Tonight, I'm wrapping up my review of the 55 type and major variety coins that make up the classic US silver commemorative series with a coin that was issued to mark the start of work on the Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial near Atlanta, Georgia. The coin is presented via an example in PCGS
When I first became aware of the Stone Mountain half-dollar, I found it a bit odd that a US coin was issued to commemorate "The Valor of the Soldier of the South." In school, I was taught that the soldiers of the south fought to break apart the US and to establish the Confederate States of America; the Confederates were the "bad guys." Of course, I went to school in the North, so maybe the Civil War was taught from a different perspective! In any case, I would have thought that such a coin would only come about after a long and difficult battle in Congress between northern and southern politicians. That was not the case, however, as the authorization for the coin did not meet with any significant opposition and was rather easily approved. Read More: Commems Collection
An interesting note about the purpose of the coin, the enabling legislation contains the phrase "...and in memory of Warren G. Harding, President of the United States of America in whose administration the work was begun." Harding had died of a heart attack in August 1923 after a little more than two years into his term. Maybe it was the inclusion of this statement concerning the Ohio-born Harding that helped the approval process to run smoothly.
The coin was designed by Gutzon Borglum, the same artist/sculptor originally commissioned to carve the planned mega-sculpture on the face of Stone Mountain. Borglum's initial design for the coin's obverse featured the head and neck of a third horse (on the right) and soldiers in shallow relief in the background (on the left). His original reverse design included the inscription "And in memory of Warren G. Harding."
Borglum's initial designs were not approved by the Commission of Fine Arts, nor were his initial revisions. Eventually, however, after additional back-and-forth exchanges with the CFA, Borglum's models were accepted. You'll note that the reference to Harding's memory did not make the "final cut" which means that the only tangible link between the coin and the late president turned out to be a few words in the coin's authorization.
The accepted obverse of the coin features General "Stonewall" Jackson (at rear) and General Robert E. Lee on horseback. A perched eagle with outstretched wings is seen on the reverse, along with a commemorative "valor" inscription.
The Stone Mountain Memorial we see today is not what was originally envisioned by Borglum or the Stone Mountain Confederate Monumental Association. The carving was to be much more elaborate with additional horses and soldiers. It would have been far too much to depict on a coin -- it proved to be far too much to depict on a mountainside! (See the images below.)
Early work on the Memorial proceeded slowly and this, among other things, caused a rift between Borglum and the Association. Eventually, Borglum was released from the project and Augustus Lukeman was brought in to finish the carving. Funding issues prevented the memorial from being completed during Lukeman's tenure, but work was eventually restarted during the 1960s and the Stone Mountain Memorial was finally dedicated in 1970 (though it wasn't completed until 1972) -- more than 50 years after Borglum received the commission to begin the project!
I've been to Stone Mountain, what was created is certainly impressive. What surprised me upon my arrival, however, was how little of the side of the mountain the sculpture occupies. It's more about the massive size of the granite dome on which the sculpture is carved than it is the size of the Memorial -- the Memorial is the largest relief sculpture in the world, measuring 90 feet high by 190 feet long.
The Stone Mountain was one of the first two commemorative coins that I ever purchased. When I got back into the hobby as an adult, I purchased a current copy of the " Red Book
" and flipped through it for "inspiration." More than any other series, the classic commemoratives caught my eye. As I reviewed the commemorative section, two coins initially caught my eye -- the 1920 Pilgrim and the 1925 Stone Mountain. I soon found myself at the same local coin store that I used to frequent as a kid, looking to inspect their commemorative offerings. The series was not a primary area for them, but they did have a few for me to examine including the desired Pilgrim and Stone Mountain.
I wound up purchasing each of the coins of interest, with both of them being in an attractive, choice about uncirculated state. Over the next couple of weeks, I began to study the series with much interest and learned much more about pricing within the series. I soon discovered that I had overpaid for the two coins I purchased by enough of a margin that I felt I needed to do some follow-up. I gave the local dealer the benefit of the doubt and returned to the store to ask him to have another look at the coins to confirm their grade and confirm the prices he quoted me. He stood firm on his grades and prices, even after I mentioned the prices appeared above market. I said "OK" thanked him for his time and left -- it was the last time I visited his shop.
The episode didn't dampen my enthusiasm for the hobby or the series, but it very pointedly made me realize the importance of educating myself so that I knew as much as I could about the coins I was collecting. I continued to build my collection at other local dealers, via mail order and at periodic coin shows within a couple hours drive of my house. Over time, my set went from AU/BU to certified MS-63 to the certified set I've presented here on CCF.
The coin shown here, like all in my collection, is a brilliant example with nice cartwheel luster. It's a coin that isn't very expensive to upgrade, so someday I likely will -- but this nice example works well in my set so there's no rush!
I've also included an image of one of the original five-coin holders/mailers that were used to distribute the coin; this is just one of the many vehicles used for distributing this issue.
Also featured are a couple of images from a 1920s "Souvenir Folder" showing the Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial as it was originally planned.
Lastly, I've shown one of the large silver medals struck by the US Mint as part of a four-medal set to mark the dedication of Stone Mountain in 1970. The medal also came in large bronze, and small bronze and silver (they all share the same design, so I've included just the one).
As a way to promote additional fund-raising, some of the Stone Mountain half-dollars were counter-stamped with various state abbreviations and numbers and sold or auctioned at a premium. I'm planning a separate post about these very interesting pieces.
Enjoy!1925 Stone Mountain Memorial Half-Dollar -- Obverse1925 Stone Mountain Memorial Half-Dollar -- Reverse1925 Stone Mountain Memorial Half-Dollar -- Original HolderOriginal Stone Mountain Memorial -- Planned Sculpture Seen on Mountainside Original Stone Mountain Memorial -- Enlarged Image of Planned Sculpture1970 Stone Mountain Memorial Commemorative Medal -- Obverse1925 Stone Mountain Memorial Commemorative Medal -- Reverse