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Commems Collection: What If? 1937 Great Flood

 
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 Posted 11/24/2022  07:39 am Show Profile   Bookmark this topic Add commems to your friends list Get a Link to this Message
The proposed commemorative half dollar for the Great Flood of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers that occurred in January 1937 may be unique among coin proposals in that it was introduced in an effort to generate relief funds for those impacted by a natural disaster - the extreme flooding in the Ohio River Valley as the result of torrential rains over the course of 12 days. In some areas, more than 15 inches of rain fell!

The flood is believed to be the worst ever to hit the Ohio River Valley, it forced hundreds of thousands of people in multiple states to leave their homes and seek shelter elsewhere. Some flood water crests were measured 20 to 30 feet above flood stage! At the time, property damage was estimated at $250,000 - ~$5.2 billion in 2022. It was a natural disaster of all-time proportions!

Flooded Streets of Louisville, KY

(Image Credit: National Weatherr Servicce. Public Domain.)

Washed Out Country Road Near Patoka, Indiana

(Image Credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. Public Domain.)

Companion bills were introduced in the House and Senate. The House bill was introduced by Robert Crosser (D-OH) in January 1937; the Senate bill by Robert Johns Bulkley (D-OH) in April 1937. The House bill was introduced within days of the disaster - an example of how quickly Congress can move if it wants. The House bill was referred to its Committee on Coinage, Weights, and Measures; the Senate bill to its Committee on Banking and Currency.

The coin bills were a bit unusual in terms of the coins sought. The bills called for a minimum of 30,000 coins and a maximum of one million! The initial 30,000 half dollars were to be struck and delivered to the Flood Relief Commemorative Coin Association within one year of the bill's enactment. No time limit was specified for the Association to request the balance of its 970,000 half dollars. As written, the bill authorized a long-term, multi-year program that could request coins from any/all US Mint facilities. I'm generally not a fan of such programs, but if the Coin Association was able to demonstrate its positive impact on the ongoing relief effort via funds derived from coin sales, I believe I would have been an annual supporter (had I been alive at the time!).

I can't think of a coin proposal from the classic era with more charitable intentions than this one - its objectives weren't to provide financial support to a fair/exposition, or to build a memorial or to support a celebration - the coin looked to help rebuild areas devastated by natural causes and to help relieve human suffering. IMO, it's a shame that neither bill was reported out by its Committee or acted upon by either chamber of Congress. Both bills eventually died for lack of action.


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


Collecting history one coin or medal at a time! (c) commems. All rights reserved.
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 Posted 11/24/2022  08:58 am  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add Coinfrog to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
The idea of commemorating a disaster seems counter-intuitive.
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 Posted 11/24/2022  12:39 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add commems to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
@Coinfrog: I understand, but, IMO, the coin was about raising money for the flood victims vs. commemorating the event.


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 Posted 11/24/2022  12:59 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add Coinfrog to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
I understand of course, just my opinion. I would not want to see a commemorative of the San Francisco Earthquake. Happy Thanksgiving!
Edited by Coinfrog
11/24/2022 1:00 pm
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 Posted 11/24/2022  2:30 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add nickelsearcher to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
The flood predated the founding of FEMA (April 1979) by some 42 years so there were much less organized national disaster relief resources available to the impacted citizens.

I can understand the desire to help but tend to concur with the Frog that a commemorative coin, albeit as a fundraiser, was not the way to go.
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 Posted 11/24/2022  11:57 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add Sap to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply

Quote:
The idea of commemorating a disaster seems counter-intuitive.

@Coinfrog: I understand, but, IMO, the coin was about raising money for the flood victims vs. commemorating the event.

I'm wondering if it might have been this attitude - that "we don't want a coin commemorating a disaster" - that caused the bill to die in Committee?

I imagine, if approved, that it might have been difficult for the Mint to try to come up with a design that tastefully called for help and assistance, without looking like a celebratory commemorative.

One also wonders how popular a "coin commemorating a disaster" might have been with collectors of the day, and with future generations of collectors.
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 Posted Yesterday   08:27 am  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add commems to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply

Quote:
I'm wondering if it might have been this attitude - that "we don't want a coin commemorating a disaster" - that caused the bill to die in Committee?

Of course, anything is possible. It's difficult to say with 100% certainty - none of us was a member of the US Congress in 1937 - but the available evidence points to a change in the mindset of Congress regarding US commemorative coin proposals in general vs. issues with specific events. After a banner year for new coin approvals in 1936, more than 20 new commemorative coin bills were introduced - but were ultimately unsuccessful - in 1937. (I've previously posted about most via my What If? series, but have a few more to go.)

Bills for worthy events from US history were were among those denied in 1937 - the 150th anniversary of the US Constitution comes immediately to mind. It appears that past abuses of the coinage system were beginning to take their toll, as Congress began considering steps to stop commemorative coins altogether.

Only the Battle of Antietam 75th Anniversary and Norfolk, VA Anniversary coin bills were approved in 1937 - both were initially introduced in 1936. (Links to posts about the interesting journey through Congress that each experienced - and its special circumstances - can be found below.)

Quote:
One also wonders how popular a "coin commemorating a disaster" might have been with collectors of the day, and with future generations of collectors.

I'd suggest that sales would not have hit the coin's authorized maximum of one million pieces, but that they would likely have been on par with other coins from the era (e.g., the Roanoke Colony Memorial piece). I think that today, the majority of collectors of the series would not focus on the coin's subject, but rather their need for the coin to "complete" their set. I've met many such collectors over the years!

A few related posts that supplement this one:

- 1937 Battle Of Antietam 75th Anniversary - Origin Story - Part I
- 1936 Norfolk Medal Vs. Coin - A Technical Misstep
- What If? 1937 Constitution Sesquicentennial
- Prohibiting Certain US Commemorative Coins


Collecting history one coin or medal at a time! (c) commems. All rights reserved.
Edited by commems
Yesterday 08:28 am
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