Coins have played an important role in the commerce of human societies. Other than their economic value, they have been issued to mark certain important events that have helped shape the history of mankind. These coins are called commemorative coins. They have a distinct pattern or design that sets them apart from the others in circulation.
Some are meant for general use, while some are minted specifically as a remembrance of a landmark event, which at times are sold at high premiums to numismatists. They hold special interest among collectors who pride themselves for having a souvenir of significant events in the history of mankind.
Throughout history, memorabilia has been used to tell stories of glory and achievements of various events. For example, Romans issued coins that had war scenes highlighting the victory of their forces against enemies. In medieval times, coins were largely issued to mark the coronation of a monarch.
In Europe, and in India during the Mughal era, they were often scattered among the subjects of a kingdom to gain their patronage. These were referred to as 'largesse' coins. Issuance of such coins continued in Europe until the 19th and 20th century. Earlier, these were valuable because, more often than not, they were made from precious metals.
However, after the World Wars and economic crisis that all nations faced, this was never the case again as most of them started being made from base metals that were meant to be used in circulation as other currencies.
The non-circulating mints started to be treasured by numismatists, not only for the patterns and intricate designs that were engraved on them, but also for the fact that they were not available for general use. These coins, often made from precious metals like silver and gold, are often used by the state as a source of revenue.
This is specially true with the third world countries that mint these coins for foreign markets. A lot of these coins have also been used by countries to fund special projects.
A good example of this is the 2008 Bald Eagle Commemorative Coin Program of the US, the proceeds of which go to the American Eagle Foundation of Tennessee that works for the conservation of the Bald Eagle―the national emblem of the country.
Memorabilia Coins in the United States History
The first commemorative coin to have been authorized by the Congress in US, was the 1892 Columbian Exposition Half Dollar. This coin was released to mark 400 years of Columbus' first exploration of the New World. Since then, under the commemorative coin program started by the US, 157 coins in gold and silver were issued till 1934.
Perceiving misuse and objectionable practices, the US Congress, in 1939, banned coinage of certain coins. However, legal exceptions were made for the Iowa Centennial Half Dollar minted in 1946, the Booker T. Washington Memorial Half Dollar and the George Washington Carver-Booker T.
Washington Half Dollar that were coined between 1946-51and 1951-54 respectively. In 1982, the US Mint started its new commemorative coin program. The first coin to be issued under this program was the George Washington 250th Anniversary Half Dollar. Since then the US Mint has been issuing at least two coins almost every year.
Be it celebrating the Olympics or marking a tragedy―as was done by Ukraine in 1996 on the occasion of the 10th Anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster―these special coins are a mirror to the history of mankind.
From simple circular coins to those with enamel finish or having stone inlays, commemorative coins are being increasingly used by man to give wings to his creativity and imagination.