Columbian Half Dollars

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Question: I am only a casual collector, but occasionally friends will show me interesting coins they have found or been left by relatives. Particularly confusing to people are the occasional commemorative half dollars found, that seem to be United States coins but have designs that vary widely (and can only be found in most references if you know to look in a special section). One thing I have noticed is that when a commemorative half dollar is shown to me it is more often than not a Columbian half dollar. Is it just that so many of these were made? Or is there some other reason why it is found more often? –F.F.

Answer: The 1893 Columbian half dollar is by far the most frequently encountered commemorative half dollar in circulated condition. This mainly is a result of its high mintage of over 1.5 million pieces, 50% more than the half dollars of the same design dated 1892 (950,000 struck). Only about half of the total mintage was ever distributed, including a massive quantity that was placed into circulation at face value by the Treasury Department in 1894. This move was not appreciated by collectors and Exposition visitors who had paid $1 for each “Souvenir half dollar.” To make matters even worse, officials of the Columbian Exposition used the commemorative half dollars as collateral for bank loans (valuing them at $1 apiece), with the end result that banks simply passed them out in change after loan obligations were not met. These reasons all contributed to the fact that more non-collectors may have somehow received these coins and used them in circulation. Later the circulated coins may have been pulled out as “oddities” and set aside with other pocket change finds, thus resulting in them turning up more often when people show you their coins.

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