US Coins

20th century commemorative coins lead Heritage CICF auction

Though coins have been used to commemorate special events and mark political triumphs for centuries, the practice of issuing commemorative coins really picked up during the early to mid-20th century. 

Heritage Auctions’ Chicago International Coin Fair auction, held April 10 to 12, 2014, was rife with examples of one-year type coins issued as commemoratives. Just as today, sometimes the coins circulated and sometimes they did not. 

Here are three examples of one-year commemorative type coins sold in the auction, reflecting the breadth of the world coin market and its continuing strength.

1928 China Auto dollar: $6,442.50

The Year 17 (1928) Auto dollar from China’s Kweichow Province is probably the most famous commemorative Chinese coin of the 20th century. 

The coin celebrates an era when road construction wasn’t just another hassle of day-to-day life, but rather something to celebrate nationwide. 

The silver dollar was issued by Kweichow Governor Chow Hsi Chien to celebrate the first (paved, presumably) road in the province. The automobile on the obverse of the silver coin is reportedly the governor’s own automobile. 

Examples are frequently sold in auctions around the world, so it is by no means an unobtainable rarity (it had a mintage of 648,000 pieces, after all). 

The example sold by Heritage is graded Extremely Fine 40 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. It sold for $6,462.50, in line with recent prices realized for other examples, indicating continued interest in this famous type. 

Proof 63 George V Silver Jubilee crown: $1,116.25

When George V celebrated his Silver Jubilee on the throne (that’s a 25-year anniversary) in 1935, a special silver crown was issued to commemorate the occasion. 

This coin is the first true commemorative issue in the history of English coinage. And though its striking art deco design today is a classic, contemporary critics did not regard it well.

The king’s portrait (by Sir Bertram Mackennal) remained on the obverse, but Percy Metcalfe’s modernistic treatment of the famous motif of St. George slaying the dragon generated attention, much of it negative. The king, himself a noted equestrian, called the stiff St. George on the horse “a damned bad rider.” 

Some 750,000 examples were struck with edge lettering incused. An additional 2,500 pieces with edge lettering raised were issued in Proof; the Heritage example is among those latter issues. Graded Proof 63, the coin has a few hairlines but it sold for a surprisingly strong $1,116.25, considering that a Proof 65 Ultra Cameo example preceding it in the same Heritage CICF auction realized $1,292.50. 

If this were a U.S. coin with such a low mintage and popular design, one might expect an extra digit in the price tag.

1938 gold 500 piastres: $7,050

Egypt’s King Farouk is remembered by the hobby fraternity today for the famed coin collection that he built before being deposed in 1952.

His collection included a 1933 Saint-Gaudens gold $20 double eagle, and the auction of his collection in 1954 (minus that coin) drew collectors from around the world. 

During headier times, in 1938, the king celebrated his marriage that year to Farida of Egypt with commemorative gold 20-, 50-, 100- and 500-piastre coins. 

One of those 1938 Royal Wedding coins, a Proof 500-piastre piece graded Proof 65 by NGC, realized $7,050 during the Heritage auction, a bit less than the $7,931.25 realized for a Proof 65 Cameo example in the same sale, but better than a Proof 62 piece with slight handling that realized $5,581.25.

A collector unfamiliar with the language of the coin’s inscriptions would have no way of knowing that the coins celebrate a wedding, since only the king is shown on the obverse. 

The marriage would end in a divorce in 1948, and four years later the king would be exiled. 

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