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WYNTK: Classic Commemoratives

53 posts in this topic

I spoke with Bob, supertooth, about starting a series on Classic Commemoratives. He thought it was a good idea, so today we start our journey. I started coin collecting in 2003 and purchased my first Classic Commem's in 2004. I love the Classic Commem's because they are rich in history, good and bad. We'll discuss all this in future lessons. I started out wanting to purchase the "Monster Toners" that we all see come available once in a while. I've since decided to change my focus to the value level of each series. Depending on the issue, this is the 63 to 67 grade level. I'm always in search of coin with "Eye Appeal". "Eye Appeal" is subjective in my opinion. What I find attractive, you might not. I've found that the sharing of information will make this one of the most enjoyable learning experiences and journeys into coin history that has been done to date. If you have information to share, pictures to add, please do. My goal is that we all learn something about Classic Commemoratives together. smile.gif

My favorite post's are the ones that give me the history of certain coins or series of coins. I'm a beginner in my quest to complete the 144 Classic Commemorative Set. I'm currently reading "A Basic Guide to U.S. Commemorative Coins" by Michael J. Hodder and QDB. I wanted to share some of the pages here, with others, who may be interested in this series as much as I am. I'll share a Paragraph or two on a weekly basis. Just want to share some history and hope it's not too boring


Commemorative Silver Coins

The Diversity of Commemoratives

Some commemoratives were issued for events of true historical importance on a national scale, and others were produced for observances of stricly local interest. Among older issues of interest to all Americans are the 1892-1893 World's Columbian Exposition, 1915-S Panama-Pacific International Exposition, and 1926 Sesquicentennial of American Independence half dollars. Of purely local or regional interest are such half dollars as those issued in 1936 to observe the 250th anniversary of the granting of a city charter to Albany, New York; in 1925 to memorialize the centennial of the founding of Fort Vancouver in Washington State; and in 1936 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Lynchburg, Virginia's city charter.

One of the most curious of all commemorative half dollars is that produced to observe the 200th anniversary of the change in status of Norfolk, Virginia from a town to a borough. The coin bears five dates-1636, 1682, 1736, 1845, and 1936-none of which is the date when the coin was struck, 1937!






I hope this was found interesting and you look forward to the next "History Lesson".

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You and I are on the same wave length. My classic commemorative 50 piece set is 100% complete and down in the 20s in the NGC registry. It is made up of nice eye appeal coins that range from MS-63 to MS-66. I've had a few ugly MS-65 graded coins in the business that would have given me more points, but less satisfaction. That's why I sold 'em.


Collect because YOU enjoy it, not to impress someone else.

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That is so true. Collect what you enjoy. My coins have to make me happy. The problem with commems is when I buy other coins, I usually end up selling them to buy more commems!!! I`ve had a love affair with them since the late 60`s. I use to hang out with Ray Mercer and Jim Iacovo when they were writing their commem book. I remember being in the back room of Ray`s New Canaan coin store looking at commems and a guy came in and asked if they were worth anything. Jim looked up and said we could buy a house with these coins and he was right!!!!!

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This is going to be really a great an noble cause in the name of this hobby. Anyone who collects classic commemoratives is not boring...there is more history presented to us in a 30 year span that can be readily absorbed.


I look forward to the next installment.

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Hello Folks-----Thanks Lee for a fine start to an interesting topic.


Last year---during the time that I was buying an extensive Walker hoard of beautiful MS coins----I passed on the opportunity to buy other coins as well. It was a hectic time. A lot of money flying around----all of it mine. So, I passed on a wonderful set of 'classic commemoratives'. I have been kicking myself ever since. To put it in perspective my attitude became one of 'you just cannot buy everything'. Trouble was I should have purchased them. Same with a set of MS Washington Quarters. I passed on them too. Regret leaving them behind as well. It wasn't so much not buying them. It was---when will another grouping like this one come along?? That question remains to be answered. Bob [supertooth]

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smile.gif The story continues:


Numerous commemorative half dollars were produced to exploit collectors by requiring them to buy several or many varieties in order to keep their collections complete. This in addition to the properly dated 1920 half dollar to observe the 300th anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims in Massachusetts, there were additional Pilgrim Tercentenary coins minted with the date 1921, to derive profits from numismatists.


Not my coins






The most extensive series began in 1926 when the Oregon Trail Memorial Association, based in New York City, issued half dollars of two varieties-Philadelphia and San Francico mint issues-to commemorate the hardships endured by the pioneers who trekked westward in the 19th century to settle the Oregon Territory. The Oregon Trail half dollars went on and on and were finally discontinued in 1939 when an act of Congress put a stop to what was perceived as flagrant abuses. Today, many collectors aspire to own a complete set of Oregon Trail half dollars consisting of 14 different varieties.






Other commemoratives issued in long sets include the 1934-1938 Boone Bicentennial, 1934-1936 Texas Centennial of Independence, 1935-1939 Arkansas Centennial, 1946-1951 Booker T. Washington, and 1951-1954 Carver-Washington coins.


After 1954, no commemorative coins were minted until 1982, when half dollars were produced to observe the 250th anniversary of George Washington's birth.




Since 1982 many different and interesting issues have been made; including those commemorating the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Games, the 1986 Statue of Liberty Centennial, and the 1990 Eisenhower Centennial, among others.

Not only are commemorative designs diverse, the artists and sculptors who conceived them are equally interesting. Gutzon Borglum, who carved statues of heroic size on the side of Stone Mountain in Georgia, designed a 1925-dated half dollar in connection with the work.





Similarly, Trygve A. Rovelstad, an Elgin, Illinois sculptor, created the Pioneer Memorial statuary group and also designed a commemorative half dollar featuring the same artistry. James Earle Fraser and his wife, Laura Gardin Fraser, both highly acclaimed sculptors, were connected with several different commemorative issues, including the beautiful Oregon Trail design. The list of coin designers and modelers is almost as long as the list of coins themselves and includes many artists in the private sector as well as Mint engravers. Charles E. Barber, George T. Morgan, John R. Sinnock, Gilroy Roberts, Frank Gasparro, Elizabeth Jones and John Mercanti, among others. Each artist had his or her own style captured for numismatic posterity in the coins surfaces.

