The accolated busts labeled MONROE and ADAMS represent President James Monroe and his Secretary of State (later also President) John Quincy Adams. Their names are separated or maybe that should read joined by two links of chain. This refers to their unanimity in promulgating the socalled Monroe Doctrine; a doctrine developed by Quincy Adams, but proclaimed by Monroe in his Presidential message of December 2, 1823. The S below the date is the San Francisco mintmark the entire mintage was struck there.
What appears on reverse to represent the continents of North and South America proves on closer examination to depict two female figures. Ms. North America holds some kind of branch (too vague to be identified as to species) in her left hand while her right hand offers a twig to her contorionist sister, Ms. South America, who holds a cornucopia. The position must have been a considerable strain to the model, if there was any. This lady sits with her left elbow resting halfway up her right thigh, her left forearm resting along the thigh and rotating to the left, while her upper right arm is extended well behind her back to accommodate the cornucopia. (If you this this position is easy, just try it.) The scale indicates, too, that though both females have adult proportions, Ms. North America must have been at least a foot taller than her sister. (The wonder is less that the figures are disproportionate than that they could be made at all, however.)
Centennial dates flank a scroll on which rests a quill pen, its nib pointing north, probably alluding to the Doctrine manuscripts and to the legend MONROE DOCTRINE CENTENNIAL. Faint lines in the field represent ocean currents. Clockwise, from upper right, these are the Gulf Stream, the North and South Equatorial Currents, the Brazil Current, the Falkland Current near Cape Horn (or Ms. South America's right foot and left calf, above ES), the West Wind Drift (at S ANG), the Humboldt Current (at her knees), the Pacific South and North Equatorial Currents (with the Equatorial Countercurrent between them, extending to MO), and the California and Alaska Currents. (The Japan Current would have been concealed at ROE.)
We suspect, but cannot prove, that the reason for showing ocean currents was to represent the unending flow of imports and exports between the two continents,, unimpeded by foreign powers. The whole composition has a very Art Deco feeling, though its lettering is of older style and suggests only a little of the flowing look of Art Nouveau. At lower right is a circular monogram intended for CB Chestier Beach, the designer and modeler. The words LOA ANGELES refer to where the celebration was to take place.
The Monroe Doctine's reputation as a scared cow dates back to its formulation; its guiding principle goes back to 1797, when Washington's Farewell Address specified noninterference and opposition to European encroachments in the Western Hemisphere. When Washington made this speech, he was alluding to British and Spanish territorial claims in North America. When the revolutions of 1812-1824 in various parts of Latin America ended uniformly in the overthrow or capitulation of Spanish viceroys and establishment of republics, the U.S.A recognizing various military juntas and even the Empire of Brazil under Dom Pedro; anything but more European colonies. This was the immediate background of the Doctrine; its precipitation cause was the various resolutions by the Holy Liance of Austria, Prussia, and Russia (later echoed by France under Louis XVIII and Charles X) to "put an end to the system of representative government" and restore the Spanish rule throughout Latin America, in the name of the Divine Right of Kings.
Canning, the British Colonial Secretary, proposed a joint declaration by Britain and the U.S.A. condemning the Holy Alliance's proposal; Jefferson and Madison favored such a declaration, but John Quincy Adams insisted instead on a unilateral one by the U.S.A., and got his wish. In its own day, the Doctine was recognized as an unenforceable gesture without legal standing, calling on foreign powers (i.e., Spain and Russia) to avoid any further interference in what would now be called the internal affairs of the banana republics, and to cease attempting to make colonies out of unclaimed parts of Western North America.
By 1831, the Doctrine was a dead letter, as Britain seized parts of the Guianas, while the Russians and British (Hudson's Bay Company, mostly) had already occupied parts of California and coastal areas farther north. After the Mexican War, the Doctrine appeared largely as a saber-rattling U.S. attempt to keep a monopoly on colonialism in the Western Hemisphere. Though neither a treaty nor part of international law, the Doctine was officially recognized in the two Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907. A curious theme for a celebration in 1923. The motion picture industry sponsored something called the American Historical Revue and Motion Picture Historical Exposition, to be held in Los Angeles in 1923.
Because of the success of some previous coin tie-ins with expositions, some of the film colony promoters sought to have a commemorative coin, but they were in considerable difficulties finding a suitable occasion to commemorate on it. The obvious one (the Boston Tea Party of 1773) could not be tortured into even the vaguest relevance to California, let alone to Los Angeles. When Rep. Walter Franklin Lineberger (R.-California) introduced the bill on December 18, 1922, his nearest excuse was a fabricated story to the effect that Monroe's manifesto had allegedly prevented France, England and Russia from trying t acquire California from Mexico. This was somehow to be a reason for having the Los Angeles Clearing House awarded a monopoly on distributing the coins. Predictably, the latter clause met opposition, most vigorously from Rep. Louis Cramton (R.-Michigan); and in the Senate, Sen. Frank Greene (R.-Vermont) voiced what was later to become a common objection to commemorative coins:"... The question is not one of selling a coin at a particular value or at a particular place. The question i whether the United States Government is going to go on from year to year, submitting its coinage to this well harlotry." However, despite these objections, the bill became law on January 24, 1923.
There certainly was some kind of Exposition held in Los Angeles in June 1923, in one of the football stadiums; however, it was not one of the better known ones, and little is recorded about it. Choice of the Clearing House (the association of local banks) as sole distributor was apparently to dissociate the issue from motion picture studios, and the whole idea appears to have been publicity and good will, perhaps stimulating tourism and convincing everyone that the motion picture colony had public interests at heart, etc. Fill in the details yourself and call it P.R. or hype, as you please.
F.B. Davison, Director-Genneral of the Exposition. This man, probably in consultation with some of the film people, decided on the devices. Originally, the reverse was to have shown maps of the North and South American continents, but Chester Beach and James Earle Fraser decided to personify the continents, and the Federal Fine Arts Commission agreed to this idea, approving Beach's models as early as March 8, 1923, Mint Director Scobey and Treasury Secretary Mellon concurring on the same day. However, on July 23, 1923, Ralph Beck complained to the Mint that the reverse of the new coins copied his 1901 Pan-American Exposition seal. His complaint was perfectly valid' Taxay illustrates the seal, and Slabaugh pictures a medal copying it. This device had been used in many different contexts during the Exposition and afterwards, especially by steamship lines and other businesses engaging in imports or exports between the U.S.A. and Latin America, so much so that presumably Beach thought it to be a part of the vernacular of common motifs along with Uncle Sam, Father Time, Santa Claus, Baby New Year, etc. In any event, there is no record of a lawsuit or of any other action on Mr. Beck's complaint.
The San Francisco Mint completed the bulk strikings during May and June 1923; the coins were on sale well before the end of June through the Los Angeles Clearing House, and presumably some were available at local banks, at $1 apiece. Later in the year, sales slumped, and the member banks began releasing the coins into circulation. We have not been able to ascertain why only 274,000 were actually delivered to the Clearing House people instead of the entire allotment, nor yet how many were sold at double face. From the evidence of the coins, probably over 90 percent either were released at face value, or some of those that had been bought at $1 each were kept as pocket pieces, or spent by inheritors, or they were spent during the Great Depression of 1929-1937. Most survivors show some signs of circulation, and more than half those offered as "uncirculated" are sliders, cleaned or in some other way unsatisfactory. Despite the Fine Arts Commission's thoroughly favorable report on the design, the coins did not strike up well; that pictured at the head of the chapter is fully uncirculated, but like most others it can be so graded only because the weak areas are covered with mint frost.