My interest in commemorative coins began in earnest after the death of my father in 1976. While going through his belongings I found a small cardboard box containing a few items he had once shown me. He explained they were in his father’s pocket when he died in 1904.
Included was a deeply toned 1892 Columbian Exposition fifty-cent piece, a souvenir from when my grandfather and grandmother met at the exposition in Chicago. They fell in love and married shortly thereafter.
My father was born in 1895, and was only nine when his father died. My dad kept the coins throughout eighty-year life, though he never became a collector. By the late 1970’s I had expanded my investment interest from gold and silver to a hobby interest in coins, and in particular, Morgan silver dollars and U.S. Commemoratives.
Living in northern Michigan, I somehow became acquainted via mail and phone with Anthony Swiatek, author of the Encyclopedia of the Commemorative Coins of the United States, who was a great mentor and numismatic educator. He taught me the difference between coins and coins with character.
I was raising a family at the time but expanded my collection with choice brilliant uncirculated and gems coins the best I could, with most of my acquisitions occurring between 1979 and 1983. I was able to acquire about thirty-five specimens of the fifty piece type set, including a Lafayette dollar pictured on my NGC Registry.
In those days most coins were ‘raw’ so it was important to have a dealer you could trust, plus educate yourself to know the difference between sliders and truly nice, uncirculated coins. When ANA first came out with their grading service I sent in a few coins to be evaluated, and received photo certificates showing that the coins were genuine and graded obverse and reverse (i.e. MS 63/65, or 65/65, etc.).
As my family grew I took a thirty year hiatus from collecting, keeping the coins in the bank until last year, when I began thinking about estate planning. I happened to meet one of the principals of Heritage Auctions and after a few discussions sent my collection to him for evaluation. We debated whether to send the coins to PCGS or NGC and he opted for NGC. Most of what I had acquired came back graded MS-65, 66, or 67, thanks mainly to Anthony’s eagle eye.
As with all markets, Commemoratives, I discovered, fluctuated in value over time. Additionally, with the advent of professional grading and compilation of a census of various issues, the actual rarity (or lack thereof) became known. Some coins that I thought were rare in the 1980s were now more common. The result was an actual drop in value. A few coins had increased modestly in value, but overall, my coins were worth only about as much as I had originally paid. My investments in gold and silver bullion had done much better (they had tripled).
With the current market for Commemoratives depressed, I decided that rather than sell my collection, I’d attempt to complete the fifty-piece set and pass it along to my children, hence the title, “Commems for Kids.” My four children are all grown now, in their thirties or older.
So now the coins are slabbed, at least there will be no major arguments on the grading, only the market price. My hope is that my heirs will keep the collection intact, passing it onto the next generation, along with Anthony’s book.Read more...