We can hardly improve on the explanation furnished by this coin's designer, Gertude K. Lathrop, in The Numismatist, April 1937, "New Rochelle ...was settled in 1688 by French Huguenots from La Rochelle, France. One year later a tract of 6,000 acres, the land upon which New Rochelle now stands, was sold by John Pell to Jacob Leisler, who was for a short time Governor of New York. Leisler was commissioned by these French Huguenots to obtain the land. One of the conditions of sale was that Jacob Leisler, his heirs and assigns, should give to 'John Pell his heirs and assigns Lords of the said Manor of Pelham...as an Acknowledgment to the said Manor one fatt calfe on every fouer and twentieth day of June Yearly and Every Year forever (if demanded)'.
On the obverse of the coin is shown a protesting calf being delivered in payment of his debt. The model for the calf was found on the Kenwood farm of Parker Corning, Representative in Congress last year...
Reverse shows a modern interpretation of the old conventionalized form of fleur-de-lis which has been the symbol of France since 1180. It appears on the shield of La Rochelle from which the settlers came, and also on the shield of the city of New Rochelle." We can only add that the date 1938 is that of celebration of the 250th anniversary, not the year of mintage of the coin, and that Ms. Lathrop's initials GKL are in the field near the calf's forefoot.
Many people believe that the figure in the late 17th Century costume is meant for John Pell, but this is unconfirmed; the design can be read to mean either that the calf is being brought to Pell by one of Leisler's people, or that Pell has just accepted the delivery. Had Ms. Lathrop specifically meant the figure to represent Pell, she would doubtless have said so.
Local pride; but insofar as the Westchester County Coin Club of New Rochelle was among the coin's original sponsors, we may suspect That Five Finger Word was at work. However, Slabaugh maintains (following Amy Skipton) that funds raised by sales of the coins were used to finance the celebration.
Gertrude K. Lathrop, designer, sculptor, of Albany, New York, member of the National Academy of Design and the National Sculpture Society.
The original plan was to have a wholly different design by Lorillard Wise on the coin, depicting an Indian at the shore awaiting the arrival of settlers by canoe, and on reverse the city arms. A later version of this actually won the unthinking approval of the Federal Commission of Fine Arts! To their credit, they later withdrew approval at least of the side with the Indian, even as they refused to approve its successor, in which Lorillard Wise attempted to depict Bonnefoi Point in Echo Bay (Long Island Sound) where the Huguenot refugees landed in 1688. In mid-November 1936, Pitt Skipton saw a specimen of the Albany commemorative half dollar, and at once commissioned its designer, Gertrude K. Lathrop, to design the New Rochelle coin.
She and Skipton simultaneously came up with the "Fatt Calfe" motif; her designs were approved by the Federal Commission of Fine Arts in February 1937. During April 1937, the Philadelphia Mint struck 25,000 specimens (the maximum allowed by the authorizing act) plus 15 reserved for assay, thus producing yet another date confused item like the Delaware and Gettysburg: authorized in 1936, struck in 1937, for an event of 1938. The coins sold at $2 each; some 9,749 unsold pieces were returned to the Philadelphia Mint for re-melting, leaving a net mintage of 15,251.
Fifty presentation specimens were struck with a single blow on a proof planchet, using polished dies, for coin collecting members of the Commemorative Coin Committee; they were issued is small, dark red presentation boxes and each accompanied by a bronze medal. One of the earliest of these to be auctioned was lot 1707, 1958 ANA convention sale, reappearing as Hydeman: 694; this had a document certifying that it was the 8th coin struck, presented to William S. Dewey, then president of the Westchester County Coin Club.
In addition, a smaller number (estimated by A.S. as 10 to 14) of matte proofs were struck. One of these came from the John R. Sinnock estate, via lot 2056, 1962 ANA Convention; it is presently in the collection of one client of A.S.
It is extremely probable that the above coins will be simulated by fakes. Presentation coins could be imitated by polishing ordinary production strikings; look for polishing marks especially on devices, and for detail definition considerably less sharp than that illustrated. Matte proofs could be imitated by sandblasting ordinary coins, but again detail definition will be inferior. The genuine must be double struck as illustrated. If it is not, don't look any further. What you are looking at is a fake.
Presentation prooflike specimens may also be confused with early business strikes from dies retaining initial polish. The latter might not have the extra sharpness on central rib of flower, or on the calf's skin.
Many subsequent owners subjected the proof-like presentation pieces to numismatic abuse either cleaning (all too often with baking soda or other abrasives) or by dipping them in a cleaning solution and drying them with a cloth or paper towel that contained foreign (and hence destructive) substances.
One individual, believing these pieces were proof-like specimens, collected 22 presentation pieces over a 26 year period. Unfortunately, he never knew what he actually possessed, and recently sold 20 pieces to a West Coast dealer for $8,000. When he spoke to one of us (A.S.) at a recent convention, he was informed that his remaining two coins were definitely presentation pieces and should be valued at $3500+ per coin!
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you view the situation, the dealer who sold the coins was also not aware of what they were. Some of the individuals who possess a proof-like New Rochelle might be in for a nice surprise. However, let us hope it is not one of the lesser-valued early business strikes as previously mentioned. Proof-like specimens of U.S. Commemorative half dollars are rare. In most cases, they are excessively rare. The aforementioned business strike in the gem state (MS-65) should be worth at least $2000+.
This issue was well distributed but long remained easy to locate in ordinary uncirculated or slider grades because speculators didn't exploit it. However, truly choice or gem survivors are very difficult to locate, are rarely auctioned and constitute a good investment. Locating a fully-struck specimen of this issue will be a very difficult task. The center petal of the fleur de lis on the reverse possesses what appears to be a vertical line which is the main vein or midrib, whose function is to transport materials throughout the petal via side veins. This area is nearly always struck a little flat and appears to be worn.
Again, finding fully struck specimens where the midrib is fully struck in the center of the petal-provided the coin is in strict choice and especially gem condition will be most rewarding.