US Coins

Collecting classic commems

The classic commemorative half dollar series offers rarities for more-advanced collectors, like this Proof 1892 World’s Columbian Exposition half dollar graded Proof 66 that realized $12,650 earlier this year.

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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. ¦

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