Top 5 Cutest U.S. Coins: Grizzly Bear meets the Catamount

1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition

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Let's say you want to start a coin collection. You could collect based on composition (gold, silver, platinum). You could collect based on year (birth year of your child, yourself or your fish). You could collect by theme (International coins, Abe Lincoln coins, U.S. National Parks Quarters). A better option: cutest U.S. coins.

Sure, there are many cute international coins, such as China's Gold Pandas and Australia's Koalas, but for simplicity's sake let's consider coins minted in the United States. Bear in mind, though, it may cost you.

History of the U.S. Commemorative Coin

1892 marked the first 'Commemorative' coin, a half dollar marking the 400th anniversary of Columbus' voyage to America. For the next 62 years, 157 different coins were created, authorized by Congress, honoring 53 different events, individuals and occasions. These silver and gold coins, marked events as major as the Battle of Gettysburg (1936: 75th Anniversary) and as trivial as the 1936 Centennial of Elgin, Illinois. Congress, concerned that some coins were not of national interest, prohibited the issuing of commemorative coins in 1939. With few exceptions, the coin program ceased, ending entirely in 1954 with the Carver-Washington half dollar.

Modern U.S. Commemorative Coins

In 1982, the 250th Anniversary of George Washington's birth prompted a renewed interest in recognizing national events, and ten million half dollar coins were minted honoring this event. The 'Modern Commemorative' coin era had begun.

Today, the Mint releases several designs each year, produced in limited quantities and for a limited time. Themes vary widely, covering American people, places, events and institutions. Because each coin's theme is authorized by Congress, these coins are more a reflection of our culture, than a methodical documentation of our times.

A boon to the government, they've raised $418 million since reintroduction in 1982 and have added an interesting facet to coin collecting for dealers and the public. Funds raised by the government from the sale of these coins preserve national sites, such as George Washington's home, national monuments, such as the Vietnam Memorial, build museums and support U.S. Olympic programs.

Determining Coin Values

Values of coins are based on mintage (number of coins produced), condition, composition (current value of the materials used in the coin, such as gold), and the whims of what the market will bear (what is deemed desirable by the public at any given time). Whitman's 'Blue' book guide lists a coin's worth (the value a coin might bring if you tried to sell it); the 'Red' book lists the value a buyer might pay for the same coin (generally higher). Both books list coins at various industry-agreed upon standards of condition.

Condition

AU-50 (About Uncirculated), for example, means there are traces of wear on the high points of the coin and at least half of the coin's original luster remains. MS-65 (Mint State) is a much higher quality uncirculated coin with very few contact marks on the rim or surface. MS-63 is better than the AU but worse than the MS-65, while MS-70 is considered 'perfect'.

Cuteness Factor

That being said, some coin designs are just a lot cuter than others.

Here's my rundown of the five cutest US coins to date:

1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition

Above is the octagon version of this gold coin.  A photo of the round version begins this article.
Above is the octagon version of this gold coin. A photo of the round version begins this article. | Source

1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition

This 'modern commemorative' was created to mark San Francisco's 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. This elaborate world's fair commemorated the creation of the Panama Canal (1904-1914), an arduous ten year project which opened the trade route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The International Exposition was also intended to showcase San Francisco's recovery from the devastating 1906 earthquake that leveled most of the city and wrought 3,000 casualties, nine years earlier, in 1906.

The 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition coins, created in 4 different denominations, each had a unique design. Cutest was the gold $50 Round, of which a mere 483 were distributed, still the rarest commemorative coin ever issued by the United States. The coin was designed by Robert Aitkin.

The figure on the front is Minerva, goddess of wisdom; wise, yes, but not as cute as the owl. The flip side has, arguably, the cutest owl found on any U.S. coin, to date. An octagonal-shaped version of this coin was also minted with only 645 coins distributed.

The 2010 Blue book lists the $50 round coin, graded at AU-50, at $35,000. Take it up to a MS-65 and you're looking at $95,000. That's one nice owl.

