- 1892 Columbian Exposition half dollar
- 1915-S Panama Pacific Octagonal
- 1921 Missouri Centennial Half Dollar
- 1986 U.S. Statue of Liberty
- 2000 $10 Library of Congress Bi-Metallic Coin
From time to time, Congress authorizes the minting of commemorative coins that celebrate and honor American people, places, historical events, and institutions. These coins are legal tender, but they are not created for general circulation. The U.S. Mint produces these commemorative coins in limited quantitites and the coin sales help raise money for various causes. Here’s a look at five of the most popular commemorative coins in U.S. history.
1892 Columbian Exposition Half Dollar
This historical gem earned a spot on our list because it is the first commemorative coin in U.S. history. It was minted to commemorate the World’s Columbian Exposition, also known as Chicago’s World Fair. These half dollars, with a face value of 50 cents, were sold for $1 to help cover the spiraling costs of the World Fair. With a fairly high mintage, only a few coins of high-grade quality show outsized value. The obverse design features Christopher Columbus in profile. The reverse features the Columbus flagship, the Santa Maria, and two globes. The reverse inscription includes: “WORLD’S COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION”, “CHICAGO”, “1492, 1892”.
1915-S Panama Pacific Octagonal
The coin commemorates the most ambitious engineering project that man had ever attempted. The 50-mile-long Panama Canal, which opened for ships in 1914, allowed business leaders to fulfill their goal of shipping goods quickly and cheaply from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. It cost $375 million to build the Panama Canal and the incredible accomplishment helped cement America’s emergence as a world power.
In 1915, a year after the canal opened its shipping lanes, San Francisco welcomed visitors from around the world to its Panama-Pacific Exposition. This was a massive event to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal. In honor of the event, the U.S. Mint produced several commemorative coins, including an octagonal $50 gold piece. Today, survival estimates of the 1915-S Pan Pac Octagonal are tiny: totaling 512 in all grades, only 27 in MS65 or better.
New York sculptor Robert Aitken designed this dramatic gold coin, minted in San Francisco. Aitkin successfully replicated classic Greek motifs on a modern coin. The obverse of this octagonal coin features a left-facing bust of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, skill, and agriculture. Minerva proudly showcases a crested helmet, open to communicate her peaceful intentions. This was considered a symbolic communication of American sentiment toward Europe, which was mired in the horror of World War I.
1921 Missouri Centennial Half Dollar
The Missouri Centennial Half Dollar features American folk hero Daniel Boone, who lived in Missouri for the last 25 years of his life, on both the obverse and the reverse of the coin. Boone, along with 30 woodsmen blazed a 200-mile trail through rugged wilderness and into the area that became Kentucky and he is most famous for his exploration and settlement of that area.
The Missouri Exposition Committee planned a large Exposition and State Fair in 1921 and wanted a commemorative coin to help fund the extravaganza. Congress authorized the striking of up to 250,000 Missouri Centennial silver half dollars. This handsome coin celebrates the 100th anniversary of Missouri’s admission into the Union in 1821. Today, known simply as “Missouris” among collectors, these coins are the rarest of all the silver commemorative series and are highly sought after.
Robert Aitken, the designer of the Panama-Pacific fifty dollar gold piece was chosen to craft the Missouri half dollar. The obverse features a striking bust of famous frontiersman Daniel Boone wearing a buckskin shirt and a coonskin cap. The reverse reveals Boone with rifle and powder horn, and a Native American with the words “Missouri Centennial” encircling the top and “Sedalia”, the location of the 100th-anniversary exhibition on the bottom. The Philadelphia Mint struck only 50,000 Missouri half-dollars in July 1921, yet many of these exquisite coins were melted down.
1986 U.S. Statue of Liberty
This is one of the biggest-selling commemorative coins of the modern era, with coins sold totaling 15,491,169. The Statue of Liberty coin was authorized in commemoration of the centennial of the Statue of Liberty.
The funds collected from the coin sale surcharge were used to restore and renovate the Statue of Liberty and the facilities used for immigration at Ellis Island. Additional funds were also used to create an endowment that would ensure the continued upkeep and maintenance of these truly magnificent American monuments. The obverse design of the coin features a close-up view of Liberty and the reverse features a design of Liberty’s torch and inscriptions.
2000 $10 Library of Congress Bi-Metallic Coin
The last coin earned a spot on our list because it is extremely unique as this is the only bimetallic coin produced by the U.S. Mint. The $10 Library of Congress commemorative is comprised of a gold ring around a platinum center. While in American coinage, bimetallic coins are rare, historically many ancient coins were struck in a bimetallic composition. John Mercanti, the designer of the American silver eagle, designed the coin’s obverse, illustrating the hand of Minerva raises the torch of learning over the Jefferson Building. On the reverse, a laurel wreath encircles the Seal of the Library of Congress.
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