Stacks Bowers is buying and selling all rare coins and currency

HomeUS CoinsTheir Market is Dead: "Early" Commemorative Silver Half Dollars Can Now Be...

Their Market is Dead: “Early” Commemorative Silver Half Dollars Can Now Be Bought For “Pennies on the Dollar”!

By Mark Ferguson for CoinWeek –

In my last column I wrote about “early” United States Mint commemorative coins struck between 1892 and 1954.  These are legal tender silver half dollars, struck by the U.S. Mint, which also include a silver quarter from 1893 and a silver dollar from 1900, as well as 11 $1 and $2 1/2 gold coins, and two high-priced $50 gold coins.  In this week’s column I cover additional information about their current and historic market prices.

Early US Commemorative CoinsWhen do you want to buy a coin investment?  When prices for a series have already started to rise…or when a series is dead?  Right now some of the “early” U.S. legal tender commemorative silver half dollars can be purchased for about 10 percent of what they were at their all-time market highs, way back in 1989.  That’s right…just 10 percent OF their highs!

Do you think there’s potential with this series?!  We’re not talking about a cheap stock investment for a business that’s about to go under.  No…these are solid, collectible legal tender silver half dollars struck at the U.S. Mint.  Can their prices go any lower?  What do you think?  Personally, I don’t see how they can.  All I see is upside.  When more investors realize this is a series to collect for fun and profit, and start buying, their prices will begin to climb.  And when this happens, more and more coin dealers will stock more of these coins in their inventories, further fueling the market to seek higher price levels.

So get a head start!  A collection/investment of these coins will take time to build.  Start right now!  This series has the potential to not only double or triple, but heck, some coins in this series have been TEN TIMES higher than what their prices are today!

When will prices for these commemorative silver coins start to rise?  Of course, nobody knows.  It’ll be event driven…probably economically influenced.  It’ll probably take higher employment, or it could be higher inflation.  It’ll take collectors and investors buying en masse to move this market.  But, a market stimulus could come in the form of dealers, like myself, taking inventory positions in these coins and promoting them to collector/investor customers.

Prices advance through higher auction sales prices and through higher dealer bids on the wholesale trading networks.  This’ll be caused by demand – both from dealers building inventory and collector/investors building sets.

So what are the right commemorative coins to buy?  There’s no one answer to this question, because when this market segment begins to move higher, prices will likely rise as a series on the whole.  But the basics of the “early” commemorative series are the 50 piece type set, which is one coin of each design type, and the complete 144 piece set, which includes all the different varieties and mint marks.  There are also 11 small denomination gold coins, plus two high-priced $50 gold commemorative coins, one octagonal in shape, and the other round.

Smaller collections with specific themes can also be built.  For example, there are several issues that pertain to the Civil War; there are various personalities that are depicted on some of the coins; geographically themed commemoratives can make up a set; or even a set of all the years and mintmarks of the Oregon Trail issues, for example, can make up a collection.  Then there are the Centennial, Bicentennial and Tercentenary themes.  Or, of course, you can make up your own themes.  So, subsets can be built that are less costly than a 50 piece type set, or 144 piece complete silver issue set.

The cost of a 50 piece silver type set of commems in the Mint State 66 grade, which is what I am recommending for investment purposes, will be somewhere between $110,000 and $130,000 at this time, while a 144 piece collection should cost somewhere between $200,000 and $225,000.  A Mint State 65 collection/investment should cost somewhere between $50,000 and about $65,000 for the 50 piece set, and the 144 piece collection should cost between about $90,000 and $110,000.  A 50 piece MS 64 set, which is still an attractive grade, may run somewhere between $25,000 and $35,000, while an MS 64 144 piece collection should cost between $45,000 and $65,000.  However, the market is very soft for these coins, so it’s a great time to negotiate for the best prices.  Complete 50 piece or 144 piece collections are seldom available on the market.  Most people will have to build one to get one.

