About So-Called Dollars

So-Called Dollars are medals approximately the size of a silver dollar that were struck to commemorate a U.S. historical event. Struck since the early 1800’s they fall into two categories, those associated with a major fair or exposition such as the 1892-1893 Columbia Exposition and those associated with an event in U.S. history such as the completion of the Erie Canal in 1826. In addition dollar-sized medals that are associated with the silver controversies, our national coinage or were actually designed as circulating media are also known as so-called dollars. Pieces were struck by the U.S. Mint as well as by private diesinkers. The following types of medals are not so-called dollars: military medals, religious medals, award medals, fraternal medals or advertising store card medals.

The history of collecting medals

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The term So-Called Dollar is credited to New York coin dealer Thomas Elder who used the term in one of his 1912 auction catalogs for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition silver President Roosevelt dollar HK 308. Richard D. Kenney authored an article on So-Called Dollars published in the July-August, 1953 edition of the Coin Collector’s Journal. In 1963 Harold E. Hibler and Charles V. Kappen published a book titled So-Called Dollars. A second edition of the Hibler & Kappen book was reprinted in 2008. That book today serves as the standard reference for So-Called Dollars. Numismatist Jeff Shevlin is currently researching and preparing to publish a new book on So-Called Dollars. Hundreds of collectors are collaborating with Jeff in that effort.

Early advanced U.S. collectors focused on rare medals and rare federal coinage. In the early 1900’s collectors focus changed to collecting U.S. coins by date and mint mark. Today many advanced numismatists are rediscovering the history and allure associated with rare medals. Their rarity and relatively low cost make them appealing today to knowledgeable collectors.


Browse So-Called Dollars by Exposition Category

1894 California Midwinter Exposition

Immediately following the 1893 Columbian Exposition, the California Midwinter Exposition was held in Golden Gate Park. Michael DeYoung, publisher of the San Francisco Chronicle, convinced the citizens of San Francisco to host the exposition with less than one year to build all of the buildings and complete the infrastructure.

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1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition

On the 100th anniversary of the Corps of Discovery's exploration by Lewis and Clark in 1804 & 1805 of the Louisiana Purchase Territory and their sighting of the Pacific Ocean, Portland hosted this exposition.

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1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition

Seattle hosted this exposition to celebrate the Alaskan Gold Rush and the discovery of gold in Canada's Yukon Territory, and the fact that Seattle was the major shipping location in the Pacific Northwest.

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1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition

San Francisco held it's second major exposition in 1915 to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal and to let the world know that The City had recovered from the devastating 1906 earthquake and fire.

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1915-16 Panama-California Exposition

San Diego in 1915-16 hosted an exposition that was open during the same time as the exposition held in San Francisco. San Diego's exposition was extended for an additional year, into 1916, and also celebrated the completion of the Panama Canal.

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1935-36 California Pacific International Exposition

In 1935-35 San Diego held a second major exposition in the same location, Balboa Park, to revitalize their community and to preserve and rebuild the structures originally built in 1915 for their previous exposition.

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1939-40 Golden Gate International Exposition

The newly man made Treasure Island was the location for the third major exposition held in San Francisco. The Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge has both just been recently completed and San Francisco wanted to host a celebration that would draw everyone to the city that was now readily accessible.

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1962 Seattle World's Fair Exposition

The aerospace industry was centered in the Pacific Northwest, specifically Seattle, and the U.S. was competing with the Russians in the space race to demonstrate technology superiority. Seattle was selected to host an exposition that would showcase the latest technological achievements made in the U.S.

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Browse So-Called Dollars by Decade Category


Browse So-Called Dollars by Other Criteria

In addition to browsing by exposition or by decade on this page, you can also browse by several other criteria. We’ve compiled a helpful list of the various ways you can navigate our database, located on our Find A So-Called Dollar page.