Are you a collector of U.S. commemorative coins? I’m currently working on a 50-coin type set of the early or classic commemoratives, the ones dating from 1892 through 1954. Although I lack only three coins, these have proven singularly difficult to find in the grades I’m interested in and with the look that I like (mostly untoned).
It would be much easier to find the modern issues, those minted beginning in 1982, in the grades that would appeal to me. In fact, some of the modern gold issues may be well worth purchasing, and that’s what I’m going to cover in this article: modern gold commemoratives worth pursuing.
Among the classic commemoratives, gold coins were few and far between. There were gold dollars for the 1903 Louisiana Purchase Exposition and the 1904-1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition, then both a gold dollar and a quarter eagle ($2.50 gold piece) for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. In addition to the Pan-Pac dollar and quarter eagles, two humongous $50 gold pieces were struck, both with minuscule mintages and monstrous prices today. I think the designs are splendid, but the values for the two are way beyond my pay grade, as the saying goes.
Next, there were two more dollars for the 1916-1917 McKinley Memorial and a couple more gold dollars for the 1922 Grant Memorial. No more gold commemoratives appeared until the 1926 quarter eagle for the Sesquicentennial of American Independence. And that was the end of gold commemoratives in the classic issues. In sum, the gold pieces among the early commemoratives were nine gold dollars, two quarter eagles, and two $50 gold pieces (quintuple eagles). As I said, they were few and far between.
Not so with the modern commemoratives. Here, we find a wealth of gold issues, all the way from several $10 gold pieces (eagles) for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics to two $5 gold pieces (half eagles) for the 2021 National Law Enforcement Memorial and Museum. Indeed, the half eagle has been the most frequently used gold coin for the modern commemorative issues.
One thing to keep in mind when considering the scarcity of the modern gold commemoratives is that virtually all of the pieces will receive grades of MS or PR -69 or -70, unless the coin has been abused. With a few very low-mintage exceptions, any examples receiving grades of -68 or below are likely to be worth their bullion value only.
Another important thing to consider is that final mintages were dependent on the number of coins ordered. Because people tend to like the look of proofs better than uncirculated coins, the uncirculated ones generally have lower mintages and sometimes higher values than their proof counterparts. When looking for issues that are scarce in terms of their mintages, look no further than the circulation strikes.
With that brief introduction, I’m going to tell you about several modern $5 commemoratives that I think combine both a significant event or person commemorated with an attractive design. In addition, they all have relatively low mintages, particularly in comparison with their proof counterparts.
In my opinion, these are modern gold commemoratives worth owning. Keep in mind that each coin contains .2418 ounces of gold, which, with gold at $1,760 an ounce as I write this, is worth a little more than $425. Value, beauty, and significance, what more could you ask for in a modern commemorative coin?
1. 1992 Columbus Quincentenary. My first choice hearkens back to the first of the classic commemoratives, the 1892/1893 Columbian Exposition half dollars commemorating the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus. The modern commemorative honors the Columbus Quincentenary (500th anniversary). Dated 1992, the coins were minted at West Point, NY, and have a W mintmark.
Designed by T. James Ferrell, the obverse features a bust of Columbus looking westward toward the New World. The reverse, by Thomas D. Rogers, Sr., depicts the Crest of Columbus, who had been given the rank of Admiral of the Ocean Sea by his benefactors, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. The net mintage of the uncirculated piece was 24,329. This magazine’s “Market Watch” (MW) assigns the issue a value of $510 in MS65, a grade that probably doesn’t exist, as I indicated earlier.
In Encyclopedia of the Commemorative Coins of the United States, Anthony Swiatek recommended the Columbus issues “. . . only for enjoyment of ownership.” In my opinion, the uncirculated $5 coin is a winner, with a relatively low mintage and a respectable theme, although his reputation has suffered in recent years.
2. 1993 World War II 50th Anniversary. The purpose of this issue was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of America’s participation in World War II. With a net distribution of 23,672 (Swiatek gives a number of 26,342), the uncirculated $5 coin is worth $510, according to MW. I found a couple for sale on eBay at about this price.
Designed by Charles J. Madsen, the coin’s obverse shows a forward-facing American soldier holding an M1 rifle. His fist is clenched, his mouth is open, and he appears to be shouting “Hurrah!” according to Swiatek. From my ROTC days, I can well remember marching with an M1 on my right shoulder.
The reverse, designed by Edward Southworth Fisher, shows a large letter “V,” with the letter’s Morse Code (dot-dot-dot-dash) across it. At the bottom of the letter appears the motto “E Pluribus Unum.”
Again, Swiatek recommends this issue for the joy of ownership. To me, a coin celebrating the 50th anniversary of American involvement in WWII is a worthy subject, the design is great, and the mintage was reasonably low. I believe it’s a good coin to add to your gold inventory.
3. Civil War Battlefield Preservation. In 1995, this set was issued to commemorative the 100th anniversary of Civil War battlefield protection. If you think the mintages were low on my first two recommendations, just 12,735 were distributed of the uncirculated $5 gold piece of this set. If you wonder why I’m recommending the uncirculated version, more than four times as many proofs were minted.
With a design by Donald Troiani, the coin’s obverse shows a bugler on horseback. The reverse, designed by Alfred Maletsky, features a period version of an eagle, which holds in its beak a ribbon inscribed with “Let Us Protect and Preserve.”