This could take a few years, or just a few months or less, depending how quickly a collector/investor wants to come up with the money and on how fussy one is in quality.  Most of the coins should be readily available, except when getting into the MS 66 grade there are a few that may be challenging to find.  For some of the issues there are just a handful of pieces graded this high, especially when verified and stickered by CAC.  Those originally graded by PCGS sell for the highest money.  But some people prefer the white backgrounds of the NGC holders, and those are usually available in the same grades as PCGS graded examples for less money.  When getting into the PCGS or NGC Plus graded examples, again those will trade for more money, and people who take part in the Registry collecting programs of the grading services may want to go for those coins.

The best data on the price history of early commemorative coins is from the Coin Dealer newsletter (known as the Greysheet) and the Certified Coin Dealer newsletter (known as the Bluesheet).  These are wholesale price guides used by virtually all coin dealers across the country.  The prices represent “bid” levels that dealers are paying for these coins over the coin dealer trading networks.  There is also an “ask” price in the Greysheet, but the market most often refers to prices in terms of “bids.”  Greysheet prices represent coins that are solid for the grade, while Bluesheet prices represent prices dealers are willing to pay on a “sight-unseen” basis for even the bottom of the barrel coins that just make the grade.  As a retail collector/investor you should expect to pay a premium to cover a dealer profit over what these coins for on at the bid/ask levels.  However, as I previously stated, commems are in a down market right now, so they’re ripe for negotiations to get the best prices.

Below are the bid prices for the 50 piece commemorative type set from the ultimate market high, set back on June 2, 1989, and today’s prices, 22 ½ years later.  Do you think these coins have potential?  Just look at some of them – they’re now just 10%, or even less than 10%, of the prices they reached during their 1989 highs!  Please note that the Greysheet did not list MS 66 prices back in 1989, therefore, I’ve included prices from both the Greysheet and the Bluesheet.  Have fun browsing these lists!

Early Commemorative PCGS MS 65 PCGS MS 65 PCGS MS 66 PCGS MS 66
50 Piece Type Set 06/02/89 Bid 12/02/11 Bid 06/02/89 Bid 12/02/11 Bid
Greysheet Greysheet Bluesheet Bluesheet
1893 Isabella Quarter 5,750 2,125 10,900 3,750
1900 Lafayette Dollar 18,250 9,250 31,750 9,500
1921 Alabama Centennial 10,000 1,075 27,500 1,650
1936 Albany, New York 1,525 315 4,850 340
1937 Antietam, Battle of 1,250 770 3,725 725
Arkansas Centennial – Type 1,450 165 3,600 210
1936 Bay Bridge 925 270 2,500 260
Boone Bicentennial – Type 700 165 1,525 180
1936 Bridgeport, Connecticut 1,475 200 5,800 270
1925-S California Jubilee 2,450 715 5,400 650
1936 Cincinnati – Type 2,400 450 8,200 545
1936 Cleveland-Great Lakes Expo 1,675 165 4,995 240
1936 Columbia, South Carolina 800 230 1,850 240
1893 Columbian Exposition – Type 4,800 365 11,500 620
1935 Connecticut Tercentenary 2,100 400 4,450 465
1936 Delaware Tercentenary 1,900 300 5,300 340
1936 Elgin, Illinois Centennial 1,600 267 4,500 280
1936 Gettysburg, Battle of 2,075 685 6,250 600
1922 Grant Memorial – Type 4,100 590 7,700 620
1928 Hawaiian Sesquicentennial 15,600 4,500 27,100 6,200
1935 Hudson, NY Sesquicentennial 5,900 1,600 11,450 1,660
1924 Huguenot-Walloon 3,500 310 6,200 420
1946 Iowa Centennial 650 125 1,125 110
1925 Lexington-Concord 2,500 510 7,050 725
1918 Lincoln-Illinois Centennial 2,275 460 4,300 450
1936 Long Island  Tercentenary 2,425 250 5,700 400
1936 Lynchburg, VA 1,450 260 4,225 260
1920 Maine Centennial 2,850 400 7,500 425
1934 Maryland Tercentenary 1,725 230 4,900 310
1921 Missouri Centennial – Type 17,000 2,875 26,100 5,000
1923-S Monroe Doctrine Centennial 8,500 1,400 13,700 2,700
1938 New Rochelle, NY 1,325 425 5,100 440
1936 Norfolk, VA Bicentennial 750 405 1,525 400
Oregon Trail Memorial – Type 700 250 1,525 240
1915-S Panama-Pacific Exposition 6,100 1,625 13,600 2,070
1920 Pilgrim Tercentenary – Type 2,300 270 6,400 450
1936 Rhode Island – Type 1,700 210 6,300 180
1937 Roanoke Island, NC 925 220 2,325 240
1936 Robinson-Arkansas 1,850 280 5,500 300
1935-S San Diego-Pacific Expo 550 140 2,425 150
1926 Sesquicentennial 8,750 3,800 20,000 12,000
1935 Spanish Trail 2,750 1,410 4,400 1,500
1925 Stone Mountain Memorial 750 230 1,815 202
Texas Centennial – Type 650 220 1,475 220
1925 Fort Vancouver Centennial 4,300 830 7,600 675
1927 Vermont Sesquicentennial 3,275 625 7,350 600
Booker T. Washington – Type 170 50 355 90
Washington-Carver Type 400 65 1,200 160
1936 Wisconsin Centennial 1,125 260 2,200 260
1936 York County, Maine 1,050 235 1,900 230
169,020 42,972 364,640 60,552

