Our Modern Commemorative Coins, 1976 to Date

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
The Signal
Saturday, April 1, 2006

he United States issued three commemorative coins for circulation in 1976 — as opposed to other commemorative coins not meant for general circulation.
    Congress had not fully recovered from the massive output of commemorative half dollars in the 1930s and the lengthy runs of the Booker T. Washington and Washington-Carver issues of the 1940s and 1950s.
    The quarter, half dollar and Eisenhower dollar coins were issued in 1975 and 1976 with the dates, "1776-1976," and with an American Bicentennial theme on the reverse. No regular-issue quarters, halves or dollars were minted with the date 1975.
    It was not until 1982 that Congress approved the issuance of the first silver non-circulating commemorative half dollar. It honored the 250th anniversary of the birth of George Washington. The coin was issued in two forms, uncirculated and proof. The mintages were 2.2 million and 4.8 million, respectively. These large mintages and high issue prices left the collectors behind, as many were not sold and the aftermarket prices are well below the original Mint issue prices.
    It was in 1984, with the XXIII Olympiad in Los Angeles, that the Mint started the current commemorative campaign. Two silver dollars came out: 1983 and 1984, with different designs, plus a $10 gold eagle. The mintages were considerably lower than the 1982 George Washington issue, and the proceeds helped the Olympic Committee.
    In 1986 a commemorative half dollar, silver dollar and gold $5 coin were issued to honor the centenary of the Statue of Liberty. The proceeds helped in the restoration of the statue. Starting in 1987 and every year since then, one or more commemorative coins has been used for a person, event or place.
    A partial list (in chronological order) includes: constitutional bicentennial dollar and $5 coin; 1988 Olympiad silver dollar and $5 gold; Congress 200th anniversary half dollar, silver dollar and $5 gold; Eisenhower silver dollar; Mt. Rushmore half dollar, silver dollar and $5 gold; Korean War silver dollar; USO silver dollar; 1992 Olympiad half dollar, silver dollar and $5 gold; White House 200th anniversary silver dollar; 1992 Columbus half dollar, silver dollar and $5 gold.
    As of 2006, more than 50 other topics have been honored with either one, two or three coins. In the case of the 1995 Olympic games in Atlanta, 16 different coins were issued — half dollars, silver dollars and four gold coins. In each case, the coins usually came in uncirculated and proof finishes.
    For many issues, the mintages were small as compared to the first few issues of the modern series. In a few cases, fewer than 10,000 were minted.
    The modern commemorative series now consists of more issues than the original series of 1892-1954, not counting the proofs and special packaging combinations offered by the Mint. For a more complete list of the issues and their retail values, consult the annual edition of Yeoman's "Guide Book of United States Coins," aka the "Red Book."
    The current 50-state quarter series is not included in this category, since they are regularly issued coins for circulation. The same is true of the four Jefferson nickels honoring the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-05. Proof and specimen versions not meant for circulation were sold to collectors by the Mint.

    Dr. Sol Taylor of Sherman Oaks is president of the Society of Lincoln Cent Collectors and author of The Standard Guide to the Lincoln Cent. Click here for ordering information.