Sometimes things in the old commemorative program simply got a little strange. It is hard to explain why things happened the way they did with the Arkansas Centennial half dollar but it certainly makes for an interesting collection, or mini-collection.
The idea was certainly simple enough. The year 1936 was the 100th anniversary of the admission of Arkansas to the Union. In some years that meant a single coin and nothing more, but the commemorative program took a turn in the 1930s. It began with the Oregon Trail half dollar. By the 1930s it had been issued a couple times since its first production in 1926. Simply put, sponsors of the programs had the idea that to make more money a coin basically could be issued as many years and from as many mints as the Congress would allow.
Officially 1936 was the anniversary year, but the Arkansas half dollar was already out in 1935. It was designed by Edward Everett Burr with the models being prepared by Emily Bates of Arkansas. The design started out with an interesting twist as technically the obverse with the date was an eagle while the reverse showed the accolated heads of an Indian chief of 1836 and an American girl of 1936.
Coins issued to distributors from 1935 sold at prices that were quite high. To pay $8.75 for a three-coin set just a few years after the worst period of the Great Depression was a major expense.
Ultimately the Arkansas half dollar was produced from 1935 to 1939. Such a long period of sales was probably not required for the state’s centennial. Like other such issues, sales dropped off starting with 13,012 type coins. However, the three-coin set sales were 5,505. In fact, a 1935 is the most available type coin with a price today of just $100 in MS-60 and $215 in MS-65.
With each year’s sales totals dropping to a point where the sales in 1939 were just 2,104, less than one-half of the total just a few years earlier, today those later dates where there are only the three-coin sets become much tougher and more expensive.
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A number of years of three-coin sets would have been quite enough by normal standards, but by the mid-1930s sponsors of coin programs were ready to try anything to sell more coins. In the case of Arkansas, they came up with an idea that thankfully did not spread. On June 26, 1936, with the Arkansas half dollar basically in its second year, a second law was passed that authorized a second design.
In the second design, the obverse with the eagle and date is unchanged but the new reverse is Sen. Joseph T. Robinson as engraved by Henry Kreis. The law stipulated a reverse change, so the Indian chief and girl were gone replaced by a senator who had been the vice presidential candidate with Al Smith in 1928.
The whole thing was unusual as in 1936 there were Arkansas half dollars with two different designs. Add to that the use of a senator for no particularly good reason and the fact that the other 1936 Arkansas half dollars were sold in sets while the Robinson design was sold individually, and you have a mixture rarely seen in even the most unusual commemorative programs.
The Robinson version of the Arkansas half dollar had sales of 25,265, which actually makes it relatively available with a price today of $175 in MS-60 while an MS-65 lists at $385. It is considered another type for a commemorative set, which means collectors might have a 1935 of the regular design in their collection and a 1936 with the Robinson design.
The Arkansas commemorative half dollar program was a unique combination, making for an interesting although slightly confusing set of options today.