To provide funds for the celebration of Norfolk's anniversary of its growth from a township in 1682 to a royal borough in 1736, Congress first passed a law for the striking of medals.
Obverse device is the Norfolk city seal. Below the stylized waves are a plough with a row of young plants (possibly peanut plants, as Norfolk is in a major peanut-growing area), and below these in turn three wheat sheaves these details are often vague on normal strikings. Mottoes ET TERRA ET MARE DIVITIAE TUAE and CRESCAS mean, respectively, "Both land and sea are your riches" and "May you grow" or "May you prosper/" Though no documentation exists, the cable border separating the outermost legend from the city seal may allude to ship's ropes (appropriate for this naval town), and the two scallop shells flanking the date almost certainly continue the maritime theme.
On Reverse, the ornate object is Norfolk's Royal Mace, presented to the Borough of Norfolk in 1753 by Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie, formally accepted by the Common Council in 1754 and cherished ever since as the city's greatest historical treasure. (It is in fact the only Royal Mace ever presented to an American city during Colonial times; it was removed and hidden during the Revolution and the Civil War, and remains most of the time in bank vault, seldom exhibited.) Flanking the 1636 date, which is that of the original Norfolk Land Grant, are two dogwood sprigs. In lower field, the monogram is WM(S) + MES, for William Marks Simpson and his wife Marjorie Emory Simpson, the coin's joint designers.
As with a couple of other Southern commemoratives (the Alabama and Stone Mountain), celebrations being long over with by the time it was authorized. Originally, the Norfolk Advertising Board and Norfolk Association of Commerce (the celebration's sponsors) had sought a commemorative coin, but the Senate (fed up with such coins) changed the bill to call for a medal, in which form it became the Act of June 26, 1936, but became a dead letter at once - the promoters wanted coins, not medals Senator Carter Glass promised the Simpsons that he would make another attempt, and this was successful, becoming the Act of June 28, 1937.
Mr. Simpson furnished photographs of the coin models to the Commission of Fine Arts, September 26, 1936. Lee Lawrie, sculptor member, was more enthusiastic than with most such proposed designs. On the 29th, the Commission approved the designs subject to minor revisions in the lettering. But as Congress did not finally authorize the coin for nine months more, nothing was done. When the Act passed, Simpson reworked his models, submitting photographs to the Commission on August 10, and received approval as of August 14.
As the Act of Congress authorized a maximum of 25,000, this amount was struck at Philadelphia (plus 13 reserved for assay); as the Act specified the date 1936, the coins retained it even though they were not struck until September 1937. Issue price was $1.50 each. The Norfolk Advertising Board acted as distributor, and attempted to discourage speculators by limiting purchasers to not over 20 coins apiece. They returned 5,000 coins to the Philadelphia Mint for re-melting in 1938, and another 3,077 later on, leaving a net mintage of 16,923.
No proofs are known, though some may have been made for John R. Sinnock, Engraver of the Mint. Original holders had a capacity for five coins, probably the regular Eggers type; we illustrate the two imprinted sides, which are on light green paper. Note that in a predictably sexist manner, the sponsoring organization named only William Marks Simpson as designer, omitting any mention of his wife as co-designer, despite her initials on the coin. About 40 of these holders are traced blank.
As many of these coins were sold to the general public, survivors are often in less than pristine condition; look for wear or signs of scratching on sails. Any further issue of any of the above commemorative coins was prevented by Congressional passage of the Act of August 5, 1939, which forbade further issue of any previously authorized commemorative half dollars.
This was mainly aimed at the major perpetrators of abuses the promoters of the Texas, Oregon, Boone and Arkansas issues. This is another low mintage issue that many believe is easily located. That may have been true when there was no serious demand for the commemorative series. Had ten rolls made their appearance at a coin show you would hear from dealers that the show was flooded with Norfolks.
At this instant, were fifty rolls ever to hit the market, they would be absorbed like water into a dry sponge. The demand is here to stay and it is that great! Many are beginning to realize the potential of the series. Thus the coin is now becoming difficult to locate in true gem state. One of us has been offered a roll of this issue from time to time. The coins were not gems as described, but had had their luster dipped twice or improper cleaned once-possibly by keeping the coin in the solution for too long-the original mint-given brilliance will be gone forever.