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Commems Collection: What If? 1937 Wilkinsburg, PA 50th Anniversary

 
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 Posted 11/21/2022  6:05 pm Show Profile   Bookmark this topic Add commems to your friends list Get a Link to this Message
"Nothing ventured, nothing gained" is a proverb that has roots that date back to before 1,000 AD - it's been around a long time!

The proverb seems apropos for the efforts of Representative James Leland Quinn (D-PA) who, in February 1936, introduced a bill in the House that called for the striking of half dollars "in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the borough of Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania."

Wilkinsburg is not often on the tip of one's tongue when discussing great American municipalities that have had a national impact, or even those with singular local accomplishments. But that didn't stop Quinn (or his constituents who wanted a coin)!

The Borough of Wilkinsburg is located to the east of Pittsburgh in Allegheny County in western Pennsylvania. It is a small borough of just 2.25 square miles with a current population under 15,000. It should be noted, however, that Wilkinsburg is the largest Borough in Pennsylvania (from an area standpoint). In 1900, the Borough's population was ~12,000 - it has never been a large population center.

The Borough of Wilkinsburg was formally established on October 5, 1887, when it completed the process of legal incorporation as a Borough vs. its former status as a village. This date/event is the impetus behind the coin. In 1871, Pittsburgh annexed the village. James Kelley, a significant local landowner, was against the annexation and fought it. Eventually, he won his battle to return Wilkinsburg to independent status after taking his fight all the way to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court! After that, local residents began to push for legal "Borough" status which led to the 1887 incorporation.

There is debate among historians as to whether the Borough was named in honor of William Wilkins or his brother, John Wilkins, Jr. with the majority of current historians being in the "William Camp."

John served during the American Revolutionary War (1780-83) and later became Brigadier General of the Allegheny County militia (1793-96) before being appointed Quartermaster General of the United States Army by President George Washington; he served in the position from 1796 to 1802. John was a successful store owner and land speculator before and after his time as Quartermaster.

William Wilkins was a prominent businessman and political figure of the area who began his professional career as a lawyer, was the first president of the Bank of Pittsburgh, served as a Representative to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives (1819-20), a US Senator from Pennsylvania (1831-34), was appointed as the US Minister to Russia under Andrew Jackson (1834-35), elected to the US House of Representatives (1843-44) and was then appointed US Secretary of War under President John Tyler (1844-45). He later served as a Pennsylvania State Senator (1857-1858).

William's impressive career notwithstanding, it's important to note that the name "Wilkinsburgh" was in public use as a reference for the area by circa 1810. This predates William's political career/accomplishments, while John's noteworthy military career had been completed by such time.

I can seen both sides of the argument, but it's a debate best left to the historians!

As mentioned above, It appears "Wilkinsburgh" was referenced in public documents in 1812 with use before then likely. The area had previously been known by various names reflective of local land owners and/or prominent citizens. The Borough area was once referred to as Rippeyville (based on the local Rippey family and its ownership of a popular tavern in the area). It was also known for a time as McNair Town or McHairsville (after Dunning McNair who was then the primary land owner in the area). The names did not gain long-term traction, however, and "Wilkinsburg" (originally with an "h" at the end as noted above) came to the forefront and remained.

Representative Quinn's bill called for the striking of 25,000 half dollars of standard specifications. The bill's language allowed for the coins to be struck at multiple Mint facilities, did not explicitly indicate a date to appear on the coins and did not include an expiration date for coining authority. In addition, the bill did not place restrictions on coin orders, allowing the authorized representatives of Wilkinsburg to order coins "in such numbers and at such times" as desired. If such open-endedness had been left untouched in an approved bill, it would have been possible for collectors to have been faced with annual three-coin Wilkinsburg sets (P/D/S) for multiple years - how does 2,000 coins per Mint for 1937, 1938, 1838 and 1940 sound? (I think the most likely outcome, however, would have been that all coins would have been dated "1937" to recognize the 50th anniversary year.)

The bill was referred to the House Committee on Coinage, Weights, and Measures. It was discussed by the Committee, viewed favorably and reported out with a recommendation to pass. The Report included one recommended amendment: removal of the bill's "in such numbers and at such times" language. It did not suggest replacement language, however.

Though it had more than two months before it adjourned, the House of the 74th Congress did not act upon the reported bill - a sign of just how far the popularity of commemorative coins had fallen in Congress. When Congress did adjourn on June 20, 1936, Quinn's Wilkinsburg bill officially died for lack of action.

