The following Q&A is excerpted from Clifford Mishler’s Coins: Questions & Answers
Q: I have a rare Columbian half dollar. It was found in my grandfather’s estate. How much is it worth?
A: The Columbian half dollar is historically significant in being the first U.S. commemorative coin, but it is neither rare nor particularly valuable. In fact, in basic Uncirculated condition, both the 1892 and 1893 dated issues command a modest premium, the lowest by about two-thirds of all issues from the classic commemoratives series, with the exception of type coins of the 1946 to 1954 Booker T. Washington and Carver/Washington issues.
It was issued in conjunction with the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, the theme of which was the 400th anniversary of the first voyage of Columbus to the Americas. In lieu of a requested $5 million appropriation to help defray the cost of the exposition, Congress authorized the striking of 2,500,000 souvenir half dollars from subsidiary silver coin held by the Treasury. They were sold at the exposition for $1 each.
A delay in the opening of the exposition — the intended October 1892 opening being delayed to May 1, 1893 — resulting in two date varieties of the coin, 1892 and 1893. As a substantial number of the coins remained unsold when the exposition closed on October 30, 1893, about 2.5 million of the four million 1893 strikes were melted, leaving net mintages of slightly more than 1.5 million 1893 dated strikes, against the 1892 production of slightly less than one million. The unsold stocks of the 1892 strikes were released into circulation by the Chicago banks holding them as par security against loans. The Columbian half is one of the few classic commemorative issues frequently encountered in Circulated condition.