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Gold Commemoratives Offer Variety

Anyone looking for a new area to collect might consider the modern gold commemorative coins produced by the United States Mint. These coins have been issued since 1984 and in the following decades have covered a wide variety of different topics. This makes for a very diverse and historically significant collection, backed up by a solid intrinsic value.

The first coins issued within the run were $10 denomination pieces to mark the Olympic Games held in Los Angeles. As the first legal tender gold coins issued in many decades sales fared very well. However, the following issue generated even more significant excitement with the public. The coins were to mark the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty. Not just coin collectors, but many members of the public were interested in these pieces.

In the ensuing years, modern gold commemoratives would be issued regularly across a variety of occasions. This included to celebrate anniversaries for the Constitution and the Congress. National landmarks would also have their turn such as Mount Rushmore and the Smithsonian Institution. Some famous people would make appearances including Franklin D. Roosevelt and Jackie Robinson.

There have been two different sizes issued. The most common is the $5 gold piece, which contains 0.242 troy ounces of precious metal content. The $10 piece is larger and carries 0.4837 troy ounces of gold content.

Recent issues have had lower mintages than the initial years of the series, which may set some potential for diligent collectors. Typically coins with the lowest mintages come to carry a premium since they are the scarcest. Anyone looking to play this angle could evaluate the uncirculated versions of some of the most recent issues such as the Medal of Honor, U.S. Army, and Star Spangled Banner.

More Than Half a Billion Silver Dollars

When the Bland-Allison Act was passed by Congress on February 28, 1878 silver mining interests were able to get the authorization they wanted for the minting of a new US silver dollar. In 1873, legislation was passed to stop the minting of the previous Liberty Seated dollar; however, with political pressure and Nevada’s Comstock Lode yielding an annual yield of $36,000,000, the Morgan Dollar found its way into existence.

Between 1878 and 1904 the number of Morgan silver dollars struck exceeded half a billion. These coins were produced not only at the main mint located in Philadelphia, but also at its branches in San Francisco, New Orleans and Carson City; however, production in Carson City ended in 1893 with the closing of that branch location.

Over the years, there have been more than 657 million of these coins produced. This includes 96 different mint and date combinations. The Silver Act of 1942 and the rising price of silver resulted in millions of these coins being melted for their silver. However, even with the huge number of coins that had been melted, there were still large stockpiles both at the treasury as well as in private hands. With so many coins sitting in vaults and not in circulation, it is clear to see why many of these silver dollars are still in excellent condition.

While some collectors enjoy the challenge of compiling a complete set of these silver coins, others prefer to simply acquire one for each year minted. A complete set can be a challenging endeavor due to key date rarities like the 1893-S and 1889-CC issues. Regardless of the collector’s personal goal, there is no doubt that these silver coins have become one of the most popular and sought-after coins in the U.S.

The Rarest Trade Dollars in the Series

What is the rarest trade dollar? The United States got into a unique position when they made too much silver back in the 1870′s. Congress passed the Coinage Act in 1873 that temporarily prohibited the production of silver coins because of restricted demand. This caused an uproar occurred because of the interest in mining. Protesters lobbied until Congress allowed the making of commercial silver dollars meant for Asian markets. These coins contained slightly larger amounts of silver than the standard dollars, but had a legal tender limit within the United States.

The reason the new coins were heavier was because the United States wanted to give the Mexican peso competition within international trading. However, the coins were of a different fineness of silver. The Chinese did not get fooled by the weight of these coins and chose to purchase the Mexican coins with the greater silver content.

Congress opted to make the trade dollar the standard currency about the same time the price of silver dropped. Companies guarded themselves from the price drop by purchasing the coins at a discount and paying some workers with them at face value. However, shop keepers would only accept the bullion value. Congress eliminated production completely in 1885.