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Two Ways to Collect:

Today, the two most popular ways to collect silver commemorative coins is by types and by varieties.


A complete collection of design types of the early (1892 to 1954) period comprises the 1893 Isabella quarter dollar and the 1900 Lafayette silver dollar plus 48 different designs of half dollars, equaling 50 coins in all. To this collection may be added modern types minted since 1982. Over the years this has been the most popular way to form a complete set of commemoratives. Among the scarcer coins in such a set are the 1915-S Panama-Pacific, 1928 Hawaiian Sesquiecentennial, 1935 Hudson Sesquicentennial, and the 1935 Spanish Trail half dollars. Of the last three names issues, just 10,008 were minted of each, a small number in relation to the number of collectors desiring them.

A complete collection of varieties struck from 1892 to 1954 includes the 1893 Isabella quarter dollar, 1900 Lafayette silver dollar, and 142 different dates, mintmarks, and other varietes of half dollars. Among the rarer issues are the 1939 Oregon Trail set of three coins (one each from Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco mints), of which just 3,000 were distributed; the 1939 Arkansas Centennial set, of which only 2,100 were sold; and two scarce varieties of 1935-D and S Boone half dollars with the additional date "1934" in small digits on the reverse, of which only 2,000 each were publicly distributed.


Mints and Metals

Over the years the following mints have produced silver commemoratives: Philadelphia (1892 to date; no mintmark used until 1983; since then a P has been used), Denver (1933 to date; D mintmark), San Francisco (1915 to date; S mintmark), and West Point (first used for silver commemorative coins in 1990; W mintmark).


Silver commemoratives have been produced since 1892. In modern times a few clad commemorative coins (consisting of 92% copper and 8% nickel, with silver-appearing nickel outside surfaces) of the half dollar denomination have been produced, namely varieties of the 1986 Statue of Liberty, 1989 Congress Bicentennial, and 1991 Mount Rushmore Memorial issues.


When the quantities distributed seem to exceed the quantities authorized in the listing to follow, the excess represents coins struck for assay purposes. While it is presumed that most assay coins were destroyed, some found their way into collections.

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This is a very wonderful thread! 893applaud-thumb.gif


I love the classic commemorative designs, they are often very beautiful. My favorites are the ones that celebrate something that relates to fields of history I am interested in.



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Great post. Thanks!

Would love to know more about the Norse Medal, thick and thin, like why thicks and thins, who, when, where and why, 'cause I know nothing about this medal.

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Great post. Thanks!

Would love to know more about the Norse Medal, thick and thin, like why thicks and thins, who, when, where and why, 'cause I know nothing about this medal.


All good things take time my friend smile.gif I'll most definately do my best to answer all questions asked.

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This information was circa 1991/92. A whole lot has changed in Coin Collecting since this time as you'll very well see once you've read through this lesson.




Commemorative half dollars of the early (1892-1954) era are usually collected in Uncirculated (Mint State) preservation. Typical coins range from MS-60 (minimum Uncirculated) through MS-64 and MS-65 (gem Uncirculated). Virtually flawless coins, not often seen, can be graded higher, up to MS-70.


In general, collectors desiring "a lot of coin for the money" will opt to acquire most issues in grades from MS-60 to MS-63 or MS-64. Those who can afford it may desire MS-65 coins. As of the early 1990s, most coins in grades higher than MS-65 were purchased by investors, not by collectors, as most collectors believed that coins of lower grades offered virtually the same appearance but at a much lower price.


When formulating which grades to acquire, it is important to review the price structure for the issue. As an example, the price of a certain commemorative half dollar might be as follows: MS-60 $125, MS-63 $250, MS-64 $350, and MS-65 $750. In this illustartion, an MS-63 coin is only one-third the price of an MS-65 and thus may represent a particularly excellent value for the buyer.


Another issue of commemorative half dollar migh have the following prices: MS-60 $125, MS-63 $175, MS-64 $210, MS-65 $275. In this instance the differential between MS-63 and MS-65 is not as great, and a prudent buyer might opt to acquire an MS-65 coin.


Still another issue might show a really great difference between higher and lower grades: MS-60 $125, MS-63 $300, MS-64 $500, MS-65 $2,000. In this instance, only a very well moneyed buyer would probably seek an MS-65.


Over the years many professional dealers have given this advice: Buy the best condition you can afford. The authors (Hodder/Bowers) agree with this, except that one should also consider the value received for the money spent, and the prices of MS-65 and higher graded coins should be carefully considered to be sure that they represent a good value. In many instances high MS-65 prices reflect investor demand, not true demand by dedicated collectors.


What about investment? Commemorative half dollars have been a good investment over the years. However, there have been many ups and downs, as commemoratives have been particularly popular investment vehicles. Market highs occurred in 1936, 1946, 1964, 1980, and 1990, among other years. Some years with market lows included 1941, 1950, 1965, 1982, and 1991, among others. Investors seem to like to buy in a rising market, thus driving prices still higher. On the other hand, knowledgeable numismatisits buying with an eye for price appreciation have found excellent values during low points in the price cycle. Of course, no one has been able to predict with accuracy all of the highs and lows in the market.


We recommend that commemoratives be acquired for the collecting enjoyment they offer. If held for a period of years such coins have often shown an attractive investment return, however it may be that future market conditions will not repeat those of the past. In any event, we strongly suggest that anyone interested in the price history of commemorative coins consult market studies on the subject, including Commemorative Coins of the United States: A Complete Encyclopedia, by Q. David Bowers, and The Encyclopedia of U.S. Silver and Gold Commemorative Coins, by Anthony Swiatek and Walter Breen.


Some important points from my point of view:


Still very relevant to do price reviews and buy at the value points. I think the value point for these have moved up from the 63/4 level to the 65/6 level now.