1925 California Jubilee

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1925 California Jubilee

The California Jubilee Half Dollar celebrated the 75th anniversary of California becoming a state in 1850. This coin's obverse features a fierce, yet cute grizzly bear, adopted in 1953 as California's state animal, while the reverse depicts a '49er' panning for gold during the state's 1849 gold rush.

Only 86,394 of these coins were distributed (a low volume, considering that's less than today's population of Santa Monica). AU-50s are valued at $100, MS-65s at $675.

1927 Vermont Sesquicentennial Half Dollar

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1927 Vermont Sesquicentennial Half Dollar

This half dollar coin was issued to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Bennington and Vermont's independence, in 1777. (Vermont joined the Union twelve years later, in 1791). The coin was designed by Charles Keck, who also designed the 1915 Panama-Pacific Gold Dollar (the one-dollar coin featuring dolphins, not the fifty-dollar coins depicting the owl).

Ira Allen, founder of Vermont and one of the Green Mountain Boys who defeated the British at the Battle of Bennington, appears on the obverse.

A catamount appears on the reverse. A catamount is the common name for a Canadian Lynx, a large cat native to Vermont. Originally, the public wanted the Catamount Tavern on the coin; the Green Mountain Boys often met at this pub, but many objected to the depiction of a tavern on a commemorative coin. Thus, a picture of the catamount Lynx prevailed.

Coin distribution was only 28,142. AU-50s are valued at around $140, MS-60s $160, MS-63s $175, and MS-65s $530.

1936 San Fransisco-Oakland Bay Bridge Opening Half Dollar

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1936S San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge Opening Half Dollar

1936S San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge Opening Half Dollar depicted the landmark bridge on the reverse and the California grizzly bear on the obverse. Designed by San Francisco artist Jacques Schnier, the bear was a composite of animals in local zoos.

Distribution was 71,424. AU-50 = $90, MS-60=$100, MS-63=$120, MS-65=$210

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2008S Bald Eagle clad half dollar

The reverse of the 2008S Bald Eagle clad half dollar depicts eagle babies in a nest with an unhatched egg. A sharp adult eagle adornes the obverse. Super cuddly and this one won't break the bank.

The uncirculated 2008S Bald Eagle clad half dollar, is valued at $7, the Proof coin, $8.

The coin is also available in the "Young Collector's" set, in an illustrated folder that depicts the story of the American eagle.

Martin Van Buren Presidential Dollar

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Of course you can choose your own criteria for determining the coins you want to collect. If these five aren't cute enough for you, there's always 2008's Martin Van Buren Dollar.

Van Buren, the 8th President of the United States from 1837-1841, is depicted via the Presidential Dollars series (2007-2016) honoring, in chronological order by term in office, any President who has been deceased at least two years before the coin is issued. MS-65s of the Van Buren currently fetch only their face value of $1 (a steal!), the Proof version, $3.

Beauty is, after all, in the eye of the beholder.

Which coin do you prefer?

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Comments 18 comments

TTC12 profile image

TTC12 5 years ago

Great article, ACC12! Enjoyed reading it. To heck with value. It is the cuteness factor that really matters.


acc12 profile image

acc12 5 years ago Author

Thanks, TTC12. Yes, a lighthearted take on the realm of coin collecting.


brianlokker profile image

brianlokker 5 years ago from Washington DC metro area

What I'd really like to see would be the bald Martin Van Buren with the bald eagle babies on the reverse -- definitely cute! Good, informative article.


acc12 profile image

acc12 5 years ago Author

brianlokker, good idea - or a Mexican hairless dog.


writeronline 5 years ago

Hi, acc12, I'm not into coins, but I did pause to take a look, based on your interesting 'cuteness factor' angle.

Having read (OK, scanned...) it, I just wanted to congratulate you on the intrigue, relevance, focus, and 'new information' content. You've only been here 5 minutes (OK, weeks..)and you've already got your head wrapped right around the 'secret to Hub success'.

