News from the SaddleBrooke Coin Club

Ken Marich

The Columbian Half Dollar is the first U. S. commemorative coin. It was issued to honor the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ first voyage to the New World and to help defray the costs of the 1892 World’s Columbian Exposition. There was fierce competition for the city where the Columbian Exposition would be held. Cities competing to host the Exposition included St. Louis, Chicago, New York City and Washington D.C. In an effort to influence the U.S. Congress, Chicago businesses raised $5 million to pledge to the fair and promised to double the amount if Chicago was selected. After eight ballots Congress finally selected Chicago. The Columbian Exposition was considered the greatest event of its kind in history. As a publicity stunt the Remington Typewriter Co. bought the first proof Columbian Half Dollar for $10,000. This coin had special significance as it was the first U.S. legal tender coin to bear the portrait of a foreigner.

The Columbian Half Dollar is a beautiful coin with lots of history. The obverse features the bust of Christopher Columbus and was designed by Charles E. Barber. The reverse was designed by George T. Morgan and shows the Santa Maria ship above two hemispheres flanked by the date 1492. The coins were minted at the Philadelphia Mint and are made of 90 percent silver and ten percent copper. The exposition was scheduled to open in October 1892 but was delayed and opened in May 1893. Therefore, the first coins issued were dated 1892 and the second coins issued bore the date 1893. Congress authorized 5 million half dollars to be struck, far beyond the actual demand. Fewer than 400,000 were sold at the premium price of $1.00 each. Of the remaining coins, 2 million were released into circulation as legal tender and approximately 2.5 million were melted. At the same time the Board of Lady Managers of the Exposition requested a commemorative coin featuring a woman, thus the creation of the Isabella quarter. The coin was designed by Charles Barber in honor of Spanish Queen Isabella I of Spain and its composition was the same as the Columbian Half Dollar. The mintage of the Isabella quarter was limited to 40,000 coins and was to be sold at $1.00 each. It did not sell well and 20,000 coins were melted and the rest were later sold to collectors or put into circulation.

Today, the Columbian Half Dollar can be purchased for $20-$45 and the Isabella Quarter sells for $250-$400 primarily due to the extremely low mintage. These coins are true collector items and make great gifts. The SaddleBrooke Coin Club meets on the second Thursday of each month in the Sonoran Room in the MountainView Clubhouse from 7:00-9:00 p.m. On September 13, Terry Caldwell will give a presentation on “The History of Peace Dollars”. Mark your calendar September 13, October 11, November 8. For more information contact Terry Caldwell at 719-246-1822 or [email protected].