The 1878 CC is among the rarest trade coins today since production ceased after 97,000 were issued. Some of those were melted before they were issued so it is more difficult to find them. In 1884 and 1885, a tiny number of proof coins were struck under curious circumstances. These are also valuable and rare coins of the series.

Hermon A. MacNeil’s Design for the Quarter

Twenty five years after the adoption of similar designs created by Charles E. Barber for the dime, quarter, and half dollar, a competition was held to redesign the denominations. As discussed previously, three prominent artists were allowed to submit designs. It had been somewhat anticipated that each artist would end up designing one denomination. However, things turned out differently as Adolph A. Weinman won two designs, leaving Hermon A. MacNeil to win the design for the quarter.

His design featured the full figure of Liberty Standing within an open gate. Although a beautiful rendition later generations would realize that creating a full figure on such a small sized coin was problematic. There were also striking problems throughout the series where areas of weakness were apparent in the head, causing the differentiation by collectors of “Full Head” coins. The reverse design of the coin featured an eagle in flight, with an arrangement of stars at first to the side, and later above and below.

Ultimately the Standing Liberty Quarters would be struck for only 15 years from 1916 to 1930. The coin was designed at the beginning of World War I with the Liberty figure to portray the need for protection for the U.S. from threats worldwide. As the world was evolving, the U.S. saw itself as a dominant nation and wanted to stay protected from threats. The design was only replaced when it was desired to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of George Washington on circulating coinage.

The beautiful design and uniqueness of the quarter makes it a favorite among coin enthusiasts and collectors. It is also popular because of the time period it was made in. It was an important time in the nation’s history, and the coin portrayed the position of the U.S. at that time so well. It is a very beautiful and unique coin that is loved by many.

Schlag’s New Design for the Nickel

The earlier portion of the 20th century was one of great change for American coinage. Stunning depictions of Liberty were introduced during a “Renaissance” period which lasted a number of decades, but later these designs gave way to depictions of important Americans, dominated by Presidents. In 1938, the nickel would see its design changed.

A public competition was announced by the Treasury Department, whereby artists were invited to submit designs. The obverse design was to feature a portrait of the 3rd President of the United States Thomas Jefferson, while the reverse would feature a depiction of Monticello, which was his home near Charlottesville.

There were 390 total designs submitted, among these was one by Felix O. Schlag. These were deemed to be the winner and he received compensation of $1,000. Some modification to his original design was made before it would be released. This included changing the style of font throughout the design and changing his representation of Monticello to a static view from the front.

Jefferson Nickels were introduced in 1938 and were positively received by the public. Schlag was proud of his design and placed 100 examples in specially notarized frames, which he sold or gave away to collectors and friends. These artifacts represent an intriguing keepsake of the historic moment.

The series continues in somewhat modified form to the present day. The original reverse design has been retained, while the obverse was altered. The composition is still the same 75% copper and 25% nickel, despite a brief foray into a different composition for the well known Silver War Nickels issued from 1942 to 1945.

Collectors find the series either approachable or challenging depending on the particular focus. This is one of the series that it is still relatively possible to complete from circulation. On the other hand, collectors seeking uncirculated examples with full steps might have a lifetime of searching ahead of them.

Impressions of Five Cents

Under the Coinage Act of May 16, 1866, a new form of the five cent denomination was authorized. After many years of issuing half dismes worth five cents, struck in a composition of silver, the denomination would change to base metal with a larger diameter and thickness.

The design for the first five cent coins departed from the traditional depictions of Liberty. The so called Shield Nickel was designed by James B. Longacre, also known for the Flying Eagle and later Indian Head Penny designs. His rendition for the five cent piece featured an ornate shield with lines running horizontally. There was a cross at the crest and agricultural elements to each side. The reverse featured very prominently the numeral “5″ within stars or stars and rays. The inscriptions completed the rest of the design.

These coins would be issued from 1866 to 1883, amidst some minor design changes. A common problem was die cracks due to the copper and nickel composition, which was more difficult to strike. Replacements for the coins came in 1883.

