United States Souvenir Coins and Their Prices, by Thomas L. Elder.

Discussion in 'US Coins Forum' started by leeg, May 24, 2019.

  1. leeg

    leeg I Enjoy Toned Coins


    American collectors are, I think, fast awakening to the fact that souvenir gold dollars and half dollars which have been offered to them during the last few years by the hundreds of thousands, at from 100 to 200 per cent, premium, are a modernized and systematized sort of numismatic swindle. The writer for one is going to keep on emphasizing this point until the practice of overcharging is stopped. I do not mean that the practice of issuing souvenir coins should be stopped. Far from it. The output, while a good deal of it is of indifferent value from an art standpoint, is valuable for historical purposes, and for adding character to our national coinage. I have always advocated the issuance of such coins. But the manifest unfairness of these expositions and centennial committees in expecting the collectors and the public to pay such enormous advances over the face value of the pieces while issuing them by the hundreds of thousands is an imposition pure and simple. It is my intention to keep hammering against this injustice until these committees get some common-sense into their heads.

    The souvenir coins which have had the greatest demand and which at the present time command the very best premiums are those gold dollars which we issued at from $1.65 to $2 apiece, namely, those of the Portland Centennial and the Pan-Pacific Exposition. This proves my argument. The McKinley Memorial dollars of 1916 and 1917 and the Grant issues seem to have gone dead recently; at any rate, the writer has found this to be true. In the case of the half dollars, there does not seem to be any disposition on the part of collectors to pay nearly the issuing price of one dollar. The Pilgrim half dollars and those of the Maine Centennial have also gone to seed, and there is little demand for either of them. Unless it is stopped, this tagging on of exorbitant prices over the face value of coins, the collectors have an infallible way of stopping it themselves.

    The writer, serving on a Committee on United States Coins, has often advocated that numismatic societies lend their voices to the appeal for the issuance of these souvenir coins, commemorating important events or national characters, but the societies have not always lent their aid to such suggestions. This indifference on their part will not prevent his doing things and saying things which he believes to be of real help and benefit to numismatic progress in the United States. Inasmuch as these recommendations have not been adopted, I am very glad to submit them to the great body of collectors throughout the country for their information and possible help.

    Let the centennial and exposition committees issue half dollars for not over 75 cents, and not over 25,000 of an issue; and gold dollars at not over $1.50 apiece, and not over 15,000 of an issue. Let these issues be made frequently and have them well advertised, and I predict the result will be Very gratifying to both the committees, the public and to collectors.

    Possibly someone would raise the point that such a quantity of issue, and an offering at such retail prices, would not pay the centennial or exposition committees. There may be some truth to this supposition, and if my suggestions as to issue and prices were unacceptable, I would then suggest that the Government take over the issue and pass out the coins freely to the public at, say, $1.25 each for the gold dollars and 60 cents each for the half dollars, paying the centennial committee a fair percentage of the profits. If this were done, naturally the issue could be greatly increased without much danger of either a slump in the prices or a decrease in the demand for the coins.

    Surely the exposition committees do very little in the way of consulting collectors as to the number of coins to be issued or as to the retail prices of them. All the evidence proves it, in regard to the manner of the recent selling of commemorative gold dollars and half dollars. The collectors have to take their stand in this matter.

    A reform such as has been outlined will eventually benefit the centennial committees, naturally, and prevent the eventuality of their having to resell thousands of these coins for far less than the advertised prices, or else to melt the gold dollars up for bullion, as has in more than one instance been done. Our cry, then, should be: ‘More Souvenir Coins at Moderate Prices.’ Just in this connection we would like to see a good Roosevelt half dollar and a gold dollar bearing the head of Abraham Lincoln. The writer has advocated a Roosevelt coin time and again, but so far none has appeared.”1

    1 The Numismatist, United States Souvenir Coins and Their Prices, by Thomas L. Elder. March, 1923, pg. 107-108.
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  3. LakeEffect

    LakeEffect Average Circulated

    This 1923 article made me smile, as it could have been written today, in 2019. Thanks for posting.

    Fun fact: In 1923, when this article was written, most Americans made, on average, in the neighborhood of $1.50 an hour.
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  4. CoinCorgi

    CoinCorgi Derp, derp, derp!

    Ditto. This made my smile even bigger...
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  5. Conder101

    Conder101 Numismatist

    The more things change, the more they stay the same.
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  6. kaparthy

    kaparthy Supporter! Supporter

    Absolutely not!

