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Commem design echoes Hawaiian king

Do we have a commemorative with a foreign ruler on it?

This article was originally printed in the latest issue of Numismatic News.
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Do we have a commemorative with a foreign ruler on it?


The standard answer that is known to most collectors is Queen Isabella, who appears on the 1893 Columbian Exposition quarter. However, there are two others. The first is the native chief on the Hawaiian Sesquicentennial half dollar of 1928 and on the 2008 Hawaii quarter. According to Walter Breen, the design was “influenced by the statue of King Kamehameha I near the Royal Palace in Honolulu.” The second is the Texas Centennial commemorative half dollar of 1934-1938 that depicts General Sam Houston, who was the first president of the Republic of Texas before it became part of the United States. For that matter, a case can be made that the Native American on the Oregon Trail (1926-1939) commemorative is a chief who ruled prior to the area becoming part of the United States.

A teller at the bank where I do business tells me that there are 1963A $50 notes that are missing the “In God We Trust” motto. What can you tell me about it?

Your bank teller has been misinformed as there are no known notes that are missing the motto for the $50 denomination in any of the 1963A series, which was the first $50 to carry the motto.
One caution: it is possible to remove the motto or any other detail with an electric eraser, so any note that should have the motto and doesn’t should be authenticated by an expert.

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The U.S. celebrated the Bicentennial with three special coins. How about the 100th birthday?

That event was marked with medals rather than special coins. However, by the 150th anniversary in 1926 the idea of a coin had caught hold, and there were two commemoratives – the Sesquicentennial half dollar and $2.50 gold.

What was the last U.S. gold commemorative before the 1984 Olympic eagles?

Before the 1984 Olympic eagles, the 1926 Sesquicentennial gold quarter eagle was the last gold commemorative coin to be produced, marking the 150th anniversary of the founding of the United States. Like most of the commemoratives, some 200,000 were struck, but all but about 40,000 were melted because the promoters overestimated the market.

Are there any specific distinguishing markers that can be used to detect the genuine Grant commemorative with star?

The genuine pieces with star have a die clash of the space between the leaves extending from Grant’s chin to the “G” in “GRANT” and another of the tops of the trees above the letters “F DO.” Some early reference works describe these marks as “die lines,” die cracks or die breaks, all of which are incorrect.

If the “CAL” on the 1848 quarter eagle was stamped in after the coin was struck, why doesn’t it bulge the other side of the coin?

Walter Breen’s comment on this is that the punching was done “while the piece still rested in the die.” Since this would be impossible in the coin press, the obverse die would have to have been removed and the coin laid on it outside the press.

Why isