HUGUENOT HALF DOLLAR alludes, supposedly, to the 300th anniversary of the arrival of 110 Walloons (thirty families of Lowlands Huguentos, the French name for Calvinists) aboard the ship Nieuw Nederlandt in the Hudson River region of upstate New York. However, the accolated portraits are not relevant to this event (which had led to the controversial purchase of Manhattan Island from local Indians for trinkets said to be worth 24 Lyon Dollars). That labeled COLIGNY is an imaginary portrait of Admiral Gaspard de Coligny (1519-1572), who was killed in the St, Bartholomew's Day massacre, August 24, 1572, no more and no less a martyr than the other thousands of Calvinist extremists who perished at the same time, but in no way connected with any settlement in North America, let alone one occurring 52 years after his death. The other one, marked WILIAM THE SILENT, is an equally paradoxical choice.
Willem I, prince of Orange (1533-1584), became ruler of the Dutch with the avowed intention of ridding his people of Spanish viceroys, Spanish troops and Spanish taxes. He was less concerned about the religious issue (the conflict between Catholic Spain and Protestant Lowlands) than about rule by foreigners who could not even speak Dutch. For reasons of policy, Prince Willem had in 1573 joined the Calvinist church, and the year before he was assassinated, he married Admiral de Coligny's daughter Louise; these are his sole connections with Calvinism per se. This leaves unfounded all claims that he was a "martyr for the cause of Protestantism," let alone any claims of a relationship between him and the Dutch settlements in New York. Historians agree that Willem's assassination served the purpose of furthering Spanish rule in the Netherlands, not religious indignation.
The M on Coligny's shoulder refers to Mint Engraver Morgan, who made the original dies. The reverse displays a fanciful three-masted ship, supposed to represent the Nieuw Nederlandt bound for America, in 1624 hence the dates and inscriptions. NEW NETHERLAND refers to the settlements in upper New York state and neighboring New Jersey, 1621-1664.
A seemingly innocuous organization calling itself the Huguenot-Walloon New Netherland Commission, under Rev. Dr. John Baer Stoudt, chairman, promoted the ida of commemorative coins and stamps for this tercentenary. The authorizing bill attacked little attention in Congress and was routinely passed into law as of February 26, 1923, after Rep. Albert H. Vestal, House Coinage Committee chairman, had approved it. The Commission was actually a front for the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America, which wanted the coins as a fundraising project. Reve. Stoudt just happened to be a coin collector as well as an amateur artist. It is therefore not at all impossible that Stoudt suggested the idea to the Council people. We do not know if they were unaware of its unconstitutionality, or if they simply believed they could get away with their project by rushing the coins onto the amrket before protests could become effective.
But as soon as news of the coins appeared in print, protests began. Other churches who would not receive a cent from the enterprise attacked the issue as sectarian and therefore unconstitutional. Anticlerical and ad-hoc patriotic groups united in dedicatoin to the principle of separation of church and state attacked the issue as religious propaganda in violation of the First Amendment and therefore unconstitutional. Many of their arguments sound as though written by Madalyn Murray O'Hair forty years later. However, any petitions for withdrawal of the coins or repeal of the authorizing act must have been ignored by the government, as no action followed.
The Philadelphia Mint struck a total of 142,000 Huguenot half dollars in February and April 1924, plus 80 reserved for assay, out of the 300,000 originally authorized. by arrangement with the Huguenot-Walloon New Netherlands Commission, the Fifth National Bank of New York obtained the coins at face value, and began offering them (over the above mentioned protests) at $1 apiece. Partly owing to pressure from the Federal Council of Churches, the churchgoing public actually bought 87,000 of the coins.
The remaining 55,000 were eventually released into circulation at face value, probably unassailable owing to the protests and attacks Survivors are apt to be VF to AU or sliders, dull and cleaned; look for mint frost on cheek. Die polishing marks (shiny areas) near the OT of HUGUENOT are common features of one reverse die and not damage to your coin.
A single matte proof is reported, but we have not yet seen the piece. No holders, cases, or accompanying literature have survived. A single uniface brass trial impression of a reverse die is known; for reasons earlier mentioned, we have no record of its location.