Falling prices in a declining market for classic commemorative coins (1892 to 1954) might
offer collectors opportunities to buy some of the coins at attractive levels.
As collected, the complete type set of classic era silver
commemoratives has 144 coins, representing 50 different designs
including 48 commemorative half dollar types along with the 1892
Isabella quarter dollar and the 1900 Lafayette dollar.
In sight-unseen trading, where dealers agree to buy a coin certified
by a major third-party grading service at a given price without seeing
the coin, this popular series has declined.
The Feb. 6 Certified Coin Dealer Newsletter, which reports on the
current wholesale market bids for many certified coins, characterized
the decline in prices as a collapse and noted that the week had the
22nd consecutive drop for sight-unseen commemorative coins.
A large part of this is due to the coins themselves.
Many commemorative silver coins were stored in their original boxes
and packaging, which led to often ugly toning with dark or uneven
shades of rust, brown and gray. This affects the eye appeal, but even
an ugly commemorative may find itself in a high Mint State grade like
MS-64 or even MS-65.
When these less-desirable coins appear at auction, their prices are
often depressed, and occasionally an ugly example may sell below the
sight-unseen bid. This causes prices to drop even more, which creates
an aura of volatility for the series.
These declines aren’t seen across the board for classic
commemorative coins, as gorgeous, high-quality examples continue to
bring big prices at auction. For example, at Heritage’s Jan. 7 Florida United
Numismatists sale, a gorgeously toned 1900 Lafayette Monument
dollar graded MS-67 by Professional Coin Grading Service, with a green
Acceptance Corp. sticker, brought $73,437.50, while a 1928
Hawaii Discovery Sesquicentennial half dollar graded MS-67 by Numismatic Guaranty
Corp. realized $30,550. Yet these very expensive coins are
outliers, and the majority of classic commemorative half dollar types
are available at accessible price points.
If looking to collect this specialized series, take the time to look
for a nice coin. Although these pieces have low mintages, they have
generally high survival rates, as they were produced for collectors
rather than for general circulation.
Look at many examples to figure out what a handsome, original coin
looks like. One can start by using auction archives from major auction
houses. In this area, auction prices can be wildly different based on
the quality of the coin. For many issues, like the 1946 Iowa Statehood
Centennial half dollar, the price difference between Mint State grades
is small, so why not buy the best you can afford when the difference
between grades is only a few dollars?
For patient collectors willing to learn the series and look at
coins, the series is ripe for opportunity at current levels.
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