Of the two people portrayed on obverse, the one identified as BIBB is William Wyatt Bibb (1780-1820). Alabama's first governor (1816-1820). KILBY is Thomas E. Kilby, governor of Alabama when the coins were minted. The 22 stars flanking these portraits refer to Alabama's being the 22nd state to enter the Union. December 14, 1819. This same message is repeated by the numerals in the cryptic 2 x 2 in right field; the X refers to the red St. Andrew's Cross found on the Alabama state flag.
The date 1921 refers not to the celebration - which was already long over with - but solely to the year of mintage. The 1921 date was added to conform to the Mint Act of 1873 which requires the actual date of striking to appear on all United States coins. On reverse, the 1819-11919 dates are the actual ones of the centennial, and the warlike eagle (with shield and arrows, but no olive branch for peace) is that of the Alabama state seal, which also yielded the motto HERE WE REST (no pun intended about the sleepy Deep South). The initials LGF behind the eagle are those of Laura Gardin Fraser, designer and illustrious sculptor.
The Alabama Centennial Commission, under Mrs. Marie Bankhead Owen, had been sponsoring local events statewide during 1919 and 1920. Eventually these people realized that other celebration commemorative coin project began. Profits, if any, accruing from sales of the coins had to go somewhere relevant; Slabaugh says they were earmarked for "historical and monumental" projects, whatever those might have been.
Originally the coin was to be of quarter dollar denomination, but by an amendment passed April 21, 1920, this was changed to read HALF DOLLAR. After the authorizing act became law on May 10, 1920, the Alabama Centennial Committee solicited and judged proposed designs, rejected them all, and came up with its own impossibly bad concept represented by Frank Spangler's sketch. On one side were portrayed jugate busts of James Monroe (president at Alabama's admission) and Woodrow Wilson (president at the time of the Centennial), with their name below, date 1920, statutory inscriptions and mottoes around. The other side - which they considered the obverse - was to display the State Capitol on Capitol Hill, complete with flag on dome and with steps leading up from Dexter Avenue in right foreground; *STATE OF ALABAMA* (the word of atop the dome), CENTENNIAL 1819 - 1919 below. Mint Director Banker sent these recommendations to Charles Moore, chairman of the Fine Arts Commission, who sent them to James Earle Fraser. Fraser, understandably, objected on the perfectly good grounds that buildings do not make good coins designs (our current cent and 5c pieces are dismal testimony to the fact!). From the Commission this objection went successively to Rep. Rainey, Governor Kilby, and Mrs. Owen, who on June 24, 1920, proposed that he building be replace by the Alabama State Seal design, more or less as it finally was to appear on the coins. For unknown reasons, no action followed; everyone was apparently waiting for the presidential election, because that might make a difference as to the notion of portraying Woodrow Wilson.
The 1920 election inflicted Warren G. Harding on the country. From the Alabama point of view, it was unthinkable to put this president on their coin since he was a Republican. And so a year later, on June 29, 1921 Mrs. Owen submitted new proposals for the design, featuring the jugate portraits of Bibb and Kilby rather than any presidents, and asked if bids could be taken for making the models and original dies. Nobody thought to remonstrate that portraying Kilby would be in violation of federal law (the Act of April 7, 1866) forbidding portrayal of any living individual on U.S. coins or currency. The Commission allowed the proposed designs to go through, but ignored the matter of submitting the proposal to bids. James Earle Fraser, as sculptor member of the Fine Arts Commission, assigned the project of making the models to his wife. This was a happy choice, as the overall design is excellent, the portraits successful, the eagle one of the finest ever to appear on a U.S. coin.
Unconfirmed rumors persist of a matte proof of the 2 x 2 variety. Normal specimens are weak on eagle's feet as in the illustrations of both varieties. So that any matte proof should be considerably sharper in that area as well as on most feathers. Weakness on feet is not to be taken as evidence of wear: note the enlarged illustration. Some early strikings of the "plain" variety show that the dies clashed, most plainly behind Kilby's head, where the clashed, most plainly behind Kilby's head, where the clash marks correspond to parts of the outline of shield. These clashed die coins are very scarce.