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MAINE CENTENNIAL HALF DOLLAR

The Main Centennial half dollar commemorates the one hundredth anniversary of the admission of Main to the Union. An unknown Main artist created the design for the coin. The obverse shows a farmer and a sailor to the left and right of a shield on which are a pine tree above a moose. The reverse shows a heavy open wreath of pine. The Pine Tree State is the nickname given to Main. The obverse inscriptions are UNITED STATES OF AMERICA above the design and HALF DOLLAR below. The state motto DIRIGO or I lead is on a banner under a five-pointed radiate star above the shield and MAIN is below on a banner. On the reverse, E PLURIBUS UNUM and IN GOD WE TRUST are above and below at the periphery. LIBERTY completes the wreath which enclosed MAIN CENTENNIAL 1820 – 1920 on three lines.

There was a design controversy in connection with the Main Centennial. Charles Moore, Chairman of the Commission of Fine Arts sent copies of the proposed design to Commission member and sculptor-designer James Earle Fraser, designer of the Indian Head or “Buffalo” nickel that was minted in 1913. Fraser later designed the 1924 Huguenot-Walloon Tercentenary half dollar and the 1926-1939 Oregon Trail half dollar with his wife, Laura Gardin Fraser. Fraser replied, “Mistake to accept design for coin in form of drawing. Model should be made by medallic sculptor of note. Our coins have reached a high grade of perfection because this method is used. Designs proposed…very ordinary. Should not be used….” Moore concurred with Fraser’s assessment, but the Main Centennial Commission did not want the design changed. The design was given to Mint Engraver Anthony DeFrancisci, and he produced a motif unlike his other works that was rather banal.

The art historian and critic Cornelius Vermeule in his work Numismatic Art in America said of the coin in 1971, “It looks just like a prize medal for a county fair or school athletic day…. DeFrancisci was supposedly one of America’s better medalists, winning the Saltus Medal in 1927, but the Main Centennial was not his shining moment. A ‘commercial medalist’ of the most pedestrian sort could have done as well.”

Originally intended to be a highlight of the Main centennial festivities in Portland, the striking was so late in the summer that the centennial was no longer a new experience for citizens of the state. The maximum mintage authorized was 100,000 pieces. Of that number, only 50,028 were struck, with the 28 reserved for assay. Since all were distributed, none were returned to the mint for melting.
The standard original packaging was a plain paper coin envelope. The official sale price of the coin was one dollar. Since few coins were sold to collectors, the majority were handled carelessly. Because of this lack of care, higher Mint State coins are difficult to find today.



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