U.S. Coin Price Guide

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Classic Commemorative Coins
By Mark Ferguson

Classic commemorative coins have become more affordable in recent months. There’s been a downward trend in the prices of most issues in grades of Mint State 65 and finer.

Classic American commemorative coins were produced from 1892 to 1954 and there are 50 different types.

Most issues in MS-65 reached their highest prices in 1989. That market high was fueled with demand from investors who were convinced that only MS-65 and finer coins were worthy of their attention. The market for coins graded MS-63 and lower is less volatile, as the demand for these issues is collector based and more stable.

On one hand, commemoratives are easy to promote to noncollectors as they seem like a bargain compared to regular issue coins. Conversely, their availability means that if a collector is looking to raise some cash, he will often sell his commemoratives, knowing that they can be replaced later.

As an example, the 1936 Delaware Tercentenary commemorative half dollar has a mintage of just 20,993 pieces. At its height in 1989 it traded for almost $2,000 in MS-65. Recent prices realized from auctions reveal it trading for around $260.

Lots of issues follow this pattern and trade at a tiny fraction of their peak prices.

The 1936 Delaware Tercentenary is an issue that "comes nice" – Professional Coin Grading Service and Numismatic Guaranty Corp. have graded nearly 3,500 examples in MS-65 and finer grades. And an MS-64 coin trades at only a $20 discount to an MS-65 coin.

It is virtually essential for a commemorative coin to be certified by one of the top tier grading services for it to sell in this market.

The majority of MS-65 and finer commemorative coins that are coming up at auction are trading around wholesale price levels. Bargains can be found in the MS-66, MS-67 and even MS-68 levels, making this a good time for collectors thinking about upgrading an issue or two.

The market shows a preference for bright, lustrous and untoned coins, or beautifully toned coins. With so many offerings, collectors can afford to be choosy and select beautiful examples in high grades.


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