This is the bottom line:



<< We recommend that commemoratives be acquired for the collecting enjoyment they offer >>




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Excellent thread - thank you. smile.gif


Of course the sculptor Gutzon Borglum is best known for... Mount Rushmore! He died after all four Presidents were carved and dedicated but seven months shy of the project's technical completion, which occurred when funding ran out during his son's tenure at the helm.


On the subject of modern commemorative half dollars, all so far have been clad composition except the 1982 George Washington and 1993 James Madison.



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Great post. Thanks!

Would love to know more about the Norse Medal, thick and thin, like why thicks and thins, who, when, where and why, 'cause I know nothing about this medal.


All good things take time my friend smile.gif I'll most definately do my best to answer all questions asked.


thank you my friend!!! thumbsup2.gif

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A Brief Overview of Silver Commemoratives


The World's Columbian Exposition, intended to be held in Chicago in 1892 to observe the 400th anniversary of Columbus' landing in America, furnished the opportunity for the first United States commemorative coin, the 1892 Columbian half dollar. As it turned out, the Exposition was not completed in time, and the gates of the fair were not thrown open to the public until a year later in 1893. Additional Columbian half dollars with the 1893 date were produced. In the same year a small number of 1893 Isabella quarter dollars were issued at the Exposition, and were the first and only commemoratives of this denomination.








The next silver commemorative coin is the 1900-dated Lafayette silver dollar, all of which were struck in a single day on December 14, 1899, the 100th anniversary of George Washington's death. Conjoined portraits of Lafayette and Washington appear on the obverse of the coin. Next is the 1915-S half dollar issued for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition held in San Francisco in 1915, followed by the 1918 Illinois Centennial, 1920 Maine Centennial, and 1920 and 1921 Pilgrim Tercentenary half dollars.






Production of commemorative half dollars continued through 1954, with the year 1936 being particularly memorable with the issuance of a dozen new designs. At the time, commemoratives were a nationwide fad, prices jumped virtually overnight, and thousands of new buyers jumped on the bandwagon. Soon a peak was reached, followed by a market decline. However, commemoratives were here to stay, and from that time onward they have been a foundation stone in American numismatics.


Congressional criticism of commemorative half dollars resulted in the suspension of issues after 1954. It was not until 1982 that production was resumed, this time with more equitable marketing and pricing programs, with distribution handled by the U. S. Mint. Earlier, many coins had been distributed by private commissions and individuals, not all of whom acted fairly.


Wheras many early issues were made to commemorate events of strictly local interest, commemoratives of 1982 to date, produced in quantities vastly greater than those of 1892-1954, have for the most part observed anniversaries and events of nationwide interest. Collectors everywhere hope that future years will see many new commemoratives of interest and importance.


I'm sad to say the Coloumbian and Lafayette aren't mine.

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I'm going to discuss each individual type of Classic Commemorative. I'll start off with the 1892-1893 Columbian Exposition Half Dollar:


Columbian Exposition


Chicago, Illinois May-October 1893



Overview of the Exhibition

Origins of the World's Columbian Exposition can be seen in the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia event marked the first large-scale effort of this kind in the United States. As early as 1880, advocates argues that a special exposition should mark the 400th anniversary of Columbus sailing to the New World. By 1888, the movement gained enough momentum to begin being taken seriously by the public, and by government officials. Early on, St. Louis was a leader for the site location. By 1889, public opinion and individual efforts had mobilized enough support to launch the new exposition. Contenders for the massive exposition site included St. Louis, Chicago, New York, and Washington, D. C. In an effort to woo the U. S. Congress to select their city, Chicago businesses raised $5,000,000 to pledge to the fair, and promised to double the amount if Chicago was selected. After eight ballots, Congress finally selected Chicago as the site, by a vote of 157 for Chicago, 107 for New York, 25 for St. Louis, and 18 for Washington, D. C. The fair was considered the greatest event of its kind in history.


City of Chicago Statistical Information in 1893


Chicago was divided into three divisions "sides": North, West, and South. Additional townships include Hyde Park, Lake View, Cicero, and Jefferson. According to the school census of 1892, the population of the South Division was 515,736 , and of the West Division 645,428, and of the North Division 278,846. Total resident population in 1893 was about 1,550,000. One third of the population was of foreign birth, more Germans and Irish, the Scandinavians, Poles, and Central Europeans. The local economy was booming. Chicago was a major port and transportation hub. Population was up 400% from 1870-1890 and the economy grew even faster. Dominant industries like grain trade and meat packing boomed, with the meat packing industry increasing 900% the same period. The new wealth brought Chicago great development in the arts, literature, music, and other fine arts. Due to the fair, beer consumption nearly doubled, to 2.7 million barrels in 1893. And, Chicago faced urban problems typical of a fast-growing city, including overcrowded schools, hundreds of bordellos, and high street crime. As an indicator of municipal transportation modes and rates, a two horse "hack" cab could be ridden one-way for $1 for under 1 mile and $2 for 2 passengers under 2 miles. A full day's rental of a coach ran $8 or $2 for the first hour and $1 for each additional hour. By city ordinance passed in 1892, one-animal conveyance rates were capped at 50 cents per mile for 1-2 passengers and 25 additional cents per mile per additional passenger.



City Government

In the Chicago of 1893, the Mayor was elected to a 2-year term and received a salary of $7,000. The city council was composed of 68 aldermen, two each from the 34 wards. One alderman is elected from each ward in alternate years.



City Architecture

Chicago was gutted by a great fire in 1871 that destroyed over 2,000 acres of the built environment and caused a loss of over $196 million (in 1871 dollars). Largely rebuilt after the fire, Chicago exhibit several distinctive architectural characteristics. Large buildings were constructed to be fireproof, with steel and brick construction. The "Chicago" style developed here with the works of such prominent architects as Louis H. Sullivan, John W. Root, and W. L. B. Janney. The Chicago style was the first manifestation of the skyscraper, whose steel frame construction allowed for taller buildings. The Chicago style was less ornate than the then-current Victorian style, and was much more functional in nature, primarily due to the commercial nature of the buildings.



