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GEORGE WASHINGTON CARVER HALF DOLLAR
The jugate portraits are of George Washington Carver, at observer's left, and Booker T. Washington, on a larger scale. Date behind Carver's neck is that of issue of the individual coins-1951 through 1954.
Reverse was originally to show the American Legion badge with the motto UNITED AGAINST THE SPREAD OF COMMUNISM and a reference to some (ad hoc?) McCarthyist group called the National Americanism Commission, whatever that may have been, together with the names of the Booker T. Washington Birthplace Memorial in Virginia and the George W. Carver National Monument Foundation in Missouri. However, after the State Department vetoed this reverse in an action unprecedented in the history of American coinage-the designer substituted the less blatant design adopted, with a map of the United States (needlessly labeled U.S.A) and its platitude mottoes.
S.J.Phillips, the impresario we have to thank for the original BTW halves (preceding section), found himself unable to sell the remainder of his original authorization by the deadline, August 7, 1951, and managed to push a bill through Congress which became the Act of September 21, 1951. This bill probably would have failed except for a clause specifying that the profits of the new issue were to be used "to oppose the spread of Communism among Negroes in the interest of the National defense." As these were the days when the late and unlamented Senator Joseph R. McCarthy (R.-Wisc.) exercised extraordinary power and was apt to denounce anyone who disagreed with his extreme anti-Communist position, Congress, doubtless afraid to seem like a pack of what McCarthy called "comsymps" or "Communist dupes," at once approved Phillip's bill, and President Truman signed it in equal haste. This bill authorized all the unsold BTW coins (both those in Treasury vaults and those already in the Booker T. Washington Birthplace Memorial's hands in all, 1,581,631) to be re-melted for re-coinage into the new design; in addition, the bullion earmarked for the uncoined moiety of the BTW halves - enough to make 1,834,000 could be used for the same purpose. This meant a maximum of 3,415,631 Washington/Carver halves could be coined.
To help S.J. Phillips get his foundering Birthplace Memorial out of debt, and, to some extent, That Five Finger Word. Only from a speech by Congressman White were we able to learn that Phillips was the prime mover behind both the Booker T. Washington Birthplace Memorial Commission and the George Washington Carver National Monument Foundation: apparently on the de mortuis nil nisi bonum "[peak] nothing but good about the dead" principle, almost nothing has been ascertainable about details of Phillip's questionable financial dealings, though evidently Congress heard enough about them privately to reject any further bills introduced in his favor even as late as 1962.
We are not certain to what extent Phillips was a cynical opportunist in emphasizing the blatant anti-Communist sentiment as a means of insuring passage of his W/C bill anywhere near three million of these coins to fellow blacks "united against the spread of communism," even in those paranoid days when millions of people imagined they saw communist bogey-men under every bed and in every gopher hole.
S.J. Phillips, for the original concept tying in black heroes and anti-Communist hysteria; Isaac Scott Hathaway, designer; Robert Hobday, president of the George Washington Carver Memorial Institute; Rep. Compton Ignatius White, Sr. (D.-id.), sponsor of both the BTW and the W/C authorizing bills.
Felix de Weldon, sculptor member of the Federal Commission of Fine Arts, who approved the original anti-Communist design (after consulting with Hathaway, but without making the Mint privy to such consultations), and who as of November 15, 1951 also approved the revised design. Also, Dean Acheson, Secretary of State, who rejected the original design, lest the Soviet Union deem it grounds for escalating the Cold War. Finally, Gilroy Roberts, Engraver of the Mint, who at first justly pronounced the designs artistically and technically impossible, but who nevertheless (after the commission's go-ahead) faced the ungrateful task of rendering them at least marginally coinable. Roberts made a variety of modifications to lettering and portraiture, then lowered the relief of obverse on the Janvier lathe so that specimens could be brought up to full legibility with a single blow in the coining press.
The table that follows indicates the actual mintages (all previously published figures are either incomplete or inaccurate); the final mintage of August 1-6, 1954 was cut short because the authorizing act specified a deadline of August 7, 1954, or three years to be day after the original authorization had expired. Congress was not about the tolerate a repetition of the Boone, Arkansas, Texas or Oregon abuses, no matter how praiseworthy the cause.
Closer study of the above tabulation indicates that those struck for three-piece sets were the first issued each year, presumably being sold at once, while the extras made for single sales as type coins languished. In ascertaining even ballpark figures for the numbers melted, we can safely assume that those which went back to the Mint were precisely the extras made be taken as reasonable reconstructions This procedure is necessary because after the authorizing act's for re-melting, without any accurate accounting of which dates and mint-marks were affected. Issue price was $10 per three-piece set per year; single type coins were offered originally at $5.50.

