Availability of Commemoratives

A website visitor and blog reader contacted me recently with the following question:

Dear Beth Deisher, I am a reader of your memory bank columns in Coin World. Perhaps you can solve a situation that puzzles me.

I am a collector of early commemoratives. Why, when there is a limited mintage of some issues such as the Isabella Quarter, so many sellers seem to offer a number of these coins?
I’ve asked this question at coin shows and have never received a satisfactory answer. Thank you.


Here is my response to J.B.:

By today’s standards, mintages of the business strike Columbian Exposition coins — 1892 and 1893 Columbus half dollars and the 1893 Isabella quarter — are relatively small.

Net mintages (number struck minus the number melted) of the Columbian half are 950,000 for the 1892 issue and 1,548,300 for the 1893 issue. Net mintage for the Isabella quarter is 24,191.

The half dollar was initially sold at $2.00 and used as an admission token to the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The official price was listed as $1.00. When the fair closed in 1894, those not melted were sold at face value and released into circulation. Similarly the Isabella quarter was officially sold during the fair as a souvenir for $1.00 and some were sold to collectors. However, a significant number of unsold coins were later released into circulation at face value.

Because of the numbers that circulated, both the half dollar and the quarter dollar are easy to locate in circulated grades. Grade rarity is reflected in current retail pricing. For example Coin World magazine’s Coin Values section lists the Isabella quarter at $300 graded Extremely Fine 40 and both the 1892 and 1893 half dollars are list at $17 in EF-40.  An Isabella quarter graded Mint State 65 is priced at $2,000 and both years of the half dollar in MS-65 are listed at $750.

When compared to other Early Commemoratives in high Mint State grades, the Isabella quarter is currently one of the most expensive to purchase.

With regard to many dealers having the Isabella quarter and other Early commems for sale, it’s a matter of demand. The Early series was avidly collected into the mid-1980s. By the late 1980s and early 1990s as collectors became enthused about Modern Commemoratives (1982 to date), which they could buy for far less than the Early series (1892-1954), many people stopped collecting the Early series and prices dropped. Early commems have not recovered to the price levels they one commanded. Whether the Early series will rebound to is open to debate.Today’s price levels appear to present a good opportunity for those interested in the Early Series.


Do you have any additional information for J.B.? If you do, please feel free to leave your comments below.

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