This was the first United States commemorative half dollar ever minted. Congress specially authorized the coinage of half dollars for sale during the 1892 World's Columbian Exposition to honor the 400th anniversary of Columbus "discovery" of the New World. The first issue was dated 1892. The Exposition did not open on time and the celebration was postponed until 1893, at which time additional coins bearing this new date were struck. The obverse features the bust right of Christopher Columbus; while the reverse bears a representation of his flagship, the Santa Maria, above two hemispheres flanked by the date of Columbus' arrival, 1492. By the time a further quantity had been coined in 1893, public demand for the commemorative had lessened. Substantial quantities were later released into general circulation.


Quantity Authorized:

5,000,000 (1892 and 1893)


Quantity Distributed:

1892: 950,000; 1893: 1,550,405



Obverse by Charles E. Barber; reverse by George T. Morgan; the designs taken from plaster models by Olin L. Warner.


Interesting Facts:

The first specimen struck was bought for $10,000 by the firm that made Remington typewriters, as a publicity stunt. The 1892-1893 Columbian half dollar was the first U.S. legal tender coin to bear the portrait of a foreigner.









Heres a link to more info on this Exposition:

[L]1893 Columbian Expo [/L]

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I'll talk about the 1893 Isabella Quarter today:





Isabella of Castile



The Isabella Quarter

Frank F. Hanisco; BellaOnline


Among coin collectors, the commemorative coins issued by the U.S. Mint, supply a wide assortment to pique one’s interest. The commemoratives celebrate people, places and events important to society, and the Isabella Quarter is no exception. The Isabella Quarter was not only one of the first U.S. commemoratives coins, but it was the first commemorative quarter, and one of the most unusual. It celebrates the women’s role in industry, and believe it or not, it was issued in 1893 in conjunction with the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.


By 1890, Susan B. Anthony was lecturing throughout the country on behalf of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. At the same time, Bertha Honoré Palmer, the wife of Potter Palmer of the Palmer House in Chicago, was focusing her attentions on improving the education and economic status of women, and was backing the ideological principle of equal pay for equal work. Susan B. Anthony saw the World’s Columbian Exposition as a stage upon which women could have an active voice in the administration and presentation of exhibits dealing with women’s interests. She enthusiastically petitioned both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate for a ‘Board of Lady Managers’ to oversee women’s activities at the fair. Congress approved funding for a Women’s Building and related expenses, and Bertha Honoré Palmer was appointed as president of the ‘Board of Lady Managers.’


Since construction for the fair was behind schedule, and the exposition’s opening was postponed until 1893, Mrs. Palmer used this opportunity to travel abroad to generate interest in the fair, and her international connections proved to be extremely successful. Not only did she secure a place at the fair to build the Women’s Building, designed by a woman architect, which was to house works by and about women, but she also managed to persuade some of Europe’s royal women to lend display materials, and she secured space in each state building to include exhibits of female interest.


Bertha Honoré Palmer then turned her attention to Congress’ Appropriations Committee. Following the lead of the souvenir Columbian Exposition commemorative half-dollar, to be produced to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America, Mrs. Potter lobbied and procured funding in the form of 40,000 commemorative quarters. In keeping with the female theme, she insisted on a female effigy on the coin, and what could be more fitting then Columbus’ benefactor, Queen Isabella of Spain.


In March 1893, the Mint Director Edward O. Leech informed the ‘Board of Lady Managers,’ that they needed to forward the likeness of Queen Isabella to be used on the commemorative quarter. In this way, it would save both time and money in production. Having some idea of the politics within government, it has been reported that Susan B. Anthony advised Mrs. Palmer to ignore the Mint Director’s request and to pursue the commemorative quarter through normal channels. Bertha Palmer wanted to keep with an all female input into the design, and selected a New York artist, and student of the famed sculptor, Augustus St.Gaudens, by the name of Caroline Peddle to create the design. This action greatly offended the Chief Engraver, Charles Barber, and all chances for approval of Peddle’s design was quashed. Charles Barber chose artist Kenyon Cox, who had painted several murals and illustrations at the exposition, to prepare sketches from which Barber personally created models and dies for the new quarter.


Charles Barber’s design of the Isabella Quarter features the crowned bust of the young Queen on the obverse. The legend encircling the bust reads UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, and the date 1893 is found to the right of the Queen’s image. The design on the reverse features what was thought to be the major industry of women, at that time. It depicts a kneeling woman, holding a distaff, which was used for spinning wool or flax, in her left hand, and a spindle in her right. Surrounding the image, on the coin’s border, the inscription reads BOARD OF LADY MANAGERS and COLUMBIAN QUAR. DOL.


The Philadelphia Mint began production on the 40,000 quarters on June 13, 1893 about six weeks after the Columbian Exposition opened. Estimates of somewhere between 40 to 100 proof struck coins were made in addition to the 3 special documented proof quarters. The three special documented proofs were coins #400 (for the 400th anniversary of Columbus discovering America), #1492 (the year of Columbus’s discovery), and #1892 (for the anniversary year). These special proofs were presented to the ‘Board of Lady Managers.’


The Isabella Quarters were sold as souvenirs for $1.00 each at the Women’s Building on the fair grounds. Even though an estimated 27.5 million visitors (including about 25% of the population of the United States) attended the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, only a small quantity of the quarters sold. Ultimately, 15,809 pieces were returned to the mint for melting, which left a net mintage of 24,191 Isabella Quarters (including proofs).


The Isabella Quarter was the first U.S. coin to feature the portrait of an actual female; the first commemorative quarter; and, the only U.S. coin to feature a woman on both sides of the coin. The Isabella Quarter is a key coin to any collector of U.S. commemoratives coins, as well as to many woman collectors for what it represents. In a review of the World’s Columbian Exposition and the role played by women, “The Cosmopolitan” wrote in September 1893, “To compare the exhibit of Women’s work with that of previous expositions is to realize that a revolution has been effected, not alone in woman’s position, but in modern civilization.”

