I've been spending some time over the past month or so over in the "Post Your..." threads of the General Numismatic Discussion Forums area, doing my best to spread the word of the US commemorative coin as best as I could in as many topic threads as possible. I've enjoyed posting in threads such as "Coins Representing the Animal Kingdom," "Coins with Hats,"Coins with Stars," "Coins with Ships" and "Coins with Coats of Arms, Shields, Crests, Crowns, Etc." plus a few others. If nothing else, I hope it made it very clear to collectors that there are many ways to build a collection of US commemorative coins, whether classic series alone or in combination with the modern issues.
Of the various threads, one seems particularly ripe for a deeper dive - hence, my plan for a series of posts on classic US commemorative coins that depict a Coat-of-Arms or Official Heraldic Shield. For each Seal, I will present an image of the original Seal, plus the official description of it, along with a discussion of the coin under consideration. I plan on exploring two coins per post, but will kick things off by discussing just one - the 1918 Illinois Statehood Centennial half dollar - as it has an interesting (at least to me!) backstory that goes beyond the norm.
Here we go!1. 1918 Illinois Statehood Centennial
The reverse of the 1918 Illinois Statehood half dollar features a slightly modified version of the Illinois State Seal adopted in 1867. A portrait of a beardless Abraham Lincoln is presented on the coin's obverse; the portrait is based on the statue of Lincoln created by Andrew O'Connor, a noted sculptor of Massachusetts, that resides on the grounds of the Illinois State Capitol. The obverse is the work of George T. Morgan; the reverse is that of John R. Sinnock
Illinois adopted its first State Seal in 1819, shortly after it became the 21st state when it was approved for admission by the US Congress on December 3, 1818. It used that Seal until 1839 when a modified version came into use. Each of the first two Seals featured a heraldic eagle that held a ribbon in its beak on which was inscribed the state motto of "State Sovereignty, National Union." (Looking at either of the Seals makes me think of the Gold Capped Bust, Heraldic Eagle Reverse Eagles of 1797-1804.)First Seal of State of IllinoisSecond Seal of State of Illinois
The Seal of interest to commemorative coin collectors, however, traces its roots to 1867 and the desires of Sharon Tyndale, the Illinois Secretary of State. As a result of the outcome of the Civil War, Tyndale envisioned a new Seal that prioritized "National Union" over "State Sovereignty." He drafted a bill that called for him to renew the Illinois Seal and asked State Senator Allen C. Fuller to introduce it in the General Assembly; the bill's language was made purposely vague enough by Tyndale to give him the leeway he needed to make the changes he desired.
Section 1 of Tyndale's bill stated "the Secretary of State is hereby authorized and required to renew the 'Great Seal of State and to procure it, as nearly as practicable, of the size, form and intent of the seal now in use, and conforming with the original design as follows: 'American Eagle on a bowlder in prairie, the sun rising in distant horizon." (Note: The bill makes use of a now obsolete spelling of "boulder.")
The language of the bill would not create a Seal that conformed to the original design - there was no "bowlder" or "prairie" or "rising sun" on either of the first two Seals (see above), but the phrase "as nearly as practicable" is all Tyndale needed to enable him to exercise his vision and achieve his priority change of reversing the order of the phrases of the State Motto to create a Seal that gave precedence to "National Union."
The plan started off well, with the bill being quickly and unanimously passed in the Senate. A couple of days later, however, an amendment was added in the Illinois House that changed everything. Representative James Dinsmore amended the bill with: "At the end of the first section add the words, "the same to be an exact facsimile of the present seal." The amendment was defeated. But Tyndale did not escape, as the Senate recalled the bill to reconsider it.
Over the next few weeks, the Senate learned of Tyndale's plan to change the Motto and decided not to allow it. It amended the Seal bill so that it read "
"Be it enacted, etc., That the Secretary of State is hereby authorized and required to renew the Great Seal of State and to procure it, as nearly as practicable, of the size, form and intent of the seal now in use, and conforming with the original design, as follows: 'American Eagle on a bowlder in prairie, the sun rising in distant horizon' and scroll in Eagle's beak, on which shall be inscribed the words, 'State Sovereignty - National Union,' to correspond with the original seal of State in every particular.
" (Emphasis added to highlight amendment.]
Tyndale's "renewed" Seal, the stated reason for the Act, was a near complete departure from the previous Seal and hardly adhered to the Act's language that specified it was to conform to the design of the Seal then in use. Gone was the heraldic eagle with shield on its chest and olive branch and arrows clutched in its right and left talons, respectively (eagle's perspective). The design's replacement presented a side view of an eagle perched on a rock with the shield on the ground leaning against the rock, the olive branch under the shield and the arrows no where to be found. The renewed design did, however, continue use of the state motto presented on a ribbon held in the beak of the eagle.
As his original "motto swap" plan was thwarted, Tyndale manipulated the positioning of the ribbon segments to ensure that "National Union" would be at the top of the Seal and thus become the first thing read by most who saw it. The preparation of the new Seal was completed in 1868 and it went into service on October 26, 1868.
The Seal underwent a small but significant change after Henry Dodge Dement took over as Illinois Secretary of State in 1880. In Tyndale's design, the word "Sovereignty" appears on the ribbon right-side-up for ease of reading. Recognizing that this is opposite the way it would appear on an actual ribbon that was arranged as depicted on the Seal, Dement had the Seal re-cut to present "Sovereignty" upside down; it continues this way to the present. Current Seal of State of Illinois
The 1918 Illinois half dollar presents the core design of the Tyndale Seal in a slightly modified manner - "Sovereignty" is right side up. The shape of the eagle's wings, the orientation of its head and the placement of the ribbon segments are the most obvious modifications. Also of note is the change made to the alignment of the stars on the shield and the removal of "1868 1818" from the boulder; other differences also exist. All that said, it is clear what served as the design reference for John R. Sinnock
as he prepared the reverse design.
Here's a side-by-side comparison of the current Illinois Seal (circa 1918) and reverse of the 1918 Illinois Statehood Centennial Half Dollar.
I've previously posted about the Illinois Half Dollar:
- 1918 Illinois Statehood Centennial Half Dollar
- Lincoln's Portrait on Illinois Statehood Half Dollar
- 1918 Illinois Statehood - RevisitedReference Consulted:
Whitlock, Brand. "Great Seal of Illinois: First Complete History of the State Symbol." Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society.
Jan., 1913, Vol. 5, No. 4 (Jan., 1913), pp. 435-450.