Back in March, in response to my post on the returned/melted 1936 San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge half dollars, @nickelsearcher suggested that I put together a "To the Melting Pot" series. I liked the idea, but had a few other things I wanted to finish before I started up a new series. I've pretty much caught up now, so I thought I'd return to the "melted" concept.
Before I jump in, however, I wanted to mention that in January 2022, I posted "Quick Bits #43 - To The Melting Pot" which was a summary look at the biggest "melters" of the classic era. You can check it out here:
- Quick Bits #43 - To The Melting PotNote: I've written multiple times about the World's Columbian Exposition Columbus Half Dollar and prefer not to repeat too much of those posts here, so check out the links below for my previous posts on the topic which provide more details about the coin, the Exposition and the involvement of the US Congress in its creation.
In addition to being the first Congressionally-authorized US commemorative coin - at the time it was referred to as a "Souvenir" coin by Congress - the World's Columbian Exposition half dollars of 1892/1893 also have the distinction of having more of their struck total mintage melted (by volume) than any other coin(s) in the series (the vast majority of those melted were dated 1893).
As the overall US commemorative coin program gained experience, it became the norm for the sponsor of a given issue to purchase its authorized commemorative coins from the Mint at face value (plus certain expenses) so that production of the coins was completed at no net cost to the US Government. In fact, as the Government did recognize positive seigniorage on each coin sold/distributed to a sponsor - Seigniorage: the difference between a coin's face value and its total cost of production - the Mint/Government actually made a small profit on each commemorative coin distributed.
After purchasing its coins at face value from the Mint, sponsors sold the coins to collectors, souvenir seekers, speculators, etc. at a higher price - typically $1.00 or more for a half dollar. The situation was a bit different for the Columbian Exposition half dollars, however.
The coins were delivered to the World's Columbian Exposition Company as part of an appropriation authorized by Congress to support the Exposition. A total of five million Columbian Exposition half dollars (i.e., $2.5 million) were authorized by Congress, rather than a straight-up cash appropriation of $5 million. Congress understood that the Exposition Company planned to sell the coins for $1 each, and thus the Exposition Company would get its requested $5 million once it sold all of its coins.
The US Mint struck 950,000 of the coins with a date of "1892" and 4,052,105 (including 2,105 for assay) dated "1893" - all of the 1893 coins were struck prior to June 30, 1893 (the end of the Mint's 1893 Fiscal Year) - the Exposition opened May 1, 1893.
Though available via mail order before, during and after the staging of the Exposition, as well as at the Exposition when it was open, sales did not prove to be as strong as forecasts by the Exposition Company. Even reduced-price sales to coin dealers and other bulk purchasers did not clear the Company's inventory. It became clear that it would never sell the full 5 million coins struck by the Mint. Coins dated "1892" and "1893" were dumped into circulation in 1895, well after the Exposition had closed; an estimated 1.1 million coins were placed into circulation. By that time, sales efforts for the coin had officially ended and ~2.5 million 1893-dated coins had been returned to the Mint to be melted. The Net Mintage figures for the Columbian Exposition Half Dollar are ~950,000 for the 1892 coins and ~1.548 million of the 1893 coins; ~2.5 million coins combined - recall that five million coins were struck for distribution.
So, even though the Columbian Exposition Half Dollar is among the easiest US commemorative coins to find in the marketplace - mint state and circulated - the available quantity is just 50% (approximately) of what could have been available to collectors! Imagine the bargain pricing on these if twice as many were available!1892-93 World's Columbian Exposition - Columbus Half Dollar
For other of my posts about commemorative coins and medals, including more on the 1892-93 World's Columbian Exposition half dollars, see: Commems Collection.
For a list of posts specifically about the Design Details of the 1892-93 World's Columbian Exposition half dollars, see:
- Design Discussions - 1892-93 World's Columbian Exposition