From the above tabulation, we may deduce that 10,000 sets were made and presumably sold dated 1951, 8,000 for 1952, 8,000 for 1953, and 12,000 for 1954, and that the Denver mint coins (which are rarely seen as singles) were distributed almost completely in sets. Though the 1954 sets were briefly advertised as high as $12, the price sagged during the year and by December 1954 they were being advertised at $6.50 to $7.50 as were the sets of earlier dates. The larger mintages intended for sale as singles-1951, 1952, 1953 S, 1954 S-were eventually dumped by the very banks originally committed to selling them at premiums; some were sold for 60c each, others went into circulation at face value, and those that could not be disposed of at once went back to the mint. One of us (A.S.) has made the following reconstruction of meltages and net mintages based on all available information including relative frequencies of appearance both before and after the rediscovery and dispersal of the hoard discovered in Kaplan estate.
From the above it is easy to see that the majority of survivors are dated 1952. In our past experience the 1954 set is a little harder to find than any of the others, so it is even possible that a few hundred of these sets might have been melted, though if many had remained unsold into 1955, Phillips would have been unable to convice the mint to deliver coins for the final yer. In what may be more than coincidence, the only singles which can be located in pristine gem state well enough struck so that Carver's cheekbone does not appear rubbed will also be dated 1952 Philadelphia. Three-piece sets dated 1951, 1952 and 1954 are of about equal scarcity with each other and a little less scarce than the 1953 set. Singles appear with the frequency indicated by the estimated net mintages.
Besides the two original issuing agencies, local banks distributed many of these coins; in addition, the late Sol Kaplan had a distributorship, and a hoard turned up in his estate. This hoard has been dispersed during the last year by First Coinvestor, Inc.: 2,211 sets in all - 410 of 1951, 227 of 1952, 351 of 1953, 1,223 of 1954. No proofs or presentation strikings are reported. The nearest philatelic tie in is the 3c bright redviolet stamp for Dr. Carver, first issued January 5, 1948. This was issued to commemorate the fifth anniversary of his death; his actual birth date is unknown. A total of 121,548,000 were released, of which some 402,179 were on first day covers postmarked Tuskegee Institute, Alabama, where Carver was buried side by side with Booker T. Washington.
It is to Tuskegee Institute, rather than to Carver's birthplace near Diamond, Missouri, that we must look to find the real memorial to this extraordinary polymath, the "Plant Doctor," artist (one of his paintings was exhibited at the Columbian Exposition, winning an honorable mention), my cologist, botanist, agronomist, educator, etc. It is to Carver, rather than to Carter, that the peanut owes its real popularity; Dr. Carver discovered hundreds of industrial uses for peanuts as well as for sweet potatoes and soybeans-everything from fabrics to industrial chemicals to artificial marble.
As for Carver's birthplace, this was made a national memorial as of July 14, 1953, with a bronze bust being dedicated there; after Phillip's failure to make it self-supporting, the site found its way into the hands of the National Park Service, which still maintains it. Whether or not Phillips genuinely believed that his coinage project would help oppose the spread of communism among fellow blacks, the record is clear enough: very few blacks bought the coins. And, in fact, research done by one of us at City College of New York in this specific area of inquiry has indicated that the whole problem of communist infiltration among blacks was a chimera. During the existed and even these were not communismuism as were Senator McCarthy's cohorts, and policies were even then becoming notorious. After the coinage enterprise failed, Phillips' BTW buildings and restored log cabin-was put up for sale to pay off some $140,000 owed on it. Friendly legislators induced the State of Virginia to buy the site for presentation to the federal government.
Among outcries of broken contracts, misappropriated funds, abuses connected with distribution of the coins, and of various other kinds of corruption, misfeasance, nonfeasance and malfeasance, Phillips nevertheless tried to persuade Congress in 1956 to pass a bill authorizing withdrawal of unsold coins, re-melting, and re-coinage into still another type of commemoratives, these to number 10,000 specimens, to honor the guessed at centenary of Booker T. Washington's birth in 1956. This bill did not pass.
After it failed, the backs which had been handling type coins for Phillips began disposing of them at whatever prices they could get, eventually wholesaling them to dealers and spending those the dealers would not take (summer 1956). We have already seen, as well, how as late as 1962, Phillips attempted in vain to push other bills through Congress in aid of his floundering projects.
What may will be our last commemorative coins (aside from the Bicentennial issues dated 1776-1976, which were distributed as regular issues), though intended to honor a couple of the greatest men in our national history, nevertheless failed their intended purpose, and gave rise only to more scandal than their predecessors. Beyond doubt, the dismal record of S.J. Phillips as promoter of these coins has contributed much to the continuing Congressional and Treasury aversion to any resumption of commemorative coinage. Locating specimens where George Washington Carver's cheekbone does not appear rubbed or worn will be quite a job, for due to stacking and striking most coins have this characteristic. The exception to the aforementioned will be the 1952 Philadelphia issue which can be located in gem condition (MS-65+) with some effort at present. We have always found the 1954 set more difficult to obtain than the '53, though the '53 has always been touted as the key, the biggest obstacle to completeness. We believe there were more coins of the '54 issue melted than people are aware of because there was little public interest in them.


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