SILVER 101 – Small Circulating Silver Commemoratives
by Al Doyle for CoinWeek ………
Ask an American numismatist to describe commemorative silver coinage, and one of two possibilities will emerge. Younger people are likely to mention the silver dollar “commems” that have been struck since 1983, while more experienced hobbyists will point to the commemorative half dollars of 1892 to 1954.
Despite the difference in eras, both series were not struck for circulation. While a fair number of 1892 and 1893 Columbian Exposition, 1923-S Monroe Doctrine, 1925 Stone Mountain and 1946 to 1951 Booker T. Washington halves were dumped into the pocket change supply, the goal was to sell coins to collectors who would stash them away in pristine condition.
The American way isn’t how things are often done in other nations. Commemoratives smaller than half crown size have been struck for daily usage rather than for marketing as collectibles. The number of such pieces is modest enough to allow for a complete set, and prices tend to be reasonable, especially in circulated grades.
Starting at the top of the alphabet is a coin that is attractive enough to dispel the mistaken belief that only U.S. coins are worth collecting. The .835 fine 1 corona issued by Austria-Hungary in 1908 to honor the 60th anniversary of the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph I is an distinguished-looking piece that contains .1342 ounce of silver.
Other European nations issued small silver commems prior to World War II. The 25th anniversary of Albanian independence was celebrated on Albania’s 1937 1-lek. It’s the same size as the 1908 Austrian corona, but far scarcer and somewhat more expensive due to a modest mintage of 50,000. Czechoslovakia marked a decade as a nation on the 1928 5 korun.
The 15th anniversary of Poland’s Gdynia Seaport was honored on the 1936 2 zlote. Topical collectors will enjoy the large sailing ship on the reverse. The .750 piece contains .1061 ounce of silver.
Germany went from one extreme to the other in consecutive years. The 1933 2 reichsmark honoring the 450th anniversary of Martin Luther’s birth was followed by the 1934 2 reichsmark that celebrated the first anniversary of Nazi rule. The .625 fine planchets weigh in with .1607 ounce of silver.
Canada’s dime and quarter had one-year changes in the reverse design to honor the dominion’s centennial in 1967. A mackerel can be found on the dime, while a bobcat on the prowl was placed on the quarter. The .800 fineness was reduced to .500 during the middle of the year. If small silver is your field, check the 11 different commemorative dimes issued by the Royal Canadian
Mint since 1997.
Plain-looking Cuban coinage received a much-needed facelift with the 1952-dated 10 and 20 centavos honoring the nation’s 50th anniversary. The centennial of the birth of Jose Marti was the subject of the 25 centavos of 1953.
Circulating small silver was issued in Panama the same year, as the 1/10 balboa (10 centesimos) and 1/4 balboa (25 centesimos) celebrated the nation’s 1903 declaration of independence from Colombia. Panamanian and Cuban “dimes” and “quarters” are exactly the same diameter, weight and .900 fineness as American coinage of the era. That’s because they were struck at the Philadelphia Mint.
Uruguay’s total silver output is puny, but the 1930 20 centesimos is a classically style coin that celebrates the centennial of the nation’s constitution. The .800 fine piece contains .1286 ounce of silver.
The 1925 death of Sun Yat-sen was mourned on the 20-cent/2 chiao piece issued by the Republic of China in 1927, and another Asian coin closes out the list of small silver commemoratives.
A spectacular rendition of Mount Fuji has made Japan’s 1964 Summer Olympics 1,000-yen piece a popular item worldwide, but a smaller silver Olympic coin is often overlooked. The 1964-dated 100 yen displays the five interlocking Olympic rings and torch. It contains .0926 ounce of silver on a .600 fine planchet. Nice examples sell for $5 or less.
Looking for an area that is both offbeat and inexpensive? Circulating silver commemorative coinage meets both criteria.