Commemorative Coins of the United States

"When I found out last year that in one of your auctions someone had paid $30,000 for a Mint State-67, whereas I had been spending them for face value in 1932- obviously top Mint State pieces because they were in their original envelopes of issue, never having been taken out-I was rather flabbergasted. This just goes to show you that I should have kept the damn things! That was my first experience with commemoratives."

Collecting Monroe Half Dollars

Today the majority of 1923-S Monroe Doctrine Centennial half dollars in existence show evidence of friction or wear. Mint State examples are not particularly difficult to find, although most of them have technical grades in the MS-60 to MS-63 range. Evaluating the numerical grade of such pieces is difficult, for even the finest preserved coins are weakly defined because of the design and have a generally unsatisfactory appearance.

GRADING SUMMARY: Most specimens show handling and friction on the portrait of Adams on the obverse and on the high parts of the continents on the reverse. The design is in. shallow relief. Like the 1926 Sesquicentennial half dollar, the 1923-S Monroe half is an aesthetic disaster. Just pick out an acceptable one (you will never find a beautiful one) and then go on to seek the next coin needed in your collection.

1923-S Monroe Doctrine Centennial Half Dollar


Commemorating: Centennial of the Monroe Doctrine 1823-1923
Obverse motif: Portraits of Presidents Monroe and Adams
Reverse motif: Allegorical depiction of the western hemisphere Authorization date: January 24, 1923
Dates on coins: 1923 (also 1823)
Date when coins were actually minted: 1923
Mint used: San Francisco
Maximum quantity authorized: 300,000
Total quantity minted (including assay coins): 274,077
Assay coins (included in above): 77
Quantity melted: None
Net number distributed (including assay coins): 274,077
Issued by: Los Angeles Clearing House representing backers of the First Annual American Historical Revue and Motion Picture Industry Exposition.
Standard original packaging: Imprinted paper coin envelope; (Reported by John J. Ford, Jr.) also plain paper envelope (the latter used at the Exposition)
Official sale price: $1
Designer of obverse and reverse: Chester Beach
Interesting facts: This issue has a weakly defined design: large quantities were eventually released into circulation for face value.


(average market prices)

1925 MS-60 $1
1930 MS-60 $1.25
1935 MS-60 $1.50
1936 (summer) MS-60 $1.50
1940 MS-60 $1.25
1945 MS-60 $2.50
1950 MS-60 $3
1955 MS-60 $7
1960 MS-60 $9
1965 MS-60 $16
1970 MS-60 $18
1975 MS-60 $57
1980 MS-60 $220
1985 MS-60 $200
1986 MS-60 $70, Ms-63 $160, MS-64 $800, MS-65 $2,350
1990 (spring) MS-60 $52, MS-63 $230, MS-64 $1,100, MS-65 $7,750
1990 (December) MS-60 $40, MS-63 $170, MS-64 $625, MS-65 $5,500

Note: The typical specimen offered as Uncirculated in advertisements prior to about mid- 1980 would probably grade today in the range of AU-58 to MS-60.

The Continuing Story of Commemoratives

By the end of 1923 it was becoming increasingly evident that commemorative half dollars were an easy way to make money, and proposals for various issues gained momentum. During the next 10 to 12 years, legislators would be inundated with ideas, as people who had friends in Congress willing to sponsor a commemorative bill became increasingly inventive in devising excuses for the creation of one "important" issue or another.

Coin collectors were divided as to what to do. On the one hand, commemorative issues to this point were available for a modest premium, and the designs offered an interesting alternative from regular circulating coinage. On the other hand, numismatists did not want to be targets for obvious profiteering. The average collector desired to buy new commemoratives that were interesting historically, attractive artistically, priced reasonably, and produced to the extent of just a single variety.

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