Littleton Coin Company’s Collector’s Corner

A Good Time for Commemorative Silver Dollars


The U.S. Mint has confirmed that in just a matter of weeks the 500,000 Benjamin Franklin modern commemorative silver dollars in two different designs called “Scientist” and “Founding Father” have sold out. In the history of modern commemoratives, rarely has an issue sold out so quickly. The suggestion is clear that the modern commemorative market is growing both in size and intensity with each passing day. 

Among additional silver dollars to enjoy successful sales was the 2001 American Buffalo silver dollar. It featured the famous James Earle Fraser Buffalo nickel design, and some suspected that using an old design might add to the sales total. It did more than add to it, as it produced quick sales of the 500,000 authorized and an unsuccessful attempt by lawmakers to have an additional 250,000 or 500,000 produced. With all 500,000 purchased, the price of the 2001 American Buffalo silver dollar has gone steadily higher since 2001, and there appears to be no change in sight. The price of this buffalo seems to always be headed to higher ground.

The 2005 silver dollar commemorating the 230th anniversary of the Marine Corps was not expected to sell out because its authorization was 100,000 coins higher than usual. It might have taken a little longer, but the Marine Corps 2005 dollar became the first sellout for a commemorative with an authorization of over 500,000 pieces. In fact, it appears that even 600,000 is not enough to satisfy demand. The Marine Corps silver dollar, like the American Buffalo dollar, has been steadily moving up in price since the announcement that all pieces were sold.

Another silver dollar to see its authorization completely sold out was the 1992 White House silver dollar. This coin was something of a sleeper at the time, as there were also three-coin sets for the Olympics and the 500th anniversary of the landing of Columbus. It was only natural that the lion’s share of promotion and attention was given to the three-coin sets and not the White House dollar. Even so, the White House dollar surprised many by becoming the first ever modern commemorative silver dollar to sell out its original issue. Since then, the White House dollar has moved up in price and then back down, close to its issue price. But it has been slowly creeping upward again.

It would be fair to say that with all the focus on the three recent sold-out dollars, some other commemorative surprises like the White House dollar may be waiting.

It’s an odd characteristic that of the modern commemorative silver dollars that sold out, all were single-coin programs, and not part of two- or three-coin sets. That said, there are some recent individual commemorative silver dollars whose sales did not meet their 500,000 authorizations. The 2002 West Point Military Academy dollar did not sell out, and neither did the 2004 Thomas Alva Edison dollar. In these cases, mintages and prices were below some of the more popular issues. That makes them potentially good deals today. The same could also be said of recent silver dollars, which were part of larger programs such as the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic dollar or the 2003 First Flight dollar.

If you go back further in time, there are some even more interesting bargains waiting to be snapped up by astute buyers. After all, if the market can currently absorb all 500,000 examples of one coin, there is the potential for high demand for all modern commemoratives, as every collector would want at least one example of each type, starting from the very first silver dollar produced for the Los Angeles Olympics in 1983.

With limited publicity, you’ll find there are some low-mintage modern commemorative silver dollars with surprisingly low prices – not that much higher than their issue price. A couple of good examples include the 1991 USO dollar, and the 1994 U.S. Capitol Bicentennial silver dollar. Both had sales below 350,000, but now have prices far below more popular dollars.  

The 1994 Veterans silver dollars honoring American Prisoners of War, the 10th anniversary of the Vietnam War Memorial, and Women in Military Service all have mintages below 300,000 pieces, and while they are more expensive than the USO or U.S. Capitol dollars, you have to feel that with their low mintages they are certainly well worth current prices.

Bargain hunting among modern commemoratives is a great deal of fun. In theory, demand for all should be about equal from collectors. Although a few, such as the Marine Corps dollar and the Vietnam Veterans dollar, may have some special interest. Even allowing for extra demand, popularity of modern commemoratives is increasing, and if it continues, we may see less availability and higher prices for many issues. That being said, now is a perfect time to avoid the rush and get some good deals in the process.