More than seven years ago, I submitted a brief post about the Iowa Statehood half dollar. I was fairly new to CCF at the time and my commemorative coin posts were more in a brief show-and-tell style vs. the deeper dives I would present as I got more comfortable with CCF. So, I thought it might be time to revisit the Iowa half dollar and add a bit of information about the interplay between Congress and the Treasury Department.
The bill for the Iowa commemorative half dollar was introduced in the House of Representatives by Karl Miles Le Compte (R-IA) on February 27, 1945. The US was still actively engaged in World War II at the time, though the war was in its final months. V-E day (Victory in Europe) and V-J Day (Victory in Japan) would each take place within the six months that followed the bill's introduction and the war would officially end on September 2, 1945 when Japan signed an unconditional surrender document on the deck of the USS Missouri.
Looking back, even though the war was nearing its end, one would think that it was a poor time to engage Congress in discussions for a commemorative coin, but as multiple commemorative coinage proposals had already been introduced during the war years (and during the peak years of fighting!), it wasn't without precedent.
The bill called for up to 100,000 silver half dollars of standard size, weight and composition. The coins were to be issued only in 1946 and only to an authorized representative of the State of Iowa upon payment for the same. Iowa was authorized to sell the half dollars for more than face value with "the net proceeds.used for the observation of the centennial as directed by the Governor of the State of Iowa." The fact the coin was sponsored by the State of Iowa vs. a private organization definitely helped its cause!
Upon its introduction, the Iowa half dollar bill was referred to the House Committee on Coinage, Weights and Measures. On March 7, 1945, the Chairman of the Committee, Compton White, sent a letter to the Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., asking for the department's opinion and thoughts on the Iowa bill. Morgenthau had served under Franklin D. Roosevelt for 11+ years and had continued in office under Truman, but ultimately resigned after being part of Truman's cabinet for just a brief time; his resignation became official on July 25,1945 but was effectively in place earlier. As a result, the Committee received a response from DW Bell, Acting Secretary of the Treasury.
Bell's April 13, 1945 letter briefly reviewed the Department's history of objecting to commemorative coinage proposals, but also went on to state that the Mint was working to capacity filling the nation's coinage needs, producing coins for other nations and striking medals/decorations for US servicemen who served in WWII. The wartime demands placed on it had pushed the Mint to its limits and Bell stated that "the mints can ill afford to spare machinery and personnel for the additional task of handling the technical problems and the work entailed in the issuance of a commemorative coin of a new design."
The House Committee essentially ignored the Treasury's objections and its pleas to not send more work its way. It believed the 100th anniversary of Iowa's statehood was of "outstanding importance" and that a coin was justified because Iowa had existed "a span of years longer than most governments of the earth have survived." The Committee reported the bill favorably to the whole House where it was promptly passed. The Senate also supported the bill and echoed the House's sentiment that the 100th anniversary of Iowa's statehood was worthy of commemoration with a coin. The legislation authorizing the coin was signed into law by President Truman on August 7, 1946 (the same day the Booker T. Washington half dollar legislation was signed).
The coin was designed by Adam Pietz. Mr. Pietz was a sculptor/engraver of medals who was born in Germany in 1873 but spent much of his life living, studying and working in the US (much of it in Pennsylvania); he became a naturalized US citizen in 1895. Pietz was an assistant engraver at the US Mint from 1928 until 1946 during which time he worked on many medals but was not assigned to any coins; his design and sculpting work on the Iowa coin came after he had left the Mint. Pietz died in 1961.
The coin's obverse presents an eagle with 29 stars above it; Iowa was the 29th state to join the Union. On a ribbon below the eagle is found the state's motto "Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain." As the coin was approved late in the year), there was not much time for comment and suggested changes by the Commission of Fine Arts. One recommendation made, however, did make it on to the final obverse model - it was suggested that legs be added to the eagle. If you look closely, you can see the talons Pietz added flanking the eagle's head. They seem a bit oddly placed and one has to question their anatomical accuracy, but there they are!
The reverse of the coin depicts the Old Stone Capitol building in Sioux City, IA. The building hosted the government for the final days of Iowa's territorial history and its initial period of statehood; the state capital was moved to Des Moines in 1857.
The full authorized mintage was struck in November 1946 and delivered to the State. The coins were available to Iowa residents for $2.50 and to out-of-state collectors for $3.00. Distribution of the coins was handled fairly and smoothly with no signs of corruption - a pleasant change from so many of the other programs. The issue sold out within a few months and none were returned to the Mint for melting.
Today, the Iowa coin can easily be found in high grade for a very reasonable price. It is among the easiest coins of the series to locate nice and flashy. I would suggest not settling for an example with poor aesthetics when so many nice coins are available.
Here's my example:
Hope you enjoyed the read!