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The fact that they did not have these commemoratives ready for the opening probably hurt over-all sales. (Good for modern day collectors though)


~The Philadelphia Mint began production on the 40,000 quarters on June 13, 1893 about six weeks after the Columbian Exposition opened.


~Ultimately, 15,809 pieces were returned to the mint for melting, which left a net mintage of 24,191 Isabella Quarters (including proofs).


Are any of these known to exsist and if so, where are they now?


~The three special documented proofs were coins #400 (for the 400th anniversary of Columbus discovering America), #1492 (the year of Columbus’s discovery), and #1892 (for the anniversary year). These special proofs were presented to the ‘Board of Lady Managers.’


Great post LeeG...love to read stuff like this.

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I appreciate those who have posted to this series. smile.gif I know more of you out there have something to say. wink.gif Help me out here!


We'll move forward a few years and talk about the history behind the Lafayette Memorial Silver Dollar.




Not My Coin



The renowned 18th-century French nobleman, the Marquis de Lafayette, has occupied a special place in the hearts of Americans for over 200 years. Born in 1757 to wealth and privilege, at the age of twenty he willingly sacrificed all in support of the American revolutionary cause. Defying his family and the French authorities, in 1777 he crossed the Atlantic with about a dozen men to offer his services to the Continental Congress. With the assistance of Benjamin Franklin, then ambassador to France, Lafayette secured a commission as a Major General in the Continental Army. Serving bravely and unfailingly at Brandywine, Valley Forge and Yorktown, Lafayette soon formed a singular relationship with his Commander in Chief, General George Washing-ton. The two men achieved a lasting bond usually reserved for a father and son.




Lafayette’s Revolutionary War exploits and his effort in inducing the French government to sign a treaty of alliance with the colonies in 1778 earned him enduring fame and respect on both sides of the Atlantic. In 1784, the State of Maryland bestowed citizenship upon Lafayette and his descendants (one descendant invoked this privilege in 1934), and in 1824, while on a grand tour of the United States accompanied by his son George Washington Lafayette, Congress bestowed on him the ultimate American gift for a retired hero—land in Florida and $200,000 in cash. America’s friendship with France would remain steadfast from that time forward, and in 1886, France expressed the depth of this special relationship with its gift to the United States of the Statue of Liberty.




When the United States was invited to participate in the Paris Exposition of 1900, Lafayette was still very much a part of the American psyche. The U.S. thought a fitting contribution would be a monument to the Revolutionary War hero for the city of Paris. It was decided that a statue of Lafayette on horseback would be sculpted by Paul Wayland Bartlett and displayed at the Exposition. A novel and educational approach was used to raise funds for the statue: School children from all over the nation contributed small change to the Lafayette Monument Fund. Raising nearly $50,000 during the campaign, they also learned much about the Revolutionary War and the part played by General Lafayette. More money was to come from the sale, at $2 each, of the 50,000 Lafayette commemorative dollar coins authorized by Congress on March 3, 1899. The Lafayette Memorial Commission originally requested that 100,000 half dollars be minted, but it later decided that dollars would make better souvenirs. Congress intended that the coins would honor not only the Paris Exposition and Lafayette, but also the centennial of George Washington’s death. As it turned out, all of the Lafayette dollars were struck in a single day, December 14, 1899, exactly 100 years to the day after Washington’s final hours.




Die preparation for the coin fell to the Mint’s Chief Engraver, Charles E. Barber. Barber’s typical lack of creative artistry undoubtedly played a part in his selection of the motif: His obverse bore a striking similarity to a design fashioned in 1881 by medalist Peter L. Krider for the Yorktown Centennial medal. It features conjoined busts of Washington and Lafayette and has its roots in even earlier creations: Washington’s likeness was borrowed from a bust by Jean Antoine Houdon created in 1785—the same bust later used by John Flanagan as inspiration for his Washington quarter of 1932. Lafayette’s portrait was taken from an 1824 French medal by Caunois. On the Lafayette dollar, the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA arcs above the busts at the rim, and the inscription LAFAYETTE DOLLAR arcs at the border below.




Barber’s reverse design depicts Bartlett’s statue of Lafayette, but as it appeared in the proposed plaster model: A number of changes were subsequently made to the bronze statue, which in 1908 was placed in the Place du Carrousel, adjacent to the Louvre. On the Lafayette dollar, Bartlett’s name appears on the base of the statue. Encircling the border is the inscription ERECTED BY THE YOUTH OF THE UNITED STATES IN HONOR OF GEN LAFAYETTE PARIS 1900. Although the date 1900 appears as part of the inscription, the coin was minted in 1899. Treasury officials side-stepped regulations which prohibited using a date other than the date of coinage by declaring that “1900" was part of the legend and referred only to the year of the Paris Exposition. Technically, this coin is not dated.




The Philadelphia Mint struck 50,000 Lafayette dollars, along with 26 additional pieces reserved for assay. Research has uncovered five different die varieties, from a combination of three obverse and four reverse dies. Collectors have shown little enthusiasm for the rarer die combinations, however, preventing any great pricing differential. Noted commemorative specialist Anthony Swiatek reports the existence of at least one brilliant proof, said to be one of ten such pieces struck.




The Lafayette Commission refused an offer of $5,000 for the first coin to leave the dies: That first strike had already been earmarked for delivery to President McKinley, who planned to present it to President Loubet of France. Encased in an elaborate chest costing an astonishing $1,000, the coin was shipped across the Atlantic on the S. S. Champagne. It was delivered to the French President on March 3, 1900 in a special ceremony held in the Elysee Palace.




