This small issue was struck to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the arrival on the Hawaiian Islands by Captain James Cook in 1778.
The bust in naval uniform represents Captain James Cook, discoverer (so far as the European/American world was concerned) of the Sandwich Island, later known by their true name of Hawaii. The object after CAPT. is a compass, its needle to the north so that the Captain is shown as facing westward, towards the islands which he discovered (January 18, 1778) and on which he was murdered thirteen months later (February 14, 1779. The sculptor used the compass as a symbol of Cook's feats as a navigator and expert. The eight triangles in lower field (formerly referred to as volcanoes) represent the eight largest islands in the Hawaiian group. Behind the shoulder is Chester Beach's circular monogram. Both the flowing lettering and the wavy border are meant to allude to the sea.
On the reverse, the landscape represents part of Waikiki Beach fronting on Mamala Bay, with Diamond Head in the background. Instead of the present beachfront hotels, there are only occasional grass huts and coconut palm trees. Standing on a promontory, facing in the general direction of Pearl Harbor, is a native warrior chieftain (not meant for King Kamehameha I, as it is sometimes erroneously believed) waring a feather cloak and holding a barbed spear. To show that his intentions are peaceful, his hand is extended in welcome. Behind him is another coconut palm. The sesquicentennial dates and Latin motto (again in flowing letters meant to suggest the sea) complete the design.
In conjunction with sesquicentennial celebrations then being planned throughout the Islands, local groups came up with the idea of establishing a Captain Cook Memorial Collection, to be housed in the Archives of Hawaii. This collection was to be financed in party by proceeds from the sale of these half dollars. Accordingly, Commander Victor Stewart Kaleoaloha Houston, the Delegate to Congress from the then Territory of Hawaii, sponsored a bill which would authorize coinage of 10,000 souvenir half dollars for these purposes; this became the Act of March 7, 1928.
Josiah Wedgewood, whose cameo of Captain Cook was the owned by Bruce Cartwright, Jr., Chairman of the Captain Cook Sesquicentennial Commission.
Chester Beach claimed that the actual prototype was an "original painting by Dance in the gallery of the Greenwich Hospital, London." If so, this must have been the source of Wedgewood's cameo design, as the major change was to make Cook face the other way, slightly de-emphasize his nose, and very slightly emphases his brow ridges. Though the warrior is not meant to represent any known individual, Cartwright's design must have been influenced by the statue of King Kamehameha I near the Royal Palace in Honolulu, as depicted on the 3c stamp, Scott 799(Type A271), released October 18, 1937.
Either Commander Houston was owned a lot of favors by his fellow Congressmen in and out of the House Coinage Committee, or there was some kind of behind the scenes influence exerted by the White House, because Houston submitted preliminary skeches for the half dollar to Charles Moore of the Federal Fine Arts Commission no later than November 2, 1927-well before he got around to introducing his bill in Congress (December 5, 1927). Though James Earle Fraser (then a consultant, no longer a member of the Commission) recommended that Anthony de Francisci do the models, the Commission finally decided on Chester Beach, who accepted the assignment on March 12, 1928, quotes Houston's and the Mint's criticisms with Beach's replies leaving the overall impression, at this late date, that Houston was an old fuss-budget who should never have had any veto power over a professional artist's deigns. The wonder is that Beach's designes, as they reached the Mint, had any strength left. As of May 9, Treasury Secretary Andrew W. Mellon approved the models. During June 1928, the Philadelphia Mint struck 10,000 half dollars.
Under terms of the authorizing act, these could have been made at any or all the branch mints, and it is a little surprising that they were not made in San Grancisco, like previous commemoratives referring to the Far West.
They went to the Captain Cook Sesquicentennial Commission in Honolulu, which arrange with the Bank of Hawaii, Ltd., to distribute the coins at $2 apiece-the highest initial cost of any commemorative issue until that time.