Despite the minuscule mintage, MW gives the same value of $510 for this coin, and Swiatek recommended the coins for “. . . the joy of collecting.” I agree that the uncirculated $5 pieces are worth having for the joy of collecting, but I also think that their low mintage and great design will pay dividends in the future.
4. 1997 Jackie Robinson. If you thought that my previous choice had a low mintage, just 5,174 of the uncirculated 1997 Jackie Robinson $5 gold pieces were distributed. The proof version had nearly five times the mintage and is once again valued at $510 by MW. By contrast, the uncirculated version has a value more appropriate to its low mintage, $1,020!
This issue was designed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Robinson’s breaking of the barrier against African Americans playing baseball in the National League. With a design by Alfred Maletsky, the obverse is dominated by the face of Jackie Robinson. The reverse, designed by James Peed, shows a baseball with Robinson’s birth and death years (1919-1972) and “Legacy of Courage” superimposed on it.
Swiatek called the uncirculated Jackie Robinson gold piece “a true rarity.” “There can be little doubt that this will be a very desirable coin now and in the future. It is an issue that is well distributed and easy to promote.” If you can afford it, I would strongly encourage you to purchase one of these.
5. 2008 Bald Eagle. Dated 2008 to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, the Bald Eagle coins celebrated the recovery of the bald eagle from near extinction and its removal from the Endangered Species List. Just 15,009 examples of the uncirculated variety were coined.
The obverse design by Susan Gamble and sculptor Phebe Hemphill shows two eaglets perched on a branch, whereas Don Everhart’s reverse is dominated by the Great Seal of the United States. Like the previous $5 gold pieces in this article, the coins were minted at the West Point, NY, Mint.
If you’re a fan of birds on coins, then you’ll certainly want one of these. Swiatek wrote, “Collectors should buy for the sheer joy of ownership. Any potential value appreciation might occur with the rise of bullion prices as well as promotion of the UNC $5 gold piece.” MW assigns this coin the now-familiar value of $510. With nearly four times the mintage, the proof version has the same value.
6. 2013 5-Star Generals. So far, there have been only five 5-star generals: Douglas MacArthur, Dwight D. Eisenhower, George C. Marshall, Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, and Omar N. Bradley. The $5 gold pieces were devoted to honoring one particular 5-star general, Douglas MacArthur.
Designed by Ronald D. Sanders, the coin’s obverse features a forward-facing image of MacArthur. The reverse, with a design by sculptor Joseph Menna, shows the Leavenworth Lamp, which is the symbol of the Command and General Staff College.
Just 5,667 of this coin were distributed along with nearly three times as many of the proof version. MW values both of the coins at the same $510. If you’re interested in mintage scarcity, which version would you prefer?
One interesting note: These were coined at the Philadelphia Mint. The “P” mintmark appears below the motto on the reverse.
7. 2016 Mark Twain. If you are a fan of such classical Twain (born Samuel Langhorne Clemens) books as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, then you’ll want one of these $5 gold pieces. The uncirculated version definitely fits into my category of low-mintage gold (5,701), but this is also true, to a lesser extent, for the proof Mark Twain (13,271).
The obverse, with a design by Benjamin Sowards, features the bust of Twain, with his characteristic handlebar mustache, wild hair, and bushy eyebrows. In this portrait, you can almost detect the impish glint in the eyes of the famed humorist. The reverse design, by Ronald D. Sanders, is a must-have for collectors of ships on coins. It’s a paddlewheel steamboat of the sort Twain piloted on the Mississippi River. One almost certainly meaningless comment about Twain that I found on Wikipedia is the following: “Twain was born shortly after an appearance of Halley’s Comet, and he predicted that he would ‘go out with it’ as well; he died the day after the comet made its closest approach to the Earth.”
MW actually has a different value for the uncirculated version than the standard $510 assigned to the proof coin. This 2016-W piece is worth $550 in MS65! You can substitute MS69 or MS70 for the grade in MW.
8. 2017 Boys Town Centennial. Founded in 1917 by Father Edward Flanagan, Boys Town has grown exponentially over the years and is now one of the largest nonprofit organizations in the United States. According to A Guide Book of United States Coins, Deluxe Edition, Boys Town is “. . . dedicated to serving at-risk children and families of all backgrounds and religions.”
Designed by Donna Weaver, the obverse bears a portrait of Father Flanagan, whereas the reverse design depicts an outstretched hand holding a tiny oak tree sprouting from an acorn. The design pays homage to the saying, “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.”
Talk about tiny, the mintage of the uncirculated version was just 2,947 and that of the proof version, 7,347. MW gives the uncirculated coin the now-familiar value of $510, with no amount listed for a proof Boys Town gold piece. I feel sure that if a value had been given, it would have been $510.
This brings an end to my look at modern $5 gold commemoratives. In my opinion, all of the issues I’ve discussed have meaningful themes, great designs, and low mintages. If enough collectors begin to try to assemble complete sets, the coins I’ve listed here are bound to increase in value. Also, you can consider them good stores of gold bullion, if nothing else.
Actually, there are many additional modern $5 commemoratives I could have talked about. Hopefully, this article will spur you to take another look at what the United States. has produced in commemoratives since 1982. If your appetite is whetted by what you find, it just may open a new collecting portal for you. If so, go for it!