From the beardless (pre-1860) bust of Lincoln, one might guess the focus to be on some anniversary from the martyred President's life; however, the legend clearly indicated instead statewide and local (county) centennial celebrations. Relevance of the defiant eagle is impossible to establish; it may have been copied, loosely, from Morgan's pattern dollar design of 1882, found with the "Second Schoolgirl" or "Shield Earring" head. However, the motto STATE SOVEREIGNTY NATIONAL UNION is that of Illinois; the eagle turns away from the rising sun, toward to the west, as did the people who migrated there from the East Coast in search of vast tracts of farmland. Note also that the olive branch for peace is prominent, but there are no arrows for war: their presence on a coin designed during the concluding months of World War I might have been considered just a bit raw.
Congress authorized the mintage of 100,000 special half dollars by Act of June 1, 1918, the proceeds to be used for helping finance county centennial celebrations throughout the state. This was to be the first of the state centennial commemoratives to be authorized.
Morgan's bust of Lincoln is his translation of a photograph of Andrew O'Cnner's heroic statue of Lincoln, unveiled in Springfield in August 1918, as part of the centennial ceremonies. It is also beyond any conceivable challenge Morgan's masterpiece. An unintentional accessory at least to forcing revision of lettering and placement of mottoes was Treasury Secretary W.G. McAdoo, who (through his mouthpiece Mary O'Reilly, Acting Director of the Mint), in June 1918, disapproved the original models and insisted on the arrangement as adopted on the coins, except that he wished the Illinois motto replaced by E PLURIBUS UNUM. We have not been able to ascertain who overruled McAdoo in the matter of the Illinois motto; presumably pressure was brought by the head of the Illinois Centennial Commission and possibly also by other Treasury officials.
Despite McAdoo's adverse views, the Philadelphia Mint Struck its full authorized quota of 100,000 pieces in August 1918, with 58 extras being reserved for assay. At the beginning of the mintage, "set up trails" were made in copper and nickel, and on these the designs are only partially brought up.
Reportedly, at least one specimen also exists in "white metal," from a collector with "mint connections," which may mean that it came from the John R. Sinnock estate, like many other similar items. There are at least two satin finish proofs, and the issue may also exist in matte proof finish; any such specimens will have much sharpness of detail on hair and feathers than the piece pictured above, especially in the breast area.
All 100,000 went to the Commission and many were sold at $1 apiece. Others appear to have been spent, as many circulated specimens now survive.
Several thousand remained in a vault in a Springfield, Illinois bank, and were released during the bank panic of the 1930s, some of them going to dealers at not much above face value; the rest were probably spent.
Distinguishing truly mint state specimens is a problem, as many are weakly struck on Lincoln's cheekbone and the hair above it, as well as on many feathers and on the grass around the rock. A magnifying glass should enable you to ascertain if these areas have been rubbed.The only official holders we have heard of are the bronze shield-shaped badges with ribbon, identified as the official badge of the Illinois Centennial.