Today, I'm presenting something a bit different. What follows is an article on US commemorative coins that dates back to 1949; it was published in a non-numismatic magazine - Old-Time New England.
I worked with the team at Historic New England to obtain permission to present their article here, with updated full-color images, because I believed that many here would find the 70+ year-old article interesting in terms of its views and presentation.
Not a word has been changed in the original article. I did make one change, however. The original article mistakenly paired the obverse of the 1935 Connecticut Tercentenary half dollar with the reverse of the 1936 Bridgeport, CT Centennial half dollar (and vice versa) - I have presented the correct obverse/reverse pairings here.Note 1: The text of the article that follows is Courtesy of Historic New England.Note 2: All images are courtesy of PCGS CoinFacts, http://www.PCGS.com/coinfacts.
By L. S. Luquer
Beginning with the familiar Columbian Half Dollars of 1892-1893 down to and including the Booker T. Washington halves struck off this year at all three of our national mints, there have been exactly 124 silver commemoratives not counting the 1893 Isabella Quarter and the 1900 Lafayette Silver Dollar that go to make up the entire list of these fascinating souvenir medal coins. Of these, eight in particular relate specifically to our New England and it is about these that I wish to limit the scope of this article.
In 1936, there was published by Mr. Charles W. Foster a brochure entitled Historical Arrangement of U. S. Commemorative Coins,
in which he breaks down those that had been issued to that date into a number of categories relating to specific phases of our national history. Following Mr. Foster's lead we shall find that of our eight New England Commemoratives, three will fall under the heading of Colonization, two under the heading of our Establishment as a Nation, one under Growth of the Union, and two under that of Simple Memorials.
The first to be discussed, under the heading of Colonization, is the more or less familiar Pilgrim Tercentenary issued to commemorate the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1620. Authorized by Act of Congress of May 12, 1920, and executed by the late Cyrus E. Dallin, the obverse bears a portrait of Governor Bradford with a Bible under his left arm. The reverse shows the Mayflower
. The issue of 1920 lacked a date on the obverse, but those struck the following year carried that of 1921 in addition to the 1620-1920. There were over 150,000 of the 1920 coins issued with consequent low degree of rarity and may be purchased in uncirculated condition for about one dollar and seventy-five cents. On the other hand, the number released for circulation in 1921 came to but a little over 20,000. Consequently the degree of rarity for the coin is considerably higher and at present costs five dollars and fifty cents.
Fig. 1 - Pilgrim Tercentenary, 1920
In 1935, to commemorate the three hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Colony of Connecticut, a souvenir half dollar was struck. Designed by Henry Kreis, the famous "Charter Oak" is the main device upon the obverse. This is to represent the oak in which, according to tradition, the Royal Charter was secreted during the reign of James II who wished to revoke it. After the overthrow of James in 1668, the Charter was produced and the Colony continued under its protection. Owing to the fact that only 25,000 were struck off, the degree of rarity is comparatively high with current cost at seven dollars.
Fig. 2 - Connecticut Tercentenary, 1935
The third and final coin in our section Colonization is the set of three -- one by each mint -- issued in 1936 to commemorate the three-hundreth anniversary of the founding of Providence, Rhode Island. Designed by Arthur Graham Carey and John Howard Benson , the obverse shows Roger Williams in a canoe being welcomed by an Indian. The reverse has the anchor of Hope and mantling in the background. "Although the founding of the City of Providence was being celebrated, no mention of the city is to be found upon the coin." Only a total of fifty thousand coins, divided among our three national mints, were struck off, resulting in a fairly high degree of rarity and a present cost per set of six dollars and fifty cents.
Fig. 3 - Providence Tercentenary, 1936
Under the heading Establishment as a Nation, there are to be found the Lexington-Concord Sesqui-Centennial Half Dollar and the Bennington Half Dollar.
The two famous battles fought in 1775 are commemorated on the former coin. The obverse bears a reproduction of Mr. Daniel Chester French's statue of the Minute Man at Concord; the reverse shows the old Belfry at Lexington. The coin was designed by Chester Beach. As over 160,000 of the coins were issued, the degree of rarity is low and present cost stands at two dollars and fifty cents.
