coinsbygary's Blog

26 Mar 2016

The Oregon Trail Memorial Half Dollar

Coins-United States | coinsbygary

The editor of “The Numismatist” in a November 1926 editorial declared that the bold and striking design of the Oregon Trail Memorial Half-Dollar was “much more appropriate for a medal than a coin”. Though the editor may have been technically correct, the collectors have had the last say as evidenced by an article by Q. David Bowers appearing in the October 1998 issue of “The Numismatist”. In that article Q. David Bowers writes that the “Society for United States Commemorative Coins” voted the Oregon Trail Memorial Half-Dollar their favorite commemorative.

The design of the Oregon Trail Memorial Half-Dollar isn’t the only component of this coin that endears it to collectors. For the collector interested in the history behind the coin, and the history of the coin, this coin has something for everyone. First, without the determination of Ezra Meeker and Dr. Minnie Howard there is no Oregon Trail Memorial Half-Dollar. Ezra Meeker first traversed the Oregon trail in 1852 with his wife and newborn child and sought to raise funds in order to place markers along the trail. Dr. Minnie Howard was a resident of Pocatello, Idaho which is in close proximity to Fort Hall, a major stop along the trail. Through their efforts, Congress authorized the minting of up to 6 million coins! Then there was the mismanagement of the proceeds from the coins by the Oregon Trail Memorial Association. On top of that there was an attempt to increase sales to collectors by introducing coins with different dates and mints.[
1] And if that isn’t enough there is confusion as to which is the obverse of this coin, the wagon side or the Indian side? Incidentally, the wagon side is considered to be the obverse by the US Mint while the Frasers consider the Indian side as the obverse.[2]

Not lost to me amidst all these story lines is the fact that this coin represents the only collaborative work done by both James Earle and Laura Gardin Fraser. Thus, with two of that days more accomplished sculptors designing the coin it is no wonder to me why this coin is so highly regarded among collectors. Besides the obverse/reverse confusion there is confusion as to which Fraser designed which side. Conventional wisdom has that Laura designed the conestoga wagon side because animals were among her favorite subjects for sculpting and likewise James the Indian side because of his skill sculpting Indians.[
3] However, Mitch Sanders writes in the July, 2013 issue of “The Numismatist” on page 105 that James designed the wagon side while Laura did the Indian. Incidentally, Laura produced the plaster models for both sides of the coin based on James and her’s drawings. Then in order to expedite production of the coins Laura had the Medallic Art Company make the hubs that she then hand carried to the Philadelphia Mint.[4]

Despite all this, what I find most intriguing is the monogram on the coin’s reverse (Fraser definition). The monogram has the initials JE and LG in small letters on top of each other with one large F on the end. To me this signifies the Biblical definition of marriage that the two shall become one. Though James Earle and Laura Gardin Fraser had no children, they had a wonderful marriage that spanned 40 years and only ended with the death of James in 1953.

Laura had this to say about their life together: We talked and laughed and competed all our lives. When we weren't working, we were talking, and we never grew tired of each other or ran out of subject matter to discuss or argue about. The theatre and [New York] Philharmonic were our favorite social events. We could spend literally days discussing a play or a concert. Good acting always thrilled us, as did the strength and beauty of poetic writing. Of course our own creative work was our life. It was that way to the end. A few minutes before Jimmy passed away, I sat on the edge of his bed and started talking about our doing a Lincoln. He just beamed with excitement. I didn't want him to overexert himself, so I thought I better leave. I got up and
walked to the door, then turned around and looked at Jimmy. He raised his head, nodded, and looked at me, smiled and said, “By golly, Laura, we’ll do a colossal Lincoln...together!” [5]

The Numismatist, November 2014, “Sunrise at Pocatello”
Commemorative Coins of the United States by Q. David Bowers, Chapter 8
The Numismatist, November 2014, “Sunrise at Pocatello”
Commemorative Coins of the United States by Q. David Bowers, Chapter 8; The Numismatist, November 2014, “Sunrise at Pocatello”
End of the Trail the Odyssey of a Statue by Dean Krakel Epilogue “Something more beautiful for America”



Pliny The Elder

Level 5

Great bog, photos and great writing. thanks!


Level 5



Level 7

Hi guy! What happened I can't get a message to you? I hope every things OK. Get back to me. I want to verify something mike


Level 6

Really beautiful coin and a great article! I have some of these in my collection and I must say they are one of my favorite designs!


Level 5

A truly great story for a coin. Thanks for the article and the pictures.


Level 5

Beautiful coin , great history, and I still love the way you do your photos of the coins with the words and label!


Level 6

Thanks for a very well written article. My wife loves coins. Maybe This will get her to post them. Also,thanks for the list of sourcing material.


Level 7

A beautiful coin! I'm telling you I must of bought that ten years ago and I still love it. Thank for the history. Alot of collectors do not think the history is important. No history no learning. I've learned more about these women than I ever could. Thanks to you. Enjoy them like I have.mike

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