Mark Ferguson was a coin grader for PCGS , a market analyst for Coin Values and has been a coin dealer for more than 40 years. He has written for the ANA, Coin Dealer Newsletter, Coin World, Numismatic News, , Coin Values, The Numismatist and currently has a weekly column on CoinWeek. Mark can be reached at Mark Ferguson Rare Coins (

Mark Ferguson
Mark Ferguson
Mark Ferguson was a coin grader for PCGS, a market analyst for Coin Values, and has been a coin dealer for more than 40 years. He has written for Coin Dealer Newsletter, Coin World, Numismatic News, Coin Values, and The Numismatist.

Related Articles


  1. Mark,

    Tremendous Insights. I am looking to diversify into Gold and Silver and this information was very valuable!

    AKA “The Penny Stock Boss”

  2. “We’re not talking about a cheap stock investment for a business that’s about to go under. No…these are solid, collectible legal tender silver half dollars struck at the U.S. Mint. Can their prices go any lower? What do you think? Personally, I don’t see how they can. All I see is upside.” I recall in 2007/2008 prior to the collapse of Bear Sterns and Lehman that the so called “experts” said that housing CAN’T go down. Choose carefully your words as not all of the coins have fallen to 10% of their 1989 levels. anything is possible.

    • Personally, I wouldn’t buy them at all. The problem with problem coins is that the problems never go away and once you own them, the problems are yours.

  3. I’ve been taking advantage of the low prices. I just got one of my favorite coins, the Norfolk. It’s just a big old sale out on early commemoratives and I for one am taking advantage of it. I’ve picked up several of late. All are beautiful little gems.

    I hope some of you are taking advantage of these low prices.

  4. And the downtrend keeps on. isabella quarter is down to 797 dollars. Never look at coins as an investment, it is a hobby collect for the fun.

    Everyone who went into it thinking investment ended up losing bigtime.

  5. @ Hugo

    Well, I don’t think prices have fallen THAT far. Prices in the article are for PCGS 65 and 66 pieces. If you have any nice PCGS 65 or 66 Isabella quarters at the 797 dollars you mention…I will gladly buy them all!

    I posted about the downtrend last Summer…I am now a buyer for attractive pieces at current prices.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Stacks Bowers Auction

AU Capital Management US gold Coins

David Lawrence Rare Coins Auctions