The 1936 Albany, N.Y., 250th anniversary of the granting of its charter is a classic half dollar from the period. It is a good example of the times, a situation that most see as having gotten out of control.
The fact that there was an Albany half dollar at all says a lot. In theory, a U.S. commemorative should be commemorating an event of national importance. Certainly Albany is a significant city and a 250th anniversary is a significant anniversary. Whether that translates into an event of national importance is far less certain.
The legitimate questions about the Albany half dollar could also be raised in regard to the host of other commemoratives issued that year. Under the circumstances, there were few if any collectors who were going to attempt all the new half dollars.
The new issues combined with older programs that continued issuing coins in 1936 required collectors to purchase a commemorative half dollar virtually every three weeks. With the nation still making its way out of the Great Depression, that was an enormous amount of money to spend on coins.
For a commemorative to stand out and have any chance of good sales in such an environment, it would need something special like an unusual and interesting design. The Albany design prepared by Gertrude K.
Lathrop with a beaver gnawing on a maple branch on the obverse is unusual. The reverse of Gov. Dongan, Peter Schuyler and Robert Livingston, while historically interesting, probably did not strike many as all that exciting.
The fact that the Albany half dollar came out in the fall was another disadvantage. By then, nearly everyone had already had their fill of new commemoratives.
Selling the already produced 25,000 Albany half dollars at $2 each proved to be an uphill battle. The Albany Dongan Charter Coin Commission that marketed the coins tried to the point of going overboard with claims. They also went overboard on time, as they kept trying to sell them for six years. Finally in 1943, 7,342 coins were sent back to Philadelphia and melted.
However, there were still plenty floating around. In his book, American Coin Treasures and Hoards, Q. David Bowers reports that Abe Kosoff had been offered the commission’s inventory for just $50 above face.
Bowers also reports that the State Bank of Albany had between 1,600 and 2,400 examples in its vaults that it was willing to sell for $2.
In MS-60, the Albany half lists for $330, which is a fairly high price that probably reflects its relatively low sales. In MS-65, however, it has proven to be fairly available at $470.
Under the circumstances, spending the extra on an MS-65 is probably a good investment. Whatever grade one acquires, it is safe to say that the Albany commemorative is really a half dollar of its time.