    1920 Occupation Income
    Average of all Industries
    $ 1407/year
    State and Local Government Workers
    $ 1164/year
    Public School Teacher
    $ 970/year
    Building Trades
    $ 1.08/hourWorking week: 43.8 h.
    Medical/Health Services Worker
    $ 752/year

    Union Wages of 70 cents per hour in Baltimore

    Average starting wage: 40 cents per hour

    Some of the best jobs paid about a dollar an hour:

    Yale University faculty made about $3 per hour depending...
    ... but they are not average workers.
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  7. green18

    green18 Sweet on Commemorative Coins Supporter

    Dang Mike......ever the 'spoiler'. :)
  8. green18

    green18 Sweet on Commemorative Coins Supporter

    And I paid a pretty 'penny' for this one back in late March.

    DSC_8403.JPG DSC_8404.JPG
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  9. leeg

    leeg I Enjoy Toned Coins

    Thanks all for your comments!
  10. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    Ironically things only got worse for collectors after Elder wrote this piece. In the 1930s, promoters and speculators gained control of the mintages for a number of commemative coins (Cincinnati, Hudson, Boone, Oregon Trail) and charged premium prices for them. Commemative half dollars were issued for many years only get addition funds out of collectors. (Boone, Texas, Oregon Trail, Washington-Carver, Booker T. Washington)

    Elder had a point, but his proposed premiums were too low to make the issuance of these coins a viable fundraiser for the organizations. His proposal to have the government do it risked wasting taxpayer money, which occurred in modern times with overblown Atlanta Olympics coin program. The only real solution was and is collector restraint. If you are not interested in the topic or think the issue price is too high, don't buy it.
  11. kaparthy

    kaparthy Supporter! Supporter

    Well, yeah... but... no. It speaks to the questions of why people collect coins, or anything. We are not compelled to do so, except by our own motivations. If we consider numismatics in a cultural context, then I suggest that the first incentive is to own something of historical importance. It was why people in the Renaissance suddenly wanted Roman coins. So, this year's U.S. Mint issue is going to fail that standard.

    We might be honored to share in something that we care about now being recognized by the government. The many military commemoratives, police coins, Olympics celebrations, the baseball commemoratives... and for the British, Beatrice Potter and Harry Potter.... Having worked for Zeiss, I have Zeiss commemoratives.

    But I did not buy them in their years of issue.

    I did buy two of the recent Newton 50p from the Royal Mint. If I was going to pay for shipping for one, might as well get another... Then, they came out with Stephen Hawking. So, I bought two of those. Then I gave one of each to friend of mine who is a science teacher. Easy peasy... But they are trinkets with personal importance. Last weekend, I bought my wife a Petoskey stone. But the choice was mine, regardless of whatever nonexistent Devonian Coral Society encourages the sale of petrified polyp skeletons.

    And in the generation after Elder's editorial, in the 1950s, the commemoratives were bought and sold on their own merits.
    Last edited: May 26, 2019
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  12. green18

    green18 Sweet on Commemorative Coins Supporter

    You betcha........I love Bookers and Carver Washingtons........
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  13. kaparthy

    kaparthy Supporter! Supporter

    But there are other reasons for commemoratives. The Washington Quarter, the Jefferson Nickel, and the Lincoln Cent could have been one-year issues. In our time we had the Bicentennial coins, and then the 50-State program and now the National Parks program.

    Common are they are, anyone can have one, or a collector might want a Proof or Proof 70.

    It does raise the issue of who or what is a worthy cause. It is hard to deny the Girl Scouts or the Marines but it really is not the job of the US Mint to raise money for them. I think that the Bridgeport Connecticut Commemorative just about sums it up.


    So, I went to the Blue Book (first reach) and looked up the infamous Cincinnati Commemorative. Then, I read about the Cleveland coin in Wikipedia. Being from Cleveland, I had no idea that the date 1836 was so important to some people. We celebrated the Bicentennial of the founding in 1996. We had three six-week sessions of Ohio history in the 3rd and then the 8th grades. We learned of the founding in 1796. The war with Brooklyn, the lost settlers of Chagrin (sad that they were not actually on the Cuyahoga River), and all that, we learned. 1836? I dunno; the Alamo maybe? The city flag says "1796" not 1836.

    But it was not for any civic organization at all. It was for the personal profit of Thomas Melish.
    Last edited: May 26, 2019
  14. leeg

    leeg I Enjoy Toned Coins

    The 1886 – 1936 dates on the coin were arbitrarily picked to give the illusion that the coin commemorated an actual event from 1886. This simply has no basis in fact. There was no event in Cincinnati in 1886 that related to the images depicted on the coins. The Cincinnati Musical Center Commemorative Coin Association was the sponsor of the commemorative coin. In fact, the Association was the creation of Tom Melish, whose sole purpose, it appears, was to create a profit for himself. The numbered 200 sets were immediately sold at inflated prices, creating considerable profit for Melish.
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