History and Design Merge with Classic Commemoratives

31 Oct

By Connor Falk

 

The classic commemorative silver half dollar series represents a merger of historical events and people with appealing coin designs. Issued between 1892 and 1954, classic commemorative halves were struck and sold to the growing coin collecting community in the United States. The use of coinage to represent important American events, places, people, and events broadened the appeal of coin collecting. Their designs reflect both the classical themes in use during the late 1800s and early 1900s, the art deco era of the 1920s and 1930s, and the post-World War II modernism during the late 1940s and early 1950s.

 

Due to their low mintages and wide collector market, the series has appreciated substantially from the $1 to $2 the coins were originally sold for. In this article, I’ll highlight three important classic commemorative coins as well as an overview of the other commemoratives in our Nov. 2-3 auction.

 

150th Anniversary of Captain Cook’s Discovery of Hawaii – 1928

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1928 Hawaii Half Dollar

Commemorating the sesquicentennial of Captain James Cook’s arrival at the Hawaiian islands on a commemorative half dollar was initially raised in 1927 by the territorial government of Hawaii. The bill easily passed Congress and was signed on March 7, 1928 by President Coolidge. The Philadelphia Mint struck the complete mintage of the type at 10,008 coins. Eight of those struck were used for assay purposes; the other 10,000 were sold by the Bank of Hawaii at $2 a coin. The commemorative proved to be very popular with collectors and quickly sold out. Since then, its low mintage, scarcity, and popularity both in subject matter and design have driven demand and it is now considered a key date in the classic commemorative half dollar series.

 

The obverse of the coin depicts a left facing bust of Captain Cook with the legends UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, IN GOD WE TRUST, and HALF DOLLAR just above, to the right, and below the bust, respectively. To the left of the bust, it reads “CAPT. / JAMES COOK / DISCOVERER OF / HAWAII.” The reverse shows a Hawaiian chieftain in front of a Hawaiian beach, holding a spear and with his right arm outstretched with the legends E PLURIBUS UNUM and 1778 1928 below.

 

The example in our sale, lot 1498, is graded NGC MS 63. The estimate on it is $1,250 to $2,000.

 

400th Anniversary of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca’s Old Spanish Trail – 1935

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1935 Old Spanish Trail Half Dollar

The authorization and design of the 1935 Old Spanish Trail half dollar was a personal project of L.W. Hoffecker, an El Paso coin dealer and ANA official (he would later become the organization’s president from 1939 to 1941). In his position as the chairman of the El Paso Museum Coin Committee, he lobbied the government for a bill to commemorate Spanish explorer Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca’s expedition from Florida to northern Mexico from 1528 to 1536. Once the bill had passed, Hoffecker worked with a sculptor, Edmund J. Senn, to create the coin design in plaster based on Hoffecker’s original sketches.

 

The design takes some artistic liberties with Cabeza de Vaca’s travels: stops in St. Augustine, Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Mobile, New Orleans, Galveston and San Antonio are shown despite Cabeza de Vaca travelling mainly by boat around the Gulf coast. Upon approval of the designs, the US Mint struck the 10,008 coin mintage in September. Hoffecker received 10,000 of the coins to resale for $2 plus postage; another eight were used for the Assay Commissions annual meeting. By most accounts, the coins were well-received by collectors and, though they took time to sell out, are rather scarce and desirable.

 

The obverse of the coin shows a cow head, symbolizing Cabeza de Vaca which literally translates as “head of a cow.” Above, the legends read UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, E PLURIBUS UNUM, and LIBERTY, below the legends read ALVAR NUÑEZ CABEZA DE VACA and HALF DOLLAR. The reverse design consists of a palmetto tree in front of a map depicting Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas with a line showing Hoffecker’s interpretation of Cabeza de Vaca’s journey. El Paso is marked at the far left. Legends read OLD SPANISH TRAIL above and 1535 – 1935 below.

 

The example in our sale, lot 1504, is graded NGC MS 65. The estimate on it is $800 to $1,200.

 

100th Anniversary of Missouri’s Admission to the Union – 1921

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1921 Missouri Centennial Half Dollar

The authorization for the Missouri Centennial half dollar called for a massive mintage of 250,000 coins, a reduction from the 500,000 called for in a prior draft of the bill. Such a mintage would easily make it one of the most common classic commemoratives, yet only 50,028 coins were struck. Of this, 28 were set aside for the Assay Commission. The 50,000 mintage was then sent to the Sedalia Trust Company for mail orders as well as sales at the Missouri Centennial Exposition at a price tag of $1.

 

Of these 50,000 coins, 5,000 were initially struck with a special notation 2*4 to the left of the bust before having this device ground off the dies. For the 45,000 without the 2*4 notation, 29,600 coins were melted after sales proved sluggish. The final numbers, 5,000 coins with 2*4, 15,400 without 2*4, are suspect as modern market prices suggest the availability for both versions is about the same with a slightly higher premium for the 2*4 versions. Many numismatic experts suggest a roughly even 10,000/10,400 split is more likely.

 

The obverse shows a left-facing bust of Daniel Boone wearing a coonskin cap with the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA above, 1821 and 1921 flanking, and HALF DOLLAR below. The notation 2*4 is present to the left of the bust, just above the 1821. The reverse shows a frontiersman holding a rifle and gesturing to the left, directing the attention of a Native American who is holding a peace pipe. A field of stars is set along the background with SEDALIA below and MISSOURI CENTENNIAL above.

 

The example with 2*4 notation in our sale, lot 1490, is graded NGC MS 64. The estimate on it is $800 to $1,200.

 

Other Classic Commemoratives in our auction:

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