Lafayette dollars proved to be slow sellers. After the Exposition and for a number of years later they were readily available at less than the $2 issue price, often for just above face value. Many ended up in circulation. Ultimately, 14,000 pieces remained unsold and were returned to the Mint where they were stored, unknown to collectors, for almost 45 years. Sometime in 1945, they were melted into bullion.




Although commemorative coins were never intended to circulate, many non-numismatists (who made up the bulk of the initial buyers of the Lafayette issue) often enjoyed polishing their treasures or using them as pocket pieces. The large, heavy dollars easily acquired contact marks and abrasions and frequently suffered abuse from actual wear, as the coins’ low collector value caused many to enter the channels of commerce. As a result, relatively few choice examples survive: most specimens encountered will range from AU to the lower levels of Mint State. Such pieces will often appear dull and lackluster. Higher grade examples, particularly MS-65 and above, are especially elusive. Truly uncirculated specimens will exhibit bright to dull satiny surfaces, although some semi-prooflike pieces do exist. Evidence of wear first appears on Washington's cheekbone and on Lafayette's lower curls. On the reverse, check the highest points of the design—the boot, thigh and rear leg of the horse. These areas often come weakly struck and are prone to bag marks, cuts and abrasions. Forgeries exist: known counterfeits have grainy surfaces and exhibit raised spikes or tooling marks above the words STATES and THE in the inscription. Check also for similar tooling marks on the reverse, below the letter “L” of Lafayette.




Today, in marked contrast to when it was issued, the Lafayette dollar is actively sought by type collectors, dollar collectors and of course, those assembling sets of U.S. commemorative coins. As the first commemorative dollar, the first officially issued coin to depict a former President, and the first coin to show the same person (Lafayette) on both sides, the Lafayette dollar will always hold a unique place in numismatics.





Quantity Authorized: 50,000


Quantity Distributed: 36,026


Diameter: 38.1 millimeters


Weight: 26.73 grams


Composition: .900 silver, .100 copper


Edge: Reeded


Net Weight: .77344 ounce pure silver



Interesting Facts: This was the first U.S. commemorative silver dollar. Although dated 1900, these coins were actually struct on December 14, 1899 (the centenary of Washinton's death).

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What's Up?:) The year is 1915 the gala which is to become the Panama-Pacific International Exposition is about to begin. The Expo was a struggle due to the 1906 Earthquake, took over three years to complete, and had great economic implications for the city. "Show Me The Money" rang throughout city government. And you thought Jerry Maguire coined the phrase;).



Mayor Rolph Giving A Speech



Officially, the exposition was a celebration of the completion of the Panama Canal, and also commemorated the 400th anniversary of the discovering of the Pacific Ocean by the explorer, Balboa. San Francisco was only one of many cities hoping to host the PPIE. New Orleans was its primary rival, but in 1911 after a long competition of advertising and campaigning, President Taft proclaimed San Francisco to be the official host city. The fair ran from February 20th until December 4th, 1915



The tallest most well-recognized building of the PPIE was the Tower of Jewels. Standing 43 stories tall, the building was covered by more than a hundred thousand colored glass "jewels" that dangled individually to shimmer and reflect light as the Pacific breezes moved them.










A few tidbits about what else was happening in 1915...


President: Woodrow Wilson

Vice President: Thomas Marshall


Albert Einstein developed The Theory of Relativity.


The British Lusitania was sunk.


25,000 people marched in suffrage parade in New York City.


The first telephone connection is made between the US and Japan.



Frank Sinatra (December 12th)

Don Budge (June 13th)

Kitty Carlisle (September 3rd)

David Rockefeller (June 12th)

Anthony Quinn (April 21st)


The Boston Red Sox win the World Series.


Movies of the time: Birth of a Nation and Carmen

(Academy Awards were not awarded until 1927)


Average annual income: $1,267

Average price of a new car: $390

Average price of a new house: $3,395

Price of gold per ounce: $20.67













Oh, I almost forgot; this is supposed to be about a coin:) Some day I'll own one of these:




Not My Coin



The obverse of the half dollar struck for this occasion depicts Columbia scattering flowers on the waves, with the Golden Gate in the background illuminated by the rays of the sun. The reverse bears an eagle with its wings open atop the Union shield.



Quantity Authorized:



Quantity Distributed:




Obverse by Charles E. Barber; reverse by George T. Morgan (with assistance by Barber)?;)


Interesting Facts:

This was the first commemorative coin struck at a branch mint (S). It was also the first commemorative to bear the national motto, IN GOD WE TRUST.

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Wow! What a great write up about the Lafayette commem! I definitely need to make time to read the whole thread. Isabella was even kind of a babe based on the picture you provided. What a great thread, lee.


thumbsup2.gifthumbsup2.gifwith a snap!

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Today we turn to the state of Illinois for our Commemorative story. I spent some of my early years growing up in a small town in Northern Indiana just over the border from Chicago so I've got some history here as well. This is my story and enjoy the ride:




Not My Coin



On December 3, 1818 Illinois was admitted to the Union as a new state. Not really all that long ago, as time goes. One hundred years later the Illinois Centennial was celebrated on a commemorative half dollar. This was one of th most popular issues, and most were sold to the public. The obverse features the bust right of Abraham Lincoln, modeled after the head of the Springfield, Illinois statue by Andrew O'Connor. The reverse motifs were adapted from the Great Seal of the state of Illinois.


Quantity Authorized: 100,000


Quantity Distributed: 100,058


Designers: Obverse by George T. Morgan; reverse by John R. Sinnock.


Interesting Fact: This issue set the precedent for other state and local events to be recognized on national commemorative half dollars.





Poster awarded first prize of $500 at Illinois Centennial celebration as well as additional prize of $100 as being judged the best by popular vote. Design by W.G. Sesser, Art Director, Advertising Artists, Inc, New York.



