulysses S. Grant’s birth – release silver half dollar and gold dollar
- Monroe Doctrine Centennial (1923) – President James Monroe and Secretary of State John Quincy Adams on the obverse
- Huguenot-Wallon Tercentary (1924) – Founding of New Netherland (now New York) by Dutch Colonists
- Lexington-Concord Sesquicentennial (1925) – Early Revolutionary War battles
- Stone Mountain Memorial (1925) – Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson on the obverse. This coin helped raise money to build a Confederate Monument at Stone Mountain, GA
- California Diamond Jubilee (1925) – 75th Anniversary of California statehood
- Fort Vancouver Centennial (1925) – John McLoughlin who appears on the obverse built the fort in Washington. The sale of this coin provided a pageant for the celebration.
- American Independence Sesquicentennial (1926) – Silver Half Dollar and $2.50 Gold
- Oregon Trail Memorial (1926,1928,1933,1934,1936-1939) – Commemorate the pioneers who traveled the 2,000 mile trail
- Vermont Sesquicentennial (1927) – 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Bennington. Vermont founder, Ira Allen appears on the obverse
- Hawaii Sesquicentennial (1928) – 150th Anniversary of Captain James Cook’s (on the obverse) arrival
- Maryland Tercentenary (1934) – Cecil Calvert (aka Lord Baltimore) founded the colony in 1634
- Texas Centennial (1934-1938) – Commemorates the 1936 Independence of Texas.
- Daniel Boone Bicentennial (1934-1938) – 200th Anniversary of Daniel Boone’s birth, 1734.
- Connecticut Tercentenary (1935) – founding of Connecticut colony with the famous Charter Oak that hid the Royal Charter
- Arkansas Centennial (1935-1939) – Arkansas’s statehood, 1836
- Arkansas-Robinson (1936) – Similar to Arkansas Centennial coin, with Senator Joseph T. Robinson on the reverse. Senator Robinson was one of the few people to appear on a commemorative while still alive
- Hudson, NY Sesquicentennial (1935) – Named after explorer Henry Hudson, celebrating Hudson, NY anniversary
- San Diego, CA Pacific Exposition (1935-1936) – San Diego, CA – Helped to support the local economy during the Depression
- Old Spanish Trail (1935) – 400th anniversary of the Cabeza da Vaca Expedition which connected modern day Santa Fe, NM to Los Angeles, CA
- Rhode Island Tercentenary (1936) – 300th anniversary of Roger Williams’s founding of Providence, RI, though no mention of Providence appears
- Cleveland/Great Lakes Exposition (1936) – Cleveland, OH, 100th Anniversary of the founding of Cleveland
- Wisconsin Territorial Centennial (1936) – Celebrating Wisconsin’s territorial government
- Cincinnati Music Center (1936) – 50th Anniversary with Stephen Foster (America’s Troubadour) on the obverse
- Long Island Tercentenary (1936) – 300th Anniversary of the first Dutch settlement on the island. The obverse has a Dutch settler and an American Indian
- York County, ME Tercentenary (1936) – 300th Anniversary of York County, ME
- Bridgeport, CT Centennial (1936) – 100th Anniversary of Bridgeport with P.T. Barnum (founder of the Barnum and Bailey Circus) on the obverse
- Lynchburg, VA Sesquicentennial (1936) – 150th Anniversary of Lynchburg with Senator Carter Glass on the obverse. Supposedly, Senator Glass, who was also Secretary of Treasury under President Woodrow Wilson, was still alive when he appeared on the coin but wasn’t fond of living people appearing on coins.
- Elgin, IL Centennial (1936) – 100th Anniversary of Elgin, IL, to provide for a Pioneer Memorial statue
- Albany, NY Charter (1936) – 250th Anniversary that a charter was granted to the city of Albany, NY
- San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge (1936) – Opening of the bridge
- Columbia, SC Sesquicentennial (1936) – Helped finance the celebration for the 150th Anniversary of Columbia, SC
- Delaware Tercentenary (1936) – the 300th Anniversary of the first Swedes landing in modern Wilmington, DE
- Battle of Gettysburg (1936) – 1863 Battle of Gettysburg with a Union and Confederate soldier on the obverse
- Norfolk, VA Bicentennial (1936) – paid for the celebration of the 200th Anniversary of Norfolk’ becoming a royal borough. It was also the 300th Anniversary of the original land grant.
- Roanoke Island, NC, Va Dare (1937) – Celebration for the 350th Anniversary of Sir Walter Raleigh’s “Lost Colony” and the birth of Virginia Dare, first white child born in North America.
- Battle of Antietam (1937) – 75th Anniversary of the battle in Maryland
- New Rochelle, NY (1938) – 250th Anniversary of New Rochelle, NY by French Huguenots
- Iowa Centennial (1946) – 100th Anniversary of Iowa’s statehood
- Booker T. Washington Memorial (1946-1951) – Helped to build a memorial of the famous educator
- George Washington Carver / Booker T. Washington (1951-1954) – Honoring both men, the profits of the coin were used “to oppose the spread of communism among Negroes in the interest of national defense.”
Consider building a set of US Commemoratives?
A set of the silver halves would be interesting, but tough. While some had over a million minted, others only had mintages in the thousands.