Back in 2012, within a brief post I made about the 1921 Alabama half dollar (Plain variety), I mentioned that the Alabama commemorative piece was first proposed as a 25-cent coin. I didn't go into much detail, however, so I thought I would revisit the topic in a new post. You can read the original post here: 1921 Alabama Statehood Centennial Half Dollar, Plain Variety
.Read More: Commems Collection
The Alabama coinage proposal was introduced in the House of Representatives by (D-AL) on February 28, 1920. (Side Note: 1920 was a Leap Year!)
The bill called for 100,000 25-cent pieces of the standard specifications for troy weight, composition, diameter, etc. As was the case with other commemorative coin bills of the time, it did not place calendar restrictions on the coin, it allowed the coins to be struck at any or all US Mint facilities and it did not list the name of the sponsor of the coin or who was authorized to request and receive coins from the Mint. For this coin, the sponsor was the Alabama Centennial
Commission. Notice should be made of the February 1920 date of introduction for the bill - Alabama celebrated its Statehood centennial in 1919!Representative Lilius Braton Rainey - circa 1920.
The bill was referred to the House Committee on Coinage, Weights and Measures. The Committee held a Hearing on March 26, 1920 that included the Alabama coin on its agenda. In his opening comments at the Hearing, Representative Rainey questioned whether he should up his request to 200,000 coins based on the opinion of a daily newspaper back in Alabama that believed more than 100,000 coins could be sold. The question of why a 25-cent coin was requested vs. a 50-cent piece was raised immediately by Rep. William Albert Ashbrook (D-OH); the former chairman of the Committee. It was immediately clear that Rainey had not given the denomination much thought; he responded to Ashbrook's query with "It will make no difference with me."
After brief discussion, Rainey stated he would revise his bill to specify 200,000 50-cent pieces, but Ashbrook again spoke up and encouraged him to keep the mintage request at 100,000 so as to keep the figure in line with the one used for other Statehood coins (i.e., the Illinois and Maine) but to go ahead and make the denomination change. (During Ashbrook's tenure as chairman, the Committee was presented with the bill calling for the Illinois Statehood Centennial half dollar. It originally called for 200,000 coins but was reduced to 100,000 based on the recommendation of the Treasury Department.) Rainey quickly agreed and the Committee moved on to other business. The Committee's report for the bill, as discussed during the Hearing, incorporated the amendments needed to change the denomination of the coin to 50 cents to keep it in sync with other contemporary commemorative coin bills. The Committee also reported that it had received word from the Treasury Department stating that it did not have an objection to striking the coin.
Representative Rainey took to the House floor in support of his bill on April 21, 1920. He set the stage for the speech he was about to give with the following opening comments: "Alabama's history and her traditions occupy a distinguished chapter in the history of our great Republic. Her agricultural and mineral resources constitute vast wealth, and her contribution to the Republic in eminent statesmen, orators, soldiers, educators, and sterling citizenship surpasses her untold and inestimable material wealth." He then went on to give a long and impassioned speech that outlined the history of Alabama from the time of Hernando De Soto in 1540 through to the state's contributions and sacrifices in the Great War (a recent and still vivid memory for those living at the time). He concluded by pledging Alabama's continued support of the nation, whatever it was to face. When he was done, his words were applauded.
Representative Warren Gard (D-OH) asked to speak in order to raise potential concerns related to commemorative coins, though he claimed to favor their issue. He cleverly voiced his issues by asking how many such bills the Committee on Coinage, Weights and Measures was planning on approving and if it had considered the potential negative impact on the integrity of US coinage
that continued commemorative coins would have. He stated, "The integrity of money is maintained largely and more easily with the integrity of design. Now, where designs are made numerous and fantastic, as they may be for the purpose of a centennial or a memorial celebration, have the gentlemen on the Coinage, Weights, and Measures Committee borne in mind the difficulty as incident to coinage measures with respect to the increase of the possibility of counterfeiting?"
Current Committee Chairman Albert Henry Vestal (R-IN) stepped in to respond to Rep. Gard and noted that the Committee had sent the bill directly to the Secretary of the Treasury for his thoughts and that the Secretary agreed with Gard in that "there ought not to be too many of these bills for that reason [i.e., potential counterfeiting]." Gard acknowledged, however, that the Treasury reported that it had "no specific recommendation to make" for the coin. Not directly discussed on the floor was the fact that the Treasury had also stated in its letter to the Committee that, "no objection would be interposed should the Congress see fit to authorize the issue of such memorial pieces."
Though he continued to raise his concerns, Reg, Gard admitted "...if the Secretary of the Treasury and his executive officers are willing to take up the burden of maintaining these coins and seeing that they are not counterfeited, seeing that the dies are protected and they are not used except for the purposes authorized by the act, then surely there could not be much complaint from the legislative side, but I speak the way I do because it seems to me upon serious reflection that we are in actual danger of overdoing this commemoration coin stuff."
With his concerns raised and noted by Chairman Vestal, and with Vestal's promise that his concerns would be forwarded to the Secretary, Rep. Gard yielded the floor; the bill was quickly considered and passed by the House without further debate.
After being passed by the House, the bill was refered to the Senate Committee on Banking and Currency. It was reported out of Committee without amendment and presented to the full Senate where it was passed without debate on May 3, 1920. The bill was signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson just one week later on May 10. Alabama had gotten its commemorative coin - a different one than originally requested, but a legal tender US commemorative coin nonetheless! Had the bill been approved as introduced, it would have created the second commemorative quarter in the US series - the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition Isabella quarter-dollar was, of course, the first. (The second turned out to be the 1932 Washington quarter
; read more about it here: 1932 Washington Quarter
The Alabama Centennial
Commission would have to wait approximately 17 months before it would receive any of its commemorative coins, however, as the coin's legislation stated that the Mint only had to strike the coins "as soon as practicable." (See note below.) The first batch of coins, all of the 2X2 variety, were delivered to the Commission in October 1921 - in time for the October 26th trip made by President Warren G. Harding to Birmingham, AL in support of the city's 50th anniversary celebrations. While there, Harding participated in and reviewed the city's birthday parade, gave a speech in which he voiced support for equal opportunities among all races living in America, took part in a cornerstone laying ceremony for a new Masonic temple and was given an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by Birmingham-Southern College. I've also read that the Commission presented Harding with coin #1 of the Alabama program during his visit, but I haven't yet been able to confirm this.Regarding the timing of delivery for the Alabama coins...
I've read that the delay in striking the Alabama coins was attributed to the impact of World War I on the Mint. This is certainly possible, as post-war requirements between coins and medals certainly kept it busy. The Mint did manage to strike 50,000 Maine Statehood Centennial half dollars and over 200,000 Pilgrim Tercentenary half dollars in 1920 (the same year the Alabama coin was approved), however, plus over 631 million regular US coins, over 85.1 million coins for five foreign nations and 2.5 million coins for the US-Philippines Territory, plus produce 11.38 million coin blanks for Argentina. It seems that with all of that being possible, the Mint could have worked in about two days' worth of production time for the Alabama coin. I can't help but think, however, that the Mint felt no urgency to strike the coins for the Alabama Commission considering the state's centennial anniversary was long past and the Commission didn't even get around to sponsoring its coin bill until the year after! The Mint appears to have been driven to start production of the coin by Harding's planned visit to Birmingham, AL on October 26, 1921 and the Commission's desire to present him with the first coin. Finally, the Mint had an actual deadline date and a reason to push forward on the coins!