CLEVELAND CENTENNIAL GREAT LAKES EXPOSITION HALF DOLLAR
Moses Cleaveland (1754-1806) was a lawyer, Revolutionary War general, and later state congressman from Canterbury, Connecticut. He became one of the directors and surveyers for the Connecticut Land Company, which bought 3,267,000 acres of the "Western Reserve" area in what is now northeastern Ohio: he laid out the city later to be named after him (it dropped its extra"a" about 1830, becoming known as Cleveland). This city was incorporated in 1836 (hence choice of this date for centennial celebrations). Initials, BP below shoulder are those of Brenda Putnam, the coin's designer.
On reverse, we find the five Great Lakes with their nine principal cities marked by stars, that for Cleveland (at the bottom compass point) largest, less for city size than for emphasis as the city most directly alluded to in commemoration. Ms. Putnam's original sketches showed a drastically curved horizon, with the other compass point on it somewhere in Canada, miles above Lake Superior; it also represented the citiesonly six, not nine by buildings, but the change to stars came at one on suggestions by Lee Lawrie of the Federal Commission of Fine Arts. We have not found documentation, but we suspect that the compass was intended to show Cleveland as the center of industry within a radius of approximately 900 miles, which area would include not only the other Great Lakes cities (Dulluth, Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit, Toledo, Toronto, Buffalo and Rochester) but also, if the circle were completed, St. Louis, Washington, New York and Boston!
The Cleveland Centennial and Great Lakes Exposition was held in Cleveland from June 27 to October 4, 1936, on a 125 acre lakefront site, "a Clamorous Spectacle of Supreme Significance, 000 Presenting Outstanding Attactrions Worthy of a World's Fair... presenting achievements of the Arts and Sciences in understandable ways portraying the drama of Industry and Commerce in fascinating and colorful manners...unfolding the romance of Iron and Coal impressive methods... "to quote press puffery for the $25,000,000 event. This provided Thomas G. Melish with another automatic opportunity for pressuring Congress for a commemorative coin, which was duly approved, "to commemorate Cleveland's contribution to the industrial progress of the United States for a century," in the orotund phrases of the Act of May 5, 1936.
That Five Finger Word. Melish was a coin collector, and we have already sample his machinations with the Cincinnati issue. However, as the Cleveland issue was in connection with a legitimate celebration, and as 25,000 (minimum) to 50,000 (maximum) were authorized, Melish's sales strategy had to be very different: the coins would have to be aimed at the Exposition visitors and the general public at $1.50 apiece, not at his own coterie of greedy speculators.
As soon as the Commission of Fine Arts approved the design, June 2, 1936, Medallic Art Company of New York reduced Ms. Putnam's models to half dollar size and shipped them to the Philadelphia Mint, where 25,000 were struck in July 1936.
When this batch actually sold out, the remaining 25,000 (again with an extra 15 reserved for assay) followed in February 1937, but that would have required an amendment to the authorizing act, which called for the entire mintage to be dated 1936.) There is no way the 1936 and 1937 strikings can be positively told apart.
No proofs are reported. As with the Cincinnati sets, by Melish's orders, the first 200 coins to be struck were specially caught in gloves by the press operator, and placed in numbered envelopes in the order of manufacture. When these 200 reached the Association, they were inserted into special black cardboard Wayte Raymond type holders, on the back of which is a notarized statement as to the order of striking, signed by the notary and by Melish; these 200 were sent out with individual accompanying letters. The dies were not polished, nor were the coins treated in any special way; nevertheless, they are better strikings than any later ones. We have examined nos. 6,14 32-33, and a few later ones; about 20 are estimated to survive in the original notarized holders. They are unusually sharp but not prooflike. Early numbered holders, possessing one coin, have sold for $800.
Specimens were sold at the Exposition by various Ohio backs, and by the Association. The entire mintage was sold, so that none went back for melting. At present we know three in Exposition envelopes and about 35 in unnumbered holders. During its 20th anniversary celebration in 1941, the Western Reserve Numismatic Club of Cleveland with small round dies as illustrated; these portray General Cleaveland. No details are available of this operation, as it was then illegal; the counterstamp dies were promptly destroyed after the 100th striking, and early holders of the counterstamped coins were not about to talk publicly about them. As a result, we are unable to name either the diecutter or the instigators of the project.
Another and still rarer counterstamp was affixed anniversary of the Western Reserve Numismatic Club. Only 13 Cleveland halves were countermarked, together with a small number of silver dollars, foreign coins, tokens, and silver bars. The illustration and enlarged detail are self-explanatory, though owing to the double striking it may be difficult to read either FIFTY YEARS 1971 in field or the name MOSES CLEVELAND below waist. We have not found the diecutter's name for his project either, nor those of the promoters.