The one hundredth anniversary of the founding of Elgin was marked by a special issue of half dollar in 1936.
The obverse head is a copy of "Head of a Pioneer" by Trygve Rovelstad, a statue pictured in Taxay. Another version of it is the head of the rifleman in the group of pioneers found on reverse, itself a small copy of the still unfinished Pioneer Memorial at Elgin, Illinois, also by Rovelstad. His initials TR are under the beard on obverse. The only other feature requiring explanation is the date 1673. On the original medal, which depicted the same statue in far clearer detail than the coin, the dates were given as 1835-1935, for the centennial of the city of Elgin. We have been unable to learn who insisted on substituting 1673; this date is irrelevant to the events honored on the coin, being that of the year in which Joliet and Marquette first entered what is now Illinois on their missionary work.
The statue deserves additional comment. On the coin, it is never clearly enough brought up to show necessary details; which is why, among other things, it is usually referred to as a group of four pioneers when actually there are five, the fifth being the baby in its mother's arms. Around the statue's base, above a long bas relief depicting workers and Indians, is the inscription "To the men who have blazed the trails, who have conquered the soil, and who have built an empire in the land of the Illini." Necessity of including statutory inscriptions made it impossible to show even part of this dedication. Slabaugh says that Rovelstad's medal, apparently issued in 1935 in connection with the actual Elgin Centennial, ultimately inspired introduction of the bill in Congress seeking to authorize this half dollar.
As above, resulting in the Act of June 16, 1936 (along with the Albany and Gettysburg issues.) To finance construction of the full-sized Pioneer Memorial. This has yet to be completed, though the foundation for it was laid in 1934! It is in Davidson Park, Elgin, on the site of the log cabin of James and Hezekiah Gifford, who settled there about 1834 and who founded and named Elgin.
One completed, if ever, it will consist of the group of bronze figures in heroic size (about 12 feet tall) atop a granite base eight feet tall. Here we do not have the excuse of political problems which delayed for still longer the completion of the Stone Mountain Memorial; the explanation is as yet unknown.
Trygve A. Rovelstad, local sculptor, designer of the coin and earlier of the medal as well as of the Memorial itself. The Elgin Centennial Monumental Committee; L.W. Hoffecker, coin dealer of El Paso, Texas, distributor of the coins.
Rovelstad's original sketches for the coin showed the rifleman's head in 3/4-face, seen from below; the Federal Commission of Fine Arts approved them as of July 17, 1936, provided that the obverse head be shown in profile. Rovelstad completed his models by August 15, and they were approved on the 21st, going at once to Medallic Art Company of New York, which made the reductions to half-dollar size. The Philadelphia Mint completed the mintage during October: 25,000 pieces (maximum allowed), plus 15 reserved for assay.
L.W. Hoffecker actually sold 20,000 of these coins during the rest of the year, at $1.50 each, returning 5,000 to the mint for re-melting in 1937. His rationale for so doing was that demand had come to standstill, and the unsold 5,000 would otherwise end up in the hands of speculators.
The vast majority of survivors, even those which have not been poorly cleaned, are not well struck; it is very unusual to find one in which pioneers on small polished area between the A of AMERICA and the young pioneer's head, don't panic. This is a die polishing mark-that is also seen on the reverses of the Huguenot, Oregon Trail, and Monroe half dollars.
No proofs are reported, though some may have been made for John R. Sinnock. Only single holder has been met with to date; this is an unprinted holder of the usual coin-mailer type, with Hoffecker's rubber-stamped address.