Quinn tried again in the 75th Congress, introducing a duplicate of his non-amended 1936 bill in January 1937. As in the 74th Congress, Quinn's bill was referred to the House Committee on Coinage, Weights, and Measures. The Committee of the 75th Congress did not report the bill out and it eventually suffered the same fate as Quinn's previous bill.

Though it was unsuccessful in its bid to secure a US coin to help mark its 50th anniversary, a brass Wilkinsburg commemorative medal was struck to celebrate "Pennsylvania's Largest Borough" (as per the medal) and the Borough did hold an anniversary celebration. Once again, life went on without a legal tender coin to mark an event of purely local significance!


For other of my posts about commemorative coins and medals, including more What If? stories, see: Commems Collection.


Reference Consulted:

- Gilchist, Harry C. History of Wilkinsburg Pennsylvania. Self published, 1927.



Collecting history one coin or medal at a time! (c) commems. All rights reserved.
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 Posted 11/21/2022  6:09 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add commems to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Posted by nickelsearcher in my Ogdensburg, NY What If? post:

Quote:
This is likely the most trivial and insignificant event of local significance that you have so far reported on. Even the folks who lived in Ogdensburg in 1948 might never have heard of Father Picquet and his fort.

The comment was on target...

IMO, now that this one for Wilkinsburg, PA has been presented, I believe the Ogdensburg, NY coin has a worthy challenger for its "Most Obscure" title!

You can read the Ogdensburg post here:

- What If? 1948 Ogdensburg, NY Bicentennial



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 Posted 11/22/2022  06:11 am  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add nickelsearcher to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply

Quote:
IMO, now that this one for Wilkinsburg, PA has been presented, I believe the Ogdensburg, NY coin has a worthy challenger for its "Most Obscure" title!


Indeed - now we have a true competition in the race to most obscure.

I need to read them both again and make some notes to decide my vote - but I'm leaning towards supporting Wilkinsburg PA for the simple fact it sought commemoration of an event only 50 years old vice Ogdensburg NY where at least Father Picquet was a figure from earlier historical times.

But, there might be some redeeming obscurity in either that I need to refresh upon.

Many thanks commems for sharing these fun and fascinating What if? stories.
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 Posted 11/22/2022  07:20 am  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add commems to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply

Quote:
now we have a true competition in the race to most obscure.

No doubt!

Regardless of which proposed coin comes out with the "prize," I'm glad Congress said "No!" to both.



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 Posted 11/22/2022  08:18 am  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add nickelsearcher to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply

Quote:
I'm glad Congress said "No!" to both.


True that!

I'm trying to recall if we had a debate on the most obscure commemorative coin that was actually approved and minted? Seems like we have but I can't recall the thread.

There would be a long list of contenders for that title as well.

I'm waiting on a few of the usual readers to weigh in on Wilkinsburg vs. Ogdensburg before I cast my vote.
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 Posted 11/22/2022  11:14 am  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add commems to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply

Quote:
I'm waiting on a few of the usual readers to weigh in on Wilkinsburg vs. Ogdensburg before I cast my vote.

Based on what I know I have coming up, let's consider this debate a "semi-final." There might just be a few other contenders!



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 Posted 11/22/2022  12:20 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add nickelsearcher to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
So, we'll move along one of these contenders on to the next round - and await your excellent research to learn who they are competing with.

@ commems - I'm looking forward to hearing those stories.

edit for spllgening
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Edited by nickelsearcher
11/22/2022 12:22 pm
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 Posted 11/22/2022  12:36 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add Coinfrog to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Good stuff.
Edited by Coinfrog
11/22/2022 12:36 pm
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 Posted 11/24/2022  06:32 am  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add nickelsearcher to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
It appears that responses to this thread are losing momentum.

In the spirit of supporting the award of the title 'Most Obscure', I cast my vote for the Wilkinsburg PA proposed coin.

The deciding factor for me is that the Ogdensburg NY coin at least traced its historical roots to 1749 and Father Picquet construction of a fort/trading post/missionary.

While that is definitely an obscure event it is more historical than celebrating the 50th anniversary of the largest Borough in PA.

Hence - Wilkinsburg gets my vote.

@ commems, bring on the additional contenders.
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 Posted 11/24/2022  08:35 am  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add commems to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply

Quote:
In the spirit of supporting the award of the title 'Most Obscure', I cast my vote for the Wilkinsburg PA proposed coin.

Definitely a reasonable choice!

Quote:
...bring on the additional contenders.

They're a comin'!




Collecting history one coin or medal at a time! (c) commems. All rights reserved.
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