In commemoration of the one hundredth anniversary of the incorporation of the city of Bridgeport a special Half Dollar piece was authorized May 15, 1936.
In this very Art Deco composition little really calls for explanation except the date 1836 (for a city founded in 1639!) and the choice of P.T.Barnum, of all imaginable people, for portrayal. The date 1836 alludes to incorporation of Bridgeport as a city; the head of Barnum has less to do with his "There's a sucker born every minute" cynicism (however applicable this might have been to commemorative coin fanciers in the 1930s) than to his philanthropic benefactions to the city. It appears, among other things, that Barnum "the man who lured the herd," laid out tree-lined streets in what eventually became greater Bridgeport, and reserved a grove of eight acres which is now known as Washington Park; he is credited with stimulating the growth of industry in the Bridgeport area, making possible its present reputation as the chief industrial city of Connecticut.
On the reverse is the most modernistic eagle ever put on a U.S. Coin or so far as we know, on a coin of any nation. At lower right, below RT of LIBERTY, is Henry Krei's incused initial K.
The Federal Commission of Fine Arts approved Kreis' sketches about July 17, 1936, after which Krei's models went to Medallic Art Co. of New York for reduction to half dollar size.
During September 1936, the Philadelphia Mint struck 25,000 (the minimum figure) plus 15 reserved for assay, Bridgeport Centennial, Inc., which was in charge of the celebration, distributed the coins to local residents through Bridgeport banks, and to out-of-town buyers through the First National Bank and Trust Company of Bridgeport. In a perhaps unwise effort to discourage speculation and insure to limit purchases to not over five coins per customer, at $2 per coin. As a result, almost 1,000 pieces remained unsold, and no further orders followed.
During the late 1950s this batch of unsold remainders came on the market, and was purchased by Allen Johnson, son of Toivo Johnson (the East Holden, Maine, coin dealer, famous in that decade).Johnson, in the early 1970s, sold part of the hoard to a Kansas City dealer, the rest of it to First Coinvestors, Inc.
Despite the attempt to exclude speculators from the roster of purchasers, there are several hoards of one to perhaps a dozen rolls each.
No proofs are traced, though several were probably made for John R. Sinnock. The Bridgeport Centennial Commission distributed single specimens in dark blue and gold cardboard boxes. These have the city arms and two diagonal gold bands on the top cover. Inner cover at top has an inscription about P.T. Barnum (blue ink on gold paper); inner bottom half contains the slot for the coin. Larger holders are similar but have slots for three coins. At least 100 of each type of holder survive.
One of us noticed that if one inverts the reverse, the eagle comes to resemble a shark with open mouth and tongue and two dorsal fins; more fanciful minds make the shark appear to be laughing, presumably at its prey, namely those of whom one more is "born every minute."