The Illinois Centennial Commission was created by a joint resolution of the General Assembly in 1913. It was composed of five members each from the House and Senate, three representatives of the University of Illinois, and two representatives of the Illinois Historical Society. Its duty was to prepare plans for the celebration of Illinois' centennial anniversary as a state in 1918 (L. 1913, p. 619). In 1916 it further was charged with arranging for the compilation of a commemorative history of the state. It expired in 1919 at which time it made a final accounting of its activities and expenditures to the General Assembly


The Illinois Centennial Monument


at Logan Square


Historic Logan Square was created at the northernmost terminus of the West Parks Boulevard System in the1870's, in a community incorporated as Jefferson Township. Originally planned and created by William Le Baron Jenney, architect of the first steel framed building or "skyscraper", these vast open park-like spaces were to become the City's boulevard system. The "Square" (Logan Square) was actually a large rectangular green-space extending from Albany to Wrightwood Avenues. This open space was bisected by Northwest Plank Road, later renamed Milwaukee Avenue. Later re-design of Logan Square proper and the addition of the monument superimposed the circular template on the square, visually reducing the park's boundary to Milwaukee Avenue and rounding the edges of the park. The boulevards were rethought by the famous landscape architect Jens Jensen and architect Daniel Burnham in the early part of the 20th Century, as part of the 1909 "Burnham Plan for Chicago".

The "Monument" which is situated in Logan Square commemorates the one-hundredth anniversary of the entry of the State of Illinois into the Union. It was dedicated in 1918 as the "Illinois Centennial Monument" and became the primary focal and vista point at the confluence/ terminus of both Kedzie and Humboldt Boulevards.







The architect of the Illinois Centennial Monument was Henry Bacon who also designed the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.. Mr. Bacon conceived a large single Doric column made of Tennessee pink marble resting on a base carved with bas-relief. The Doric column is based upon the same proportions and scale as the columns that compose the colonnade of The Parthenon in Athens, Greeks. Many have thought the Parthenon to be a perfectly proportioned structure, symbolizing the zenith of this ancient civilization. The analogy and symbolism linking the first early great democracy (Ancient Greece) with the foundations of our country's and state's basic democratic principals are brought together symbolically in this great monument. The tall slender marble column is topped by an eagle, the symbol of the State of Illinois and featured on the state flag as well being the symbol of The United States of America. In many respects, this is truly an American monument and must have appeared as such at its dedication, following the end of World War I.








The monument is 68 feet tall, with a stepped base measuring 15' 3" from the platform. The column is composed of 13 solid marble segments, each varying in height from 3' 1" at the top to 4' 0" at the bottom . Total column height is 42' 6" with a 15' 3" high base. The carved eagle atop the monument is 10 feet tall. The diameter of the column is 6' 4" at the base and tapers to 5' 0" at the capital. A reinforced concrete foundation extends down 38' 0" into the earth. The interlocking granite plinth stones, field stone paving, bronze light posts and granite benches are original to the Bacon design. The steps and pathway located to the east of the monument were added at a later date, replacing a series of circular paths that have now been consumed by a widening and curving of Kedzie Boulevard on the western side of the monument.

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Today we journey to 1920 to discuss the Maine Centennial Half Dollar. This issue is very difficult to find with nice color. I was fortunate to find one and share it here. I paid well above any listed sheet price for it too, with no regrets.









Following the earlier example set by Illinois, in 1920 Maine petitioned for a commemorative half dollar to be struck to honor the centennial of its own admission into the Union. Although the issue was struck too late for the centennial celebration in Portland, Maine, the public liked the new coin, and initial sales were brisk. The obverse shows the arms of the state of Maine. The reverse bears a commemorative inscription within a wreath of pine branches, in keeping with the state's nickname, the Pine Tree State.


Quantity Authorized: 100,000


Quantity Distributed: 50,028


Designer: Obverse and reverse by Anthony de Francisici, after designs by an unknown Maine artist.


Interesting Fact: This issue was originally intended to circulate at face value, per an unadopted proposal made by a Maine legislator.very



Carl E. Milliken, governor of Maine, is being escorted by Passamaquoddy Governor William Neptune to the "Indian Village" set up in Deering Oaks Park, Portland, as part of the Maine Centennial celebration.



Members of the Passamaquoddy tribe attended the Maine Centennial celebrations in 1920. They set up an encampment in Deering Oaks Park in Portland which was called, "Indian Village."



This is one of many floats that were part of the Centennial Parade, July 5, 1920 in Portland. This float #23 celebrates the nurses serving in the American Red Cross.



The Pilgrim Trading Post was float number 19 in the Maine Centennial Parade, held in Portland, Maine, July 5, 1920 during the 10-day Centennial celebrations, June 26-July 5, 1920.



The Maine Centennial, 1820-1920 was held in Portland, Maine, June 26 through July 5, 1920. This float was entitled "Maine's Centennial Proclaims Welcome". On the float are representations of industry (granite), natural resources (lumber), and the figure of 'progress'.

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We're still in the year 1920 with the Pilgrim Tercentenary Half Dollar. The 1921 issue was the first additional variety specifically struck to increase sales of a particular commemorative issue to collectors. Many feel, myself included, that this was the issue that started the commercialization of the series and had a negative effect on the series.






Not My Coin



Commemorative coins were still something of a novelty in 1920 when Congress authorized the coining of half dollars to celebrate the three-hundredth anniversary of the arrival of the Pilgrims. Only eight commemorative coin programs had gone before. Some of these included multiple denominations, while a few even offered two different dates of the same design. These multi-date offerings usually resulted from bad timing on the part of the authorizing commissions. The Pilgrim Tercentenary half dollar of 1920-21, however, was the first issue coined with more than one date for the sole purpose of achieving repeat sales. It set an alarming precedent for future programs, since this gimmick would be repeated numerous times, much to the irritation of collectors.


This kind of scheming contrasts sharply with the Pilgrims themselves, who rejected material wealth, along with ostentatious display and gregarious behavior. It was their rejection of the Church of England, however, that earned them the title Separatists, as well as the wrath of Britain's King James I. Forced to flee to Holland, their price of freedom proved to be limited opportunities and a growing loss of their English culture in exchange for mere tolerance by the Dutch. Holland, certainly, was not the refuge they sought. With backing from a group of English investors hoping to reap profits in the New World, the Pilgrims sailed westward in the late summer of 1620, landing on November 11 at a place they named Provincetown Bay, on what would ultimately be called Cape Cod. With winter approaching, they quickly settled on a site for their colony, christening it Plymouth after their departure point from England.

