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The Columbian Exposition Coinages

The suggestion for the first commemorative coin came from the managers of the World’s Fair with a proposal to the Government that a special issue amounting to $20,000,000 in fifty-cent pieces be coined for use at the Exposition. This proposition met with the approval of the Secretary of the Treasury and the Director of the Mint. Apparently, the original intention was that they be used primarily for admission, and also as souvenirs of the Fair. The idea of selling them at twice their face-value was an additional consideration in view of the financial need of the vast undertaking.

Two denominations were coined; half-dollars in 1892 and 1893, and a quarter-dollar in 1893. The plan for the coinage of the half-dollars was placed before Congress and the following Act was approved:

[Public—No. 203—52d Congress]

An Act To aid in carrying out the act of Congress approved April twenty-fifth, eighteen hundred and ninety, entitled “An act to provide for celebrating the four hundredth anniversary of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus, by holding an international exposition of arts, industries, manufactures, and products of the soil, mine, and sea, in the city of Chicago, in the State of Illinois,” and appropriating money therefor.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That for the purpose of aiding in defraying the cost of completing in a suitable manner the work of preparation for inaugurating the World’s Columbian Exposition, authorized by the act of Congress approved April twenty-fifth, anno Domini eighteen hundred and ninety, to be held at the city of Chicago, in the State of Illinois, there shall be coined at the mints of the United States silver half-dollars of the legal weight and fineness, not to exceed five million pieces, to be known as the Columbian half-dollar, struck in commemoration of the World’s Columbian Exposition, the devices and designs upon which shall be prescribed by the Director of the Mint, with the approval of the Secretary of the Treasury; and said silver coins shall be manufactured from uncurrent subsidiary silver coins now in the Treasury, and all provisions of law relative to the coinage, legal-tender quality, and redemption of the present subsidiary silver coins shall be applicable to the coins issued under this act, and when so recoined there is hereby appropriated from the Treasury the said five millions of souvenir half-dollars, and the Secretary of the Treasury is authorized to pay the same to the World’s Columbian Exposition, upon estimates and vouchers certified by the president of the World’s Columbian Exposition, … Provided, however, That before the Secretary of the Treasury shall pay to the World’s Columbian Exposition any part of the said five million silver coins, satisfactory evidence shall be furnished him showing that the sum of at least ten million dollars has been collected and disbursed as required by said act: And provided, That the said World’s Columbian Exposition shall furnish a satisfactory guaranty to the Secretary of the Treasury that any further sum actually necessary to complete the work of said Exposition to the opening thereof has been or will be provided by said World’s Columbian Exposition; but nothing herein shall be so construed as to delay or postpone the preparation of the souvenir coins hereinbefore provided for. And there is hereby appropriated, out of any moneys in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, the sum of fifty thousand dollars, or so much thereof as may be necessary, to reimburse the Treasury for loss on the recoinage herein authorized.

Approved, August 5, 1892.

Many trial designs were made for the half-dollar because there was doubt as to which portrait of Columbus would be accepted. The reverse also was the subject of discussion, as it was announced to the press that the Administration Building at the Fair would be used; other accounts stated that the reverse would depict the three vessels of Columbus. The accepted designs were prepared by the engravers at the Philadelphia Mint. C. E. Barber and G. T. Morgan designed the obverse and reverse of the coin, respectively. The portrait of Columbus was taken from the medal struck at Madrid in 1892 to mark the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery.

On November 19, 1892, the first piece was struck at the Philadelphia Mint, a memorable date in the history of the United States commemorative coinage.

It is interesting to note that the two acts authorizing the Columbian Exposition coinages provided that “uncurrent subsidiary silver” be the source of the silver used in these souvenir issues. From this provision, one may be reasonably sure that the majority of the Columbian Exposition coins contain the metal used in the “seated-liberty” series which had been coined during the previous half-century.

In January, 1893, Mrs. Potter Palmer suggested to the Appropriations Committee of the House of Representatives that $10,000 of the appropriation for the Board of Lady Managers of the World’s Columbian Exposition be given in the form of souvenir quarter-dollars. The authority for this coinage follows:

Sundry Civil Appropriation Law

World’s Columbian Commission; … and ten thousand dollars of the appropriation for the Board of Lady Managers shall be paid in souvenir coins of the denomination of twenty-five cents, and for that purpose there shall be coined at the Mints of the United States silver quarter-dollars of the legal weight and fineness, not to exceed forty thousand pieces, the devices and designs upon which shall be prescribed by the Director of the Mint, with the approval of the Secretary of the Treasury; and said silver coins shall be manufactured from uncurrent subsidiary silver coins now in the Treasury; and all provisions of law relative to the coinage, legal-tender quality, and redemption of the present subsidiary silver coins shall be applicable to the coins herein authorized to be issued.

March 3, 1893.

This coin is the work of C. E. Barber, and is the only coin of the United States bearing the head of a sovereign. It was also the first United States commemorative coin released with a royal crown on it.

