Commemorative coins have been around since the Ancient Greeks and Romans. In the beginning, these coins were used to record and honor historical events. Due to the absence of newspapers, coins were created and passed along as important news of the time.
However, it wasn’t until 1982 that the Unites States began minting modern commemorative coins. These special coins tend to commemorate memorable events, honored institutions and personnel of national or international importance.
The Washington Coin
In 1982, the U.S. Mint released commemorative half dollar coins to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the birth of George Washington. The Washington coin was the first to be considered a “modern” commemorative coin for a couple reasons: First, the cause of the commemoration was truly of national significance. Second, its design by U.S. Mint engraver Elizabeth Jones featured a striking depiction of Washington on horseback. While the reverse, also designed by Jones, featured a view of Washington’s Mount Vernon home. These factors, in combination with the long break in commemorative coinage, made this particular coin popular among coin collectors.
Types of Commemorative Coins
Modern commemorative coins are unique in that they are produced in clad, silver or gold. These coins are also produced in collector proof and uncirculated qualities. Over the years, modern commemorative coins have been issued in five different sizes. The first coin issued was a 90 percent silver half dollar. The U.S. Mint later issued most 90 percent silver commemoratives as silver dollars. There have also been $10 and $5 gold coins stuck in 90 percent gold. Lastly, clad half dollars have been issued by the U.S. Mint with a composition of 92 percent copper and 8 percent nickel.
While modern commemorative coins are of legal tender, they are not minted for general circulation. For this reason, the U.S. Mint and most retailers sell commemorative coins to the public at prices higher than the face value of the coin. This price often includes a commission to the event, institution or person to which the coin is commemorated for.
Gary Dyner is the owner of Great American Coin Company. Connect with him on Google+.