Nearly starving that first year, only their instruction by natives in the planting of corn enabled the colonists to carry on. The next several summers brought new arrivals, and the Plymouth Colony thrived. Not everyone was a Separatist, however, and those who couldn't stand the severity of that lifestyle soon formed neighboring communities. The Pilgrim Separatists ultimately became a minority of the population, and the Plymouth Colony was absorbed into the greater Colony of Massachusetts in 1691.


The summer of 1920 witnessed many celebrations throughout New England marking the 300th anniversary of the Pilgrims' arrival. Among the souvenir items planned was a commemorative half dollar, the proceeds from which would be used to fund some of these events. The bill as originally read called for the minting of half a million pieces! Assured that this was a misprint, Congress instead approved a still-generous mintage of 300,000. The legislation was not passed until May 12, however: all those concerned would have to act quickly to get the coins into production.





Boston sculptor Cyrus E. Dallin was selected by the Tercentenary Commission to prepare models showing a portrait of Plymouth Colony Governor William Bradford and the Pilgrim's ship, the Mayflower, on which they made their historic journey in 1620. Dallin ran afoul of the Commission of Fine Arts' sculptor member, James Earle Fraser of Buffalo nickel fame, who found fault with his execution of the inscriptions: "Altogether the design for the Pilgrim fifty cent coin is good. The part that seems to me to need most attention if there is time is the lettering." Of course, there wasn't time to correct this, and the Fine Arts Commission's decision to not render a verdict on Dallin's models prompted the Treasury Department to simply disregard their comments and proceed with the preparation of dies. In October of 1920 a total of 200,112 Pilgrim halves were struck at the Philadelphia Mint, the odd 112 pieces being reserved for assay and later destroyed. The coins were first offered for sale at $1 apiece in November. Distribution was handled by the Shawmut National Bank of Boston and the coins were available at every bank in Boston and Plymouth. Although there was no official packaging, two types of boxes were privately produced. One was gold with a green coin sleeve inside, and was imprinted with PEOPLE'S SAVINGS BANK, WORCHESTER, MASS. The other, a white box with a circular coin slot, was imprinted with SOCIETY OF COLONIAL WARS, IN THE STATE OF RHODE ISLAND AND PROVIDENCE PLANTATIONS. Both of these are quite valuable today.



(An undated document used to obtain money from Congress to help pay for improvements to Pilgrim Monument states that nine out of 10 people would say the Pilgrims first landed at Plymouth Rock. But the pilgrims actually first arrived in Provincetown.)



The obverse of the Pilgrim Tercentenary half dollar portrays a left-facing, half-length figure of William Bradford, the second governor of the Plymouth Colony. He assumed this role in 1621 and was re-elected thirty times! The image is fanciful, as no actual portrait of him exists. He holds in his left arm what is most likely the Bible, but what has also been identified as his own book History of Plimmoth Plantation. Behind his portrait is the motto IN GOD WE TRUST, while the legends UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and PILGRIM HALF DOLLAR are arranged peripherally, separated by stars. Dallin's incuse initial D appears below Bradford's elbow. The reverse is dominated by a three-quarters view of the Mayflower sailing on rough seas. Its rigging is erroneous, the forward jib sail being of a type not utilized as early as 1620. The inscription PILGRIM TERCENTENARY CELEBRATION is arranged peripherally. Separated from it by stars are the dual dates 1620 - 1920.




(This undated congressional record proposes to remove buildings at the right and center for a direct path to the monument.)



Coming out so late in the year, much of the enthusiasm which might have greeted these coins during the summer months had already dissipated. Many thousands remained unsold as the town of Plymouth, Massachusetts prepared for additional commemorative activities during 1921. With sales resuming, but at a much slower pace, something was needed to prompt additional buyers or, better still, repeat buyers. As only 200,000 coins had been struck from the authorized figure of 300,000, the Tercentenary Commission requested that the remaining balance be minted with the date 1921. That date was added in small figures to the obverse field, and the additional 100,000 halves were minted in July of that year. Although there were some collectors who responded with repeat orders, the severe economic recession of 1921-22 worked against these coins becoming a financial bonanza for the Commission. Conceding that this issue had run its course, they returned to the mint for melting some 48,000 halves dated 1920 and 80,000 of the 1921 striking. This left net mintages of 152,000 for 1920 and just 20,000 for 1921.

As the 1920 coin was sold primarily to the general public, it is often encountered with ugly toning or harshly cleaned. It is readily available in grades up through MS-65 but quite scarce above that level. Much of the 1921 issue went directly to dealers and speculators, so in spite of its lower mintage, a larger proportion of high-grade survivors exists. In grades of MS-64 and higher, a few hundred have been certified. Wear on Pilgrim halves appears first on Bradford's cheekbone and the hair above his ear; on the reverse, check the crow's nest and stern of the Mayflower.



(The base of the Pilgrim Monument, 1921.)



(The harbor front near the Pilgrim Monument, 1921.)



(Buildings across from Town Hall, with the Pilgrim Monument above, taken during an engineers survey in 1921)



(The Pilgrim Monument stands tall above Provincetown, but finding the landmark isn't as easy as it should be)



A few of the 1921 Pilgrim halves will show die-clash marks but this feature is more commonly seen on the 1920 issue, often accompanied by die striations. Two matte proofs are known of the 1920 coinage, one of these from the estate of Mint engraver John R. Sinnock, while a single 1921 in matte proof is also rumored to exist.



Diameter: 30.6 millimeters

Weight: 12.5 grams

Composition: .900 silver, .100 copper

Edge: Reeded

Net Weight: .36169 ounce pure silver

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