This year Charles E. Barber designed the Liberty Nickels. These coins went back to depicting the iconic representation of America in classic sense. Liberty is depicted on the obverse of the coin wearing a crown. There are agricultural elements intertwined within her hair and a number of thirteen stars surrounding to represent the original states. On the reverse was a large Roman numeral “V” and an agricultural wreath containing crops important to the nation. Initially, the word “CENTS” was not included, but this was later placed below the wreath.

Both designs served their purpose and became the circulating representations of the five cent denomination. Each had a very different design from the shield to a classic depiction of Liberty. The denomination would see further development with the two subsequent series.

Weinman Takes Two Out of Three

Back in 1892, design changes were implemented for the dime, quarter dollar, and half dollar. As the most widely circulating silver coins within the United States, these coins were seen as a tangible representation of the country. With the prior designs in place for more than 50 years, it was time for a change. All three coins would adopt the same obverse design by Charles E. Barber featuring the head of Liberty. Although this was a change, it was not very well received.

After a period of only 25 years, the designs were to be changed once again. This time all three denominations would feature different designs. Rather than having the Mint’s chief engraver prepare the designs, leading artists of the day were called upon. The Director of the Mint invited Hermon A. MacNeil, Albin Polasek, and Adolph A. Weinman to create designs for the coins. The presumed goal was to have one artist design each coin. The submission of designs yielded a different result with Weinman’s designs selected for the dime and half dollar and MacNeil’s design selected for the quarter.

The Mercury Dimes, as they would come to be called, featured Liberty in a winged cap to represent “Liberty of thought”. This peculiar headpiece led the series to its common name. The reverse featured fasces and an axe, which represented authority, with an olive branch in the background. The series was well received by the public with many first year of issue coins saved as souvenirs, although the Denver issue would have a prohibitively low mintage.

Weinman’s other design was for the Walking Liberty Half Dollars, like the ten cent piece, the new design was adopted in 1916. The obverse design featured an elegant full figure depiction of Liberty in a flowing dress. She walks towards a rising sun carrying a bouquet of olive branches with a flag draped across her shoulders. The reverse featured an eagle on a rocky outcropping. This design has been viewed as one of the most beautiful in the history of U.S. coinage.

MacNeil’s design for the Standing Liberty Quarter had the shortest duration within circulation. Liberty was depicted standing within a gate on the obverse, with a flying eagle pictured on the reverse. The series was cut short when the denomination was selected to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of George Washington in 1932.

The famous sculptor Albin Polasek did not have any of his designs chosen. Although he remains a well known and celebrated artist, he has no coin designs to his credit.

The Incredible Shrinking Dollar Coin

How do you get a dollar coin to circulate? The United States government has been trying to answer this question with little measure of success for many years. Initially silver dollars were used as backing for silver certificates and did circulate within the western states where hard money was preferred.

Five years after the silver content was removed from circulating coinage, the US Mint issued the first dollar coins struck in a composition of copper and nickel. The Eisenhower Dollars had the same 38.1 mm diameter that had been used for actual silver dollars, despite containing no precious metal content. Although the Ike Dollar was minted for eight years, it did not widely circulate since it was viewed as too heavy and bulky to be practical.

In 1979, the US Mint attempted to solve the problem of size by shrinking the dollar coin. The Susan B. Anthony Dollar would have a diameter of only 26.5 mm. The weight was reduced from 22.68 grams for the prior series to only 8.1 grams. At the time of release, the convenience compared to the old dollar coin and current paper dollar notes was touted.

The efforts were for naught, as the reduced size replaced inconvenience with confusion. Since the coins were close in diameter to the quarter dollar, which was 24.3 mm, the public was quickly frustrated with the new Susan B. Anthony Dollars and shunned them in retail transactions. circulating coin production took place for two years before being halted. The coins were minted only for collectors for one more year in 1981, with an additional odd reprise in 1999.