The Gold Classic Commemorative series is an easily obtainable collection, containing only 11 issues, not including the exceptionally rare Round and Octagonal Pan Pac $50 slugs. The coins are readily available in high grades and reasonably priced considering their low mintages.
The first gold commems were issued in 1903 to celebrate the centennial of one of the biggest events in American history, the Louisiana Purchase, which roughly doubled the size of the country overnight. It contained all or part of the following states: Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming. In celebration of the centennial of this important occurrence, an exposition was planned in St. Louis in 1904.
Congress authorized up to 250,000 commemorative gold dollars for the event.
Two obverse designs, both by U.S. Mint Chief Engraver Charles Barber, feature different Presidents and share the same reverse. The first displays a bust of Thomas Jefferson, responsible for the purchase of the Louisiana territory from France. The second portrays William McKinley, the president who approved the Louisiana Purchase Exposition where the coins were distributed. Sales were conducted by numismatic promoter Farran Zerbe for $3 each. Unfortunately the majority of the mintage remained unsold, and 215,000 were melted, leading to approximate mintages of only 17,500 for each variety.
Lewis and Clark’s explorations of the west from 1804 to 1806 were honored 100 years later with the issuing of a gold dollar commemorating their discoveries. U.S. Mint Chief Engraver Charles Barber was chosen to design the coin, and to this date, it remains the only two-headed coin the U.S. has ever struck. Gold dollars were struck in both 1904 and 1905, with remaining mintages after melting of approximately 10,000 coins each.
The next gold commems produced were for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, held in San Francisco to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal the previous year. Congress authorized a silver half dollar and four gold pieces: a dollar, a quarter eagle, an octagonal 50 dollar and a round 50 dollar.
The two 50-dollar gold pieces are the largest coins ever issued by the United States and are major rarities, not generally collected as part of the gold commemorative series.
Charles Keck, a well-known New York sculptor, was chosen to design the gold dollar. A representation of a Panama Canal laborer appears on the coin’s obverse. Dolphins appear above and below the denomination on the reverse, symbolizing the joining of two oceans by the canal. Of the original 25,000 coins minted, 10,000 remained unsold and ended up in melting pots, leaving a net mintage of 15,000.
Charles Barber designed the obverse of the quarter eagle using a mythological hippocampus to transport Columbia across the water. Columbia carries a caduceus as a nod to the successful medical triumph over the yellow fever that afflicted many of the canal’s builders. The reverse, designed by George Morgan, depicts an eagle similar to the motif used on some pattern coins from the 1870s. Total sales of the 1915-S Pan-Pac $2.50s reached a mere 6,749 pieces and all remaining coins were destroyed.
Two McKinley gold dollar commemoratives were issued in 1916 and 1917 to help pay for a Memorial in his birthplace of Niles, Ohio. While the original request from the memorial association was for commemorative silver dollars, William McKinley’s pro-gold stance while president led Congress to change the bill to call for gold dollars instead. The obverse features a likeness of the 25th President by Charles Barber, while the reverse depicts a view of the memorial structure by George T. Morgan. Net mintages were 15,000 for the 1916 and a surprisingly small 5,000 for the 1917.
The 1922 Grant Memorial Gold Dollar is one of four coins honoring the 100th anniversary of the birth of the 18th President and famous Civil War General Ulysses S. Grant. Two half dollar silver commems (with and without a star punched into obverse die), and two gold commemorative dollars (with and without a small incuse star above Grant’s name on the reverse). Aside from the different denominations and the obvious size difference, designs on each of these coins are identical. A grand total of 10,016 gold dollars designed by Laura Gardin Fraser were struck, an equal number of each variety, including 16 pieces intended for assay. None of the mintage was melted.
To mark the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, two commemorative Sesquicentennial coins were issued: a half dollar and a quarter eagle gold piece. The chief sculptor-engraver of the U.S. Mint, John Ray Sinnock, was the designer of both coins. On his quarter eagle commem, Liberty is standing upon a partial globe. She holds a long scroll representing the Declaration of Independence in her left hand and a torch in her outstretched right. The reverse portrays Independence Hall, where delegates met and signed the document. This proved a popular design, as the final mintage after unsold examples were melted was 45,793, by far the largest mintage of any gold commemorative.
The 11 coins that comprise the smaller issues of the Gold Commemorative series are packed with important historical leaders and events in our nation’s early history. This series has proven to be extremely popular with collectors, as it is one of the few gold series that can be completed in gem condition. Examples for most of these issues are relatively available up to and including superb gem. If you have an interest in this fascinating series, we would love to assist you in building a collection.