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THE WORLD'S COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION HALF DOLLAR

The Columbian Exposition half dollars commemorate the 400th anniversary of the landing of Columbus in the America and the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. The obverse design by Charles Barber was from a plaster model by Olin Levi Warner, which was taken from a Spanish medal. The reverse was designed by George T. Morgan. It too was from a plaster model by Olin Levi Warner that was taken from a model of a ship. It was the first commemorative half dollar and the first legal tender United States coin to have a portrait of a foreigner as its principal motif. The obverse depicts a bold portrait of Christopher Columbus in profile facing right. At the periphery are the inscriptions UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and COLUMBIAN HALF DOLLAR. The two inscriptions are separated by a small six-pointed star on each side. The reverse shows a representation of Columbus’ flagship, the Santa Maria. Two globes are below the ship representing the New World and the Old World. They are similar to the globes seen on the reverse of a Spanish milled silver dollar that circulated in the 18th century in America. To the upper left and right of the globes, are the digits of the year 1492. The reverse inscription is WORLD’S COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION CHICAGO with the date below separated from the legend by two small six-pointed stars.

The portrait of Columbus was somewhat controversial because no one really knew or could agree just what he looked like. Certainly the portrait was realistic and could have been Columbus, but it was a matter of judgment as to the authenticity of the motif. The reverse design, on the other hand, was accepted at the time without controversy. One attraction at the Exposition was the display of the plaster models as well as the model ship Warner used to create the reverse motif. However, the Mint never acknowledged his role in helping create the design.

The first struck coin went to the manufacturer of the Remington typewriter, Wyckoff, Seamans & Benedict. They paid $10,000, a huge amount for a coin at that time. It was later given to the new Columbian Museum in Chicago. Of course the Remington typewriter was endorsed as the official typewriter of the Exposition. In addition the 400th, the 1492nd, and the 1892nd coins were considered special and sold at a premium.

In 1892 950,000 Columbian half dollars were minted. Another 4,052,105 were made the next year. The total plus 2,105 for assay equaled the 5,002,105 that was authorized. All of the 1892 coins were distributed, but 2,501,700 of the 1993 issue were melted. While both dates were offered for sale at one dollar, huge quantities remained unsold at the premium price and were put into circulation at face value. Today they are still quite common, especially in circulated grades.

The coins were initially distributed by the Jennings Trust Co of Chicago and other Chicago banks. There was no official packaging, but several banks placed the coins in burgundy leather holders that were imprinted in gold. Some have no bank indicated but say “COLUMBIAN EXPOSTION” around “1492-CHICAGO-1892.” In 1893 some Columbian half dollars were sold with ribbons and clasps as souvenirs of the Exposition.



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