Many things have been written about the United States Classic Commemorative coins from 1892-1954. Many of the basic facts of the designers, the mintages and of the events commemorated by the coins are easily found and often repeated in various sources. I have collected the silver classic commemoratives for many years and I am writing this guide to share various facts on each of the issues which I thought were of particular interest. Some of these facts are well-known, others are not. Of course, some coins have many interesting facts while others are fairly boring. The system would not let me upload everything in one post, so I will break up this blog into five parts total, each covering ten of the classic commemoratives. I hope that you enjoy, thanks!
#21 - 1934 Maryland Tercentenary
The image of Cecil Calvert, also known as Lord Baltimore, on the obverse of the Maryland Tercentenary half dollar may not be Calvert. The image was based on a painting that showed the individual wearing a Puritan collar even though Calvert was a Catholic. The Commission of Fine Arts recommended changing the collar on the coin design, but the collar was maintained to match the painting.
#22 - 1934-1938 Texas Independence Centennial
The Texas Independence Centennial half dollars has one of the most crowded designs of any commemorative half dollar. Because of the crowded design, hardly any open fields remain making grading the coins very difficult.
The Texas Independence Centennial half dollars were issued for two years before and two years after the actual centennial date of 1936. There was an attempt to create five new reverse designs for the coin in 1936, but the proposal was rejected by Congress.
#23 - 1934-1938 Daniel Boone Bicentennial
The Daniel Boone Bicentennial half dollar is very similar in design to the Missouri Centennial half dollar. Both designs feature Boone on the obverse and the standing figures of Boone and an Indian on the reverse.
A portion of the 1935 dated Daniel Boone Bicentennial half dollars do not carry the bicentennial date of 1934 which was added to the reverse design after the striking of the 1935 coins had started.
#24 - 1935 Connecticut Tercentenary
In most cases, the costs of designing and producing the classic commemorative half dollars were paid by the organizations who sponsored the commemoratives. That was not the case with the Connecticut Tercentenary half dollar which was a program funded through the Works Progress Administration, one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal agencies.
In 1958, there was a request for the reissuance of the Connecticut Tercentenary half dollar but the request was rejected by the Mint.
#25 - 1935-1939 Arkansas Centennial
In 1936, Arkansas attempted to obtain three additional reverse designs for the Arkansas Centennial half dollars. Only one new reverse design was authorized, the Arkansas-Robinson half dollar, which is collected as a separate type and is discussed further as #26 in our list.
There are 13 stars on the diamond emblem on the reverse of the Arkansas Centennial half dollar. Some sources state this is symbolic of the original 13 colonies or first 13 states to join the Union. Other sources claim the 13 stars are symbolic of Arkansas being the 13th state to secede from the Union during the Civil War.
#26 - 1936 Arkansas Centennial (Robinson)
In 1936, Arkansas attempted to obtain three additional reverse designs for the Arkansas Centennial half dollars. Only one new design was authorized, the Arkansas-Robinson half dollar, which is collected as a separate type from the standard Arkansas Centennial half dollar. Although the Act authorizing this coin refers to the Robinson side as the reverse, most collectors consider that side the obverse of the coin.
Although minted in January 1937, the coins are dated 1936 as the Act authorizing the coins specifically mandated.
The Arkansas-Robinson half dollars are one of the few United States coins to bear the portrait of a then-living person. Robinson was a United States Senate Majority Leader in 1936 and voted for the legislation to allow for the design change which ultimately resulted in his portrait being placed on the coin against his wishes.
#27 - 1935 Hudson New York Sesquicentennial
The Hudson New York Sesquicentennial half dollar commemorates the incorporation of the City of Hudson although that city was settled nearly 125 years before incorporation. Despite the belief of many casual collectors, the half dollar does not commemorate Henry Hudson.
Although the Hudson New York Sesquicentennial half dollars were initially issued for $1 each, most of the mintage was quickly bought by speculators who quickly increased the prices to $5 or more per coin. One coin dealer alone was believed to have purchased 7,500 of the 10,000 coins minted.
#28 - 1935-1936 California Pacific International Exposition San Diego
Many examples of the California Pacific International Exposition San Diego half dollar were unsold at the end of 1935. Instead of continuing sales of those coins into the next year, the commission handling sales had a recoinage bill passed in Congress authorizing new coins dated 1936 to be struck. A total of 180,000 of the 1935-S coins were melted to be recoined into 1936-D examples.
The California Pacific International Exposition San Diego half dollar is one of the few commemorative half dollars to be coined solely at the branch mints. All coins were minted in either Denver or San Francisco; no examples were minted in Philadelphia.
#29 - 1935 Old Spanish Trail
The Old Spanish Trail half dollar commemorates the 400th anniversary of the expedition of Cabeza de Vaca and the opening of the Old Spanish Trail. Since no portrait of Cabeza de Vaca existed, the designer of the coin used a cow's head since the literal translation of his name from Spanish is "head of a cow." The explorer was also known to have left cow skulls along the trail to mark the path so his followers would know the route.
The Old Spanish Trail half dollar was designed by a collector, Mr. L.W. Hoffecker, who later went on to become President of the American Numismatic Association. Mr. Hoffecker was able to convince Congress to authorize the Old Spanish Trail half dollar and issue the entire mintage to him to be distributed in the manner and price as he saw fit. Congress later investigated the distribution of the Old Spanish Trail half dollar and Hoffecker maintained the distribution was fair and most of the coins went to collectors. Over 100 examples of the Old Spanish Trail half dollar were sold from Hoffecker's estate in 1982 and 1987
#30 - 1936 Providence Rhode Island Tercentenary
The Providence Rhode Island Tercentenary half dollar was very popular at the time of issue. It was widely reported that nearly the entire mintage was sold within six hours on the first day of release. Later evidence revealed this was a false report and that other coins later became available at higher prices. This matter became a major scandal that has been cited as one of the major abuses of the commemorative coin programs.