Top job. Hope I can emulate you some day soon....


acc12 profile image

acc12 5 years ago Author

Writeronline- sure appreciate the positive feedback! You made my day!


CloudExplorer profile image

CloudExplorer 5 years ago from New York City

Your an amazing writer, I enjoy creative writing myself, judging by this hub here, & the one you wrote on matches, I can easily tell that you definitely have a strong hold on your subject matters of specific reference.

Awesome stuff here, there's always a benefit to being a subject matter expert, voted up as beautiful, interesting & useful. Welcome to the Team, you just earned a new follower.

I don't collect coins but my grandfather did many years back, and I was always fascinated when I was a child, with his vast assortment of coins he had accumulated from all his worldly travels.


Admiral_Joraxx profile image

Admiral_Joraxx 5 years ago from Philippines

US coins has beautiful and meaningful designs. It's unique the value was only written in words. Most of our coins in Phils. are named with a digit and words. US coins are unique indeed. Great idea of sharing about this. 1 vote up!


acc12 profile image

acc12 5 years ago Author

CloudExplorer - It's always special when an item brings back fond memories of spending time with a relative or friend. Sounds like your grandfather had an amazing collection. Thanks for sharing.

AdmiralJoraxx - comparing coins from different countries is always interesting. The everyday coins people carry in their pocket seem exotic to others who've never seen them. Coins then become another way of connecting to different places. Glad you enjoyed the hub.


hailei profile image

hailei 5 years ago from Romania

Nice catch with the "cutest" title :) Smart move. I don't know what to say about coins... every time i see old coins, they make me think about songs like "Dirty cash" or "K'tching" :)) They make me remember how material we are.

I did enjoy your hub though, it's interesting to read about stuff you don't usually research.

Thank you!


acc12 profile image

acc12 5 years ago Author

hailei, glad you enjoyed the hub. I enjoy the history of coins along with their beauty (aka cuteness!).


kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 4 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

Hi, acc12, Very interesting piece. Well-written, presented. Voted up and away. I used to collect coins when I was a younger man, but it got too costly. Love your article. And in your fan mail, I may have misspelled your name, I apologize. I think I wrote "icc12," not acc12. I am sorry. I do admire your talent. And invite you to visit my hubs if you need a good, hearty laugh. And Id love to have you as a follower too--for you have such a flair for writing. Merry Christmas to you and yours. Sincerely, Kenneth Avery from Hamilton, a small northwest Alabama town that looks like Mayberry on the Andy Griffith Show. I will be looking for you and do keep up the great work.


acc12 profile image

acc12 4 years ago Author

Thanks Kenneth! Interesting, the people and events that get honored. Now with the Presidential Dollar series being scaled back (low interest, just hoarders) maybe those Martin Van Buren coins will finally get some respect!


kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 4 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

acc12, exactly. I agree with your Van Buren comment. Would I be too 'out there,' to even suggest that President Obama get his own coin? He did, after all, make history as the first African-American to be elected President, and for the most part, he has done lots of good for our country. Just a thought. Great hub, acc.


acc12 profile image

acc12 4 years ago Author

Kenneth, He may have a wait - they only issue the Presidential Dollar coins after the person's been dead at least 2 years (and after they've gotten through the preceding deceased). Perhaps a stamp?


kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 4 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

acc12, yes, a stamp would be nice too. But I would surely collect, if I were a collector, an Obama coin. I would be collecting history. I wish I knew as much as you did about collecting and values of coins and such. I admire you for that. And your writing.


acc12 profile image

acc12 4 years ago Author

Kenneth, Thanks! By focusing on coins you like it's easy to read up and develop a niche. Even if you just 'look' it's an art & history lesson all in one.


kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 4 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

acc12...yes. You are right. I may try that too. And with my hub-writing, my time can be well-spent. Thanks for the advice. And have a great Christmas weekend. Okay?

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