Dates 1836 - 1936 allude to the centennial of admission of Arkansas to the Union (June 15, 1836). The two watered-down Art Deco heads are more enigmatic. What looks vaguely like either a prizefighter or an Aztec chieftain, though with a feathered headdress, is evidently intended for a Quapaw Indian since this friendly tribe formed the greater part of the population of what become the Territory of Arkansaw. As the female head wears a Phrygian cap, we can assume that it is intended for a 1936 version of Ms. Liberty. There is no clue to the type of plant forming her garland; appropriate leaves could include apple, oak, hickory, sweet gum, or cypress-or most of all, perhaps, cotton.
Reverse symbolism is extremely complicated, in some ways more so even than on the Texas coins, though not quite so crowded in execution. Behind the eagle is a diamond-shaped symbol derived from the state flag, referring to Arkansas's diamond field (then the only one in the United States) in Pike County. (On Burr's original sketch for the coin, the actual state flag was shown behind the eagle, allegedly referring to federal protection of the state - but this was an obvious attempt to defuse possible objections to the Confederate symbolism).
On this diamond symbol are 13 stars, which do not refer to the 13 original colonies, though possibly the designer and the Centennial Commission intended that gullible "damyankees" should make such an erroneous assumption. Any local yokel could identify these as the upper half of the complete array of 25 stars in the state flag. Within the diamond are four more stars, the three lower ones representing the three flags which had flown over the Territory (Spain, France, and the United States), and more obscurely, also representing Arkansas position as the third state to be carved out of Louisiana Purchase lands. Above the three is the largest star of all, representing the state's participation in the Confederacy. Its position suggests that the "South Will Rise Again"; a notion common to folklore statewide and throughout the South.
In addition, the Rising Sun behind the eagle and state flag device has been taken locally to mean the Rising South. That would automatically suggest that its seven longest rays (above the state flag emblem) mean the seven original seceding states (South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas), while the six shorter rays flanking the eagle mean the six rebel states which joined later (Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri, Kentucky). In that context, showing only the top 13 stars on the diamond emblem would suggest to locals not the 13 original colonies but the 13 seceding states. During the Great Depression of 1929-37, this writer W.B. was a boy in the South and everywhere one heard proconfedrate sentiment taking such forms as "Those damyankees in the New York and Washington messed around with our tax money and the stock market, and now because of them we ain't got grocery money or jobs to earn any. We did better than that under Jeff Davis. All we need now is somebody to start the march on Washington - we'll be marching right there behind him!" And there were always the inevitable "Save your Confederate money, boys, the South will rise again!"
Is it unreasonable to assume that this sentiment was known to the Arkansas Centennial Commission and their local-talent artists Edward Everett Burr and Emily Bates? Certainly local people would have interpreted the coin designs this way, and the Commission must have known it.
We do know that the reverse design elements had most of the described symbolic meanings, because Burr spelled them out in correspondence with H.P. Caemmerer, of the Federal Commission of Fine Arts. The only conjectural element, in fact, is the identification of the Rising Sun with the Rising South, and this is more obvious than a lot of what Burr had painstakingly described. Date below HALF DOLLAR is that of issue of the particular coins; the D or S mintmark is at lower right.
Local statewide celebrations, the most important being in Little Rock, honoring the Centennial. The coins were authorized by the Act of May 14, 1934.
Fund raising for local celebrations. We suspect also that the 1936 date would be taken as the 75th anniversary of Arkansas joining the Confederacy; naturally, this could not be put into print, thought it was certainly known locally.
A single matte proof of 1935 Philadelphia is reported. This coin was seen by Wayte Raymond. It should have full breast feathers. Slabaugh mentions a "hub impression" of the 1935 s reverse, in bronze. We have not seen this piece, and suspect that it may possibly be confused with the die trial of the 1935 reverse, with an s mintmark punched directly into the piece, evidently to show where it should be located. This item is on a broad thick irregular copper or bronze planchet; it first came to our attention in 1959.
There exist two matte proof 1938 sets struck at the Philadelphia Mint. Both were made for John R. Sinnock before the dies were shipped to the Denver and San Francisco Mints. Upon inspection all three coins will not compare in strike with the Robinson Arkansas because that issue possesses more die relief. Simply compared with a business-strike '38 set, the difference cannot be missed.
To date we have seen about 50 sets dated 1937-1938 in the black cases described above, the lids of which are all dated 1937. About the same number of 1939 sets are found in the uninscribed boxes. A few 1935-1936 coins are found in original envelopes of issue; the holders, unfortunately, are those same uninscribed Dennison mailers. WE illustrate one with the original envelope; any such set with the envelope is an extreme rarity.