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,
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
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