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.