The coinage of the quarter-dollars began on June 13, 1893. The first, 400th, 1492nd and 1892nd impressions were selected, and certificates stating the facts were forwarded to Chicago.

The first Columbian Exposition half-dollar struck, previously mentioned, was sold at a substantial premium. The Remington Company purchased it for $10,000 and it was presented to the new Columbian Museum (now the Field Museum of Natural History) in Chicago. The 400th, 1892nd, and 1892nd pieces were reserved and were sold at high prices. The rest were offered to the public at one dollar each. The quarter-dollars were sold through the Board of Lady Managers at one dollar each.

There were coined 950,000 of the half-dollars in 1892 and 4,052,105 dated 1893, a total of 5,002,105 pieces, or $2,501,052.50 in value. A total of 40,023 quarter-dollars were coined in 1893. Although there appears to be no record of coinage of proofs, all there issues appear from time to time in brilliant proof condition.

Entirely too many coins of this first souvenir issue were struck, and at the close of the Exposition nearly 3,000,000 half-dollars remained unsold—about 1,400,000 being held in the Treasury at Washington, 900,000 In Chicago and 141,700 in the Philadelphia Mint. This large remainder became the subject of discussion between the Exposition managers and Secretary of the Treasury Carlisle. The Fair managers did not favor having these pieces put into circulation as this would be manifestly unfair to those who had purchased them at one dollar each. Nevertheless, many were subsequently thrown into circulation at face value. Today the half-dollars are among the few souvenir coins that are in any way familiar to the average person. The quarter-dollars were not nearly so well known as the half-dollars, and at the end of the Exposition 15,809 unsold pieces were returned to the Mint and melted.

When the half-dollars appeared, their reception by the public—us Is Invariably the case with a new coin design—was unfavorable. The flatness of the head was much criticized. The “Philadelphia Ledger” was undecided as to whether the portrait was intended for Daniel Webster or Henry Ward Beecher. Another paper was certain that it must be a portrait of Sitting Bull. The reverse, too, caused much criticism which was meant to be humorous—especially that concerning the “ship on wheels.” The portrait of Columbus is truly a nineteenth century interpretation rather than a factual representation of a coarse, fearless European sailor of the fifteenth century.

Obv. Bust of Columbus, beardless, to right; above: united states of America; below: *Columbian half dollar* A small incused B for Barber on left truncation of collar. Entire design within beaded border.
Rev. A three-masted caravel sailing to left, representing Columbus’ flagship, the “Santa Maria”; below, two hemispheres dividing date 14—92; around edge: world’s Columbian exposition Chicago Below: *1892* A small M for Morgan in relief at end of poop deck where port side of mainsail and lateen cross. Entire design within beaded border.

Edge.Reeded.30 mm. Silver.

Lettering. Roman.

2. Same but dated 1893 on reverse.

In April, designs for the quarter-dollar were submitted by the Treasury Department to the Board of Lady Managers. Two models of the obverse were sent, one with the profile of Isabella as a young queen (which was the one selected) and the other with the facing head of the mature queen. The reverse shows the kneeling figure of a woman holding a distaff, emblematic of woman’s industry. The design first considered was the Women’s Building at the Fair.

The quarter-dollar was about as much heralded in the press as the half-dollar, and on the whole the idea received favorable comment. The pieces were greeted with much criticism when issued, and com-pared unfavorably with the work in design and sculpture at the Exposition itself.

Obv. Crowned bust of Queen Isabella of Spain, to left; around border: UNITED STATES—OF AMERICA In field behind head: 1893 parallel to AMERICA. All within beaded border.
A kneeling female to left, a distaff in left hand, and spindle in right; around upper border:• board OF LADY managers• and around lower border: COLUMBIAN QUAR. DOL. All within beaded border.
Reeded.24 mm. Silver.
Roman.
A series of special postage stamps was also issued in connection with the Columbian Exposition, and of this series the three cent and five dollar denominations are of particular interest, in that the flagship of Columbus pictured on the reverse of the half-dollar is shown on the three cent stamp. The portrait of Columbus on the five dollar stamp is taken from the model of the obverse of the half-dollar, but it faces in the opposite direction.

A number of leather and plush pocket cases made for the half-dollars were sold at the Exposition.

THE LAFAYETTE SILVER DOLLAR

In 1900, there was erected during the period of the Exposition in Paris, a monument to General Lafayette—the gift of the American people. About $50,000 of the funds required were contributed by the pennies of the school children of America. The planning, financing and erecting of this statue was undertaken by the Lafayette Memorial Commission. The statue itself was the work of Paul Bartlett.

In the early part of 1899, the Commission asked Congress to make its Monument appropriation in the form of 100,000 souvenir half-dollars. This idea was soon changed to a silver dollar for a souvenir, and the Lafayette Souvenir Dollar came into being by the Act of Congress.

[EXTRACT FROM]

[PUBLIC—NO. 188—55TH CONGRESS]

LAFAYETTE MONUMENT: For the purpose of aiding in defraying the cost of a pedestal, and completing in a suitable manner the work of erecting a monument in the city of Paris to General Lafayette, designed by the Lafayette Memorial Commission, as a feature of the participation of the United States in the Paris Exposition of nineteen hundred the Secretary of the Treasury shall be, and is hereby authorized to purchase in the market twenty-five thousand dollars worth of silver bullion, or so much thereof as may be necessary for the purpose herein provided for, from which there shall be coined at the mints of the United States silver dollars of the legal weight and fineness to the number of fifty thousand pieces, to be known as the Lafayette dollar, struck in commemoration of the erection of a monument to General Lafayette, in the city of Paris, France, by the youth of the United States, the devices and designs upon which coins shall be prescribed by the Director of the Mint, with the approval of the Secretary of the Treasury, and all provisions of law, relative to the coinage, and legal tender quality, of the present silver dollars shall be applicable to the coins issued under this Act, and when so coined, there is hereby appropriated from the Treasury the said fifty thousand of souvenir dollars, and the Secretary of the Treasury is authorized to place the same at the disposal of the Lafayette Memorial Commission, a commission organized under the direction and authority of the Commissioner-General for the United States to the Paris Exposition of nineteen hundred.

Approved, March 3, 1899.

According to the Report of the Director of the Mint for 1900, the silver for this issue, consisting of 38,675.875 ounces of fine silver, was purchased in the open market for $23,032.80. This provided for the striking of 50,000 of these coins at the Philadelphia Mint. In all, 50,026 pieces were struck.

The fact that this Act specified that the silver was to be purchased in the market is worthy of note because of the special arrangements in the Columbian issues which provided for the coinage from un-current subsidiary silver.

The coins were to be sold for two dollars each; and again there were comments in the newspapers questioning the ulterior motives of Congress in making the people pay.

While the designs were in progress, some difficulty arose over the date. The Commissioners desired the delivery of these pieces as early as possible in the year 1899, although the coins were to bear the date 1900. It was contrary to the practice of the Mint to anticipate the dating of a coin. The difficulty was happily avoided by wording the inscription “Erected by the youth of the United States … 1900.” This date, therefore, was independent of the year in which the coin was struck. The coinage took place on December 14th, 1899, the one-hundredth anniversary of the death of Washington. The entire issue was struck in one day on an old coining-press which made eighty coins per minute. The first coin struck was forwarded to President McKinley who sent it to the President of the French Republic.

The dies were cut by C. E. Barber, of the Mint; the head of Washington was from the Houdon bust, and the head of Lafayette was from the “Defender of American and French Liberty” medal made by the French artist Caunois, in 1824. The statue on the reverse was taken from Bartlett’s before a number of final changes were made and differs in many respects from the statue as it now stands in Paris.

Obv. Heads of Washington and Lafayette, jugate to right; above: UNITED•STATES•OF•AMERICA, below: ☆ LAFAYETTE•DOLLAR ☆ All within beaded border.
Rev. Equestrian statue of General Lafayette to left, holding in right hand sword pointed downward. On base of statue, palm branch with fourteen leaves, and sculptor’s name: Bartlett. Around border: ERECTED•BY•THE•YOUTH•OF•THE•UNITED•STATES•IN•HONOR•OF•GEN•LAFAYETTE; in exergue, PARIS ☆ 1900 ☆ All within beaded border.

Edge.Reeded.38 mm. Silver.

Lettering. Roman.

It has been shown that the Lafayette Dollar was struck from varying die combinations, as noted below.

A. Obv. Left foot of last A in AMERICA is recut, and the A in STATES is high.

The palm branch has fourteen leaves, with a short stem bent downwards. (Illustrated.)
Obv. AT in STATES has been recut, and the final S is low. The F’s in of and LAFAYETTE are broken from the lower tip of the crossbar to the right base extension, and AMERICA is spaced A ME RI C A The period following OF is close to the A of AMERICA. The tip of Lafayette’s bust falls to the right of the top of the first L in DOLLAR.
The palm branch at the base of the statue has fifteen thin leaves on an up-turned short stem. The point of the lowest leaf falls over the center of the 9 in 1900.
C.Obv.A small point on bust of Washington; the tip of Lafayette’s bust falls over the top of the L in DOLLAR. AT in STATES is cut high.

The palm branch has fourteen short leaves and a short stem; the last leaf falls between the 1 and 9 of 1900.
D.Obv.Same as “C.”

The palm branch has a stem with fourteen long leaves, and the last leaf falls over the 1 of 1900.
The dollar is interesting, in that for the first time on a governmental coin one of our Presidents is portrayed—a precedent since followed on other souvenir coins, and on the Lincoln cent and the Washington quarter of the standard issues.

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