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THE ARKANSAS-ROBINSON HALF DOLLAR

The Corpus Delicti: Alias Arkansas-Robinson or Robinson.

Clues: Senator Joseph T. Robinson (D.-Ark.) had come to prominence originally in the House of Representatives (1903-13), being elected governor of Arkansas in 1913 but resigning at once to take a Senate seat, which he held until his death (July 4, 1937). In 1928, he was nominated for Vice President as Al Smith's running mate; from 1933 to 1937 Robinson was Senate Majority Leader, responsible for promoting passage of many New Deal bills, and generally thought of in Arkansas as a public benefactor, or in a common phrase of the time, "the best thing since sliced bread." This sentiment ensured the Senator's place on this coin's obverse. The eagle side is the same found on the regular Arkansas Centennial coins. Initial k at lower right (below the b of Robinson) stands for Henry Kreis, designer, sculptor.

Opportunity: When the Texas Centennial Commission introduced a bill into Congress in 1936 to authorize five new reverses for the Texas half dollars, the Arkansas Centennial Commission at once demanded three for their own coin. After the Texas bill failed, that for Arkansas was amended to permit one alteration on reverse, not less than 25,000 nor more than 50,000 coins to be made of the new design, over and above those made or still to be made of the original design; and it passed, becoming the Act of June 26, 1936, Public Law 831 (74th Congress).

Motive: Originally, rivalry with the Texas commission and, beyond doubt, That Five Finger Word.

Suspects: Henry Kreis, designer, sculptor.

Accessories: The Arkansas Centennial Commission, which specified the portrait of Robinson.

Modus Operandi: The authorizing act specified that the change was to be made in the reverse, but as the original act creating the Arkansas halves in 1934 did not specify designs, the Commission interpreted the eagle side to mean the obverse and gave Henry Kreis the contract to make Senator Robinson's coin portrait. Robinson was then very much alive and at the height of his career; however, nobody bothered to object that portrayal of a living person on coins had been illegal since 1866, especially with the precedents of Alabama's Governor Kilby and Virginia's Senator Carter Glass. As the authorizing act specified that the coins were to bear the date 1936 no matter in what year they were struck (to discourage issue of multiple date varieties), the Robinson coins have this date on both sides.

After the Federal Commission of Fine Arts approved the new design on December 23, 1936, Kreis' model went to the Philadelphia Mint, and the coins were struck in January 1937. In all 25,250 plus 15 reserved for assay were struck. These coins went to the Commission's official distributor, Stack's, who marketed them at $1.85 each in specially imprinted Eggers holders (capacity not over 5 coins each). For details about these holders, see below.

Sales continued, though they dwindled with a generalized distrust of commemorative coins. A. Kosoff purchased the remaining 8,000 Robinsons, so that none had to be returned for remelting; but this hoard has long since been dispersed.

Collateral Evidence: We illustrate the special imprinted holders. According to an eyewitness, per the late Sol Kaplan, the first few specimens struck were satin finish proofs. The very first one made was caught by the press operator in gloved hands (to avoid its falling against anything), who passed it on to another witness (not identified except that he was not a numismatist!), who dropped it, leaving a minute nick in field above tr of trust from when it struck the rim of a container. This piece was set aside; then the next three strikings were earmarked for Senator Robinson, Mrs. Robinson, and President Roosevelt. The actual Number One striking (detail illustration) was enveloped along with at least four other satin finish proofs to be given later to a representative of the Arkansas Centennial Commission. At least four of the proofs went from the Commission to the illustrious numismatist Wayte Raymond. (However, Stack's has no record of ever having handled any, despite being official distributor.) Wayte Raymond's four examples went from his estate to the New Netherlands Coin Company, which auctioned one of them as NN 61:572 (June 30, 1970).


Original holder showing a photo of Senator Joseph T. Robinson with slots that could hold up to a five coin order.

Satin finish proofs are, needless to say, exceedingly rare. Their surface is entirely unlike the normal frosted mint surface of business strikes, being somewhat nearer to that found on 1909 Lincoln cents and Roman finish 1909-1910 gold coins, but not identical to either. However, any reader believing himself fortunate enough to have one of these proof Robinsons is advised to compare his coin with the business strike pictured at the head of this page. Critical areas include Senator Robinson's hair above and immediately before ear, central feathers, motto scroll where it passes over feathers, and ridges on claws. The enlarged areas from the Number One proof are most instructive on comparison with regular coins!

One of these exceedingly rare genuine proof specimens was sold in 1979 for $8,900, which should be considered a steal.



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