Fig. 4 - Lexington-Concord Sesqui-Centennial, 1925
The Bennington coin was authorized in 1925 but not struck until 1927. It commemorates the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Bennington and the Independence of Vermont. The obverse shows the the head of Ira Allen, founder of Vermont; the reverse bears a catamount. The models for the coin were prepared by Charles Keck. Over 28,000 were released which does not give the coin a very high degree of rarity. Present cost is five dollars and fifty cents.
Fig. 5 - Battle of Bennington, 1927
The single specimen to fall under the heading Growth of the Union is the Maine Centennial coin of 1920. Authorized by Act of Congress of May 10, 1920, and issued to be sold at the Centennial celebration in Portland, these coins nevertheless arrived too late for the occasion and were sold off by the State Treasurer. The obverse carries the Arms of the State of Maine and the reverse a wreath encircling the words Maine Centennial 1820-1920. Anthony de Francisci designed this coin. Some 50,000 were released thereby resulting in a low degree of rarity. Present cost is about four dollars and fifty cents.
Fig. 6 - Maine Centennial, 1920
Under the heading of Memorials there are to be found the York County, Maine Tercentenary and the City of Bridgeport Centennial coins. Designed by Walter H. Rich of Portland, the obverse of the former shows an adaptation of the York County Seal and the reverse, Brown's Garrison and stockade on the Saco River established in 1636. Twenty-five thousand were issued and sold affording the coin medium rarity. Present cost is two dollars and twenty-five cents.
Fig. 7 - York County, Maine, Tercentenary, 1936
Authorized by Act of Congress May 15, 1936, a special half dollar was struck to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the incorporation of the City of Bridgeport. Designed by Henry Kreiss, and somewhat reminiscent of the earlier Connecticut coin, the obverse bears a portrait of the late P. T. Barnum, one of Bridgeport's best-known citizens. An ultra-modernistic eagle dominates the reverse. Slightly over 25,000 were struck giving the coin medium rarity with present cost two dollars and a half.
Fig. 8 - Bridgeport, Connecticut, 1936
With the exception of the Columbian halves, many of which were thrown into general circulation following the close of the World's Fair, our commemorative coins, while bearing legal tender in the amount indicated, are to be considered chiefly in the light of souvenir, medal-coins, issued to help defray the costs of the memorial being commemorated and sold at a premium in advance of face value. While some have been criticized as lacking in artistic quality, others are of real beauty and add immeasurably to the variety and scope of our regular issues. It is to be hoped that from time to time, as worthy national and state anniversaries come along, other coins of this nature may be struck off and the series continued.References:A Guide Book of U. S. Coins 1948,
R. S. Yeoman, Whitman Publishing Company.Historical Arrangement of U. S. Commemorative Coins,
Charles W. Foster, Rochester Museum of Arts and Sciences, 1936 Guide Bulletin No, 4
OLD-TIME NEW ENGLAND, Vol. XVIII, No. 1, July, 1927 , Serial No. 49, pp. 46, 47, Malcolm Storer, M.D.
The full reference for the article above:
Luquer, L.S., "The U.S. Commemorative Half Dollars Relating to New England." Old-Time New England Vol. XL, no. 2 (October 1949): 159-162.
I found some of the coin names in use at the time interesting, as I did the then-current market prices. Things certainly have changed in 70 years!
You may have noticed the accidentally unattributed quote in the section discussing the Providence, Rhode Island half dollar; it begins "Although the founding..." I tracked the quote down (I knew I had read it before.), it was taken from The Commemorative Coinage of the United States, 1892-1938
by David Bullowa. The book was published by the American Numismatic Society (ANS) in 1938. The Bullowa volume is an update to the original book written by Howland Wood that was published by the ANS in 1922. The quote can be found in the Bullowa book on page 130.
One other note, since the 1949 publication of this article, more has been learned about the design and designer of the Maine Centennial half dollar. Harry Cochrane of Maine, was the artist who developed the designs for the coin on behalf of the Maine Centennial Committee. Anthony de Francisci took Cochrane's drawings, adjusted them as appropriate for use in coining and created the models that would be used for the coinage dies; he has been given undue full credit for the design by the US Mint and others for 100 years.
I hope you enjoyed this look back at the coins we collect. I again want to say "Thank You!" to Historic New England for their kind permission in allowing me to re-publish this article from the October 1949 issue of Old-Time New England.
I encourage you to visit their web site and learn more about them and the great work they do. Find them here: www.historicnewengland.org/
You can read other of my posts about US commemorative coins here: Read More: Commems Collection