I posted previously about the multiple attempts made to secure a circulating 1959 commemorative half dollar for "the Nevada Silver Centenary and the one hundredth anniversary of the discovery of the Comstock Lode at Virginia City, Nevada." You can read about the failed coin bills here
After the coin bills failed to gain traction in Congress in 1956, companion medal bills were introduced in 1959. The bills sought silver medals "in commemoration of the one hundredth anniversary of the first significant discovery of silver in the United States, June 1859." The medal bill titles were less specific than the coin bills, but were seeking to mark the same events.
The first large silver discovery in the United States was the Comstock Lode. It was discovered in 1858 near Virginia City, in what was then the Utah Territory. The existence of the huge silver lode was made public in 1859, and the ensuing silver-rush fueled immediate growth in the area as miners looking to stake their claim quickly arrived. The resulting economic boom was a primary driver behind Nevada's move to statehood. The Nevada Territory was carved from the Utah Territory in 1861 and the area became the 36th State on October 31, 1864. (One of Nevada's nicknames is "The Silver State.")
In the Senate, Alan Harvey Bible (D-NV) on behalf of himself and Senator Howard Walker Cannon, (D-NV) introduced the medal bill; in the House, it was Walter Stephan Baring, Jr. (D-NV) who handled matters. The bills were sent to the Committee on Banking and Currency in their respective chamber.
In a dramatic departure from the scope of the coin bills, the commemorative medal bills requested just 1,000 silver medals - the commemorative coin bills sought 500,000 circulating half dollars. The medals were to be struck for the benefit of the Nevada Silver Centennial Committee. Per the bill, the Committee was to be responsible for the medal's "cost of manufacture, including labor, materials, dies, use of machinery, and overhead expenses." (The same was true of privately-sponsored US commemorative coins, one difference being that seignorage on the coins paid for some of these produciton costs.)
In an interesting twist for a privately-sponsored commemorative medal, the bill also enabled the Secretary of the Treasury to order silver duplicates of the medal to be struck and sold by the Mint, with the permission of the Centennial Committee. (The Mint did not strike additional medals for its own direct sale.)
The Senate bill was the first to move within Congress, being reported by the Senate Committee favorably with a recommendation to pass on April 30, 1959; the House bill was never reported out of Committee. Ten days after receiving the Committee Report, the bill was brought up for consideration in the Senate and Senator Bible rose to briefly describe the bill to his colleagues and to urge its quick passage in light of the pressing timeline of Nevada's planned anniversary celebration in June.
During his remarks to Congress, Senator Bible noted that the Treasury Department supported the bill. Included in the Senate Committee Report on the bill was the letter Laurence B. Robbins, Acting Secretary of the Treasury, had sent to Absalom Willis Robertson (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Committee, it stated: "The Treasury Department recommends the passage of this bill. The manufacture of medals, rather than commemorative coins, in honor of historic events and places, has long been urged by the Treasury Department and the Presidents. Such procedure was advocated by President Eisenhower when he vetoed three commemorative coin bills in 1954." (The Treasury was finally getting its way - it must have been ecstatic!")
The Senate passed the bill without objection and forwarded it to the House of Representatives for its consideration. The bill was quickly passed in the House without debate or objection.
The bill was then examined and signed in each chamber before being presented to the President. Dwight David Eisenhower signed the medal bill into law on May 20, 1959. The Nevada Silver Centennial Committee had its medal!
The obverse of the medal depicts a version of the Nevada Great Seal. Though a little difficult to discern on the medal (easier on the Seal image), two mountains slope down to the center (one from the left, one from the right). At the base of the mountain on the right is a quartz mill. On the left is seen scaffolding leading to an opening / tunnel that provides access to the silver leads within the mountain. A miner is seen moving out a horse-drawn carload of ore for the mill. In the foreground are emblems indicative of the agricultural resources of Nevada: a plow, a sheaf and a sickle. In the mid-ground is seen a railroad train on a bridge passing over a mountain gorge and a telegraph line extending along the line of the railroad. In the far background, is a range of snow-clad mountains, with the rising sun in the east. Thirty-six stars and the State Motto, "All for Our Country," encircle the central design. (Nevada was the 36th State to be admitted to the Union.) Encircling at the rim is the inscription GREAT SEAL OF THE STATE OF NEVADA, with NEVADA flanked by a pair of five-pointed stars. (The preceding is based on the description included on the Nevada State Seal page of the State of Nevada web site https://nv.gov/identity.)Great Seal of State of Nevada(Image Credit: Ericmetro, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
The medal's reverse is a simple, all-inscriptions design. In the center, a call out to Virginia City, site of the Comstock Lode. Encircling at the rim is NEVADA SILVER CENTENNIAL / 1859-1959 with the text separated from the anniversary dates with a small, crossed pickaxe and shovel on each side.1959 Nevada Silver Centennial Medal
The medal was struck on a 0.900 fine silver planchet ("coin silver") with a diameter, as specified in the legislation, of 1-5/16" (~33.3 millimeters vs. the 30.6 mm for a US half dollar); the planchet, while larger in diameter, is thinner than that of a half dollar.
The Nevada medal was the first such piece struck by the US Mint in the post-commemorative coin era - it would not be the last, however, as Congressionally-authorized National Commemorative Medals (NCMs) replaced coins for decades to follow. (Note: A few NCMs were struck concurrently with the coins.)
For other of my posts about commemorative coins and medals, see: Commems Collection