This year I am starting a new custom set based on the coins and medals of Laura Gardin Fraser. The Alabama Centennial coin is the first description in this exciting new set. I will have much more to post about this set later and if you want to follow my progress, use this link to view my set. https://coins.www.collectors-society.com/wcm/CoinCustomSetView.aspx?s=19449
The 1921 Alabama Centennial half-dollar represents two significant firsts in United States coinage. One, the obverse of the coin portrays the conjoined busts of Alabamas first governor, William Wyatt Bibb and then current governor, Thomas E. Kilby. This made Alabama Governor Thomas E. Kilby the first living person to be featured on a United States coin. Next, the coin was sculpted by Laura Gardin Fraser and as such she became the first women ever to design a US minted coin or for that matter any other world coin (The Numismatist July 2013, p. 35).
These and many other factors, including the date, origin, and politics surrounding the issuance of this coin tended to overshadow the artistic talent of this coins designer. Now, after nearly a hundred years, those other factors dont seem to be nearly as important as they once were. Instead, what impresses me most about this coin is the artistic skill used by the coins designer, Laura Gardin Fraser to create a truly remarkable coin.
The obverse of this 1921 Alabama Centennial Half-Dollar as stated before features the conjoined busts of William Wyatt Bibb and Thomas E. Kilby. The bust of Thomas E. Kilby was likely modeled after a relief portrait of him done by Mrs. Fraser (Meadowlark Gallery). The relief of both busts are finely detailed and give the coins obverse depth and contrast. This is especially evident on the left cheek of Governor Kilby. Every curve and valley seems to give his bust depth and a life-like look. This look may be summed up by the difference between using a live model versus a two-dimensional photograph or painting to create the plasters used to make the hubs.
In the lower obverse field is an array of 22 stars representing Alabama as the 22nd state admitted to the Union. The rim toning, likely the result of being mounted in a paper album, is natures contribution to the appearance of this coin. The rim toning attractively accents the obverse and focuses the viewers eyes on the white central-devices artistically rendered by Laura Gardin Fraser. Two contact marks on Kilby&#39;s forehead at the hairline are the only distracting marks on an otherwise pleasing obverse.
The main device on this coins reverse is a rendition of the state seal adopted on December 29, 1868. This rendition of the state seal features an eagle perched on a Union Shield clutching a bundle of four arrows in its talons. Held by the eagles beak is a banner on which is written Alabamas motto, Here We Rest. Interestingly, it took two years after the official centennial celebration in 1919 before the coin was finally released late in 1921.
Throughout the early history of our coinage many of the eagles appearing on US coins seemed more symbolic than true. What I mean by that is that the eagles portrayed on our early coins were in the semblance of an eagle. Interestingly, the images of eagles on US coins became more life-like in the early 20th century during what President Teddy Roosevelt called a renascence in American coinage (US Mint). Certainly the eagle on the reverse of the Alabama Centennial Half-Dollar is representative of this renascence.
Mature bald eagles have over 7000 feathers (American Bald Eagle Information). This presents any sculptor with the problem of making their eagle look like a fully feathered bird. Laura Gardin Fraser brilliantly achieves this on the Alabama Centennial Half-Dollar by layering the feathers on the eagles wings and breast rather than displaying them in rows. This also gives the viewer a sense of motion. This motion starts at the head in the ruff of feathers at the base of the eagles neck. The neck feathers on this coin appear to be ruffled, and contribute to the life-like look of this eagle. Bald eagles have the ability to puff up and rotate their feathers to either insulate or cool their bodies. They may also puff them up when they feel threatened (American Bald Eagle Information). Finally, the primary feathers are long and subtly waved as if the wind is blowing over them. This also contributes to the sense of motion and gives the image depth that makes the eagle appear life-like. I was able to capture this in the lighting of my picture. To contrast this coin I am also picturing a two-dimensional drawing of the Alabama State Seal of 1868.
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