The rare coin market moves up and down, and while the market
generally rises and falls on the same tide, individual segments within
the market have their own distinct patterns. These market subsets
include classic commemorative half dollars, Morgan and Peace dollars,
generic pre-1933 gold coins, Walking Liberty half dollars and Winged
Liberty Head dimes.
Dealers crafting promotions to reach beyond the hobby for new buyers
can shape these market segments by generating demand for these coins
(and in turn, increasing values). Classic silver commemorative half
dollars from 1892 to 1954 have not generated a lot of excitement in
the current market, but looking at what makes them attractive to
marketers helps a collector better understand the way coin market
segments operate and what could make them market darlings again.
Commemorative half dollars have fun stories and are unusual-looking
to buyers trained with only regular issue U.S. coins as reference
points. Many are available in substantial quantities to meet large
demand, they feature handsome designs and the entry point for many
issues is very low.
Mint State examples of popular types, including the 1935-S
California Pacific International Exposition (or San Diego), 1946 Iowa
Centennial and 1936 Rhode Island Tercentenary half dollars, can each
be found for less than $100. Except for the 1928 Hawaiian
Sesquicentennial and the 1935 Old Spanish Trail half dollars, no
individual issues cost more than $1,000.
Marketers have to sell a lot of these lower-value coins to make a
profit; for most dealers, the larger profits come from higher-grade,
higher-value coins. The classic commemorative silver series offers a
few five-figure coins to tempt wealthy buyers ready for a collecting
challenge; for example, a Proof 1892 World’s Columbian Exposition half
dollar graded Proof 66 realized $12,650 earlier this year.
Finally, they have a proven track record. Collectors have
long-admired the series, there are significant reference works on it,
and in prior markets — such as the bull market of 1989 — the price of
these exploded. Understanding how segment coin markets function is
useful in understanding the greater U.S. rare coin market and in
identifying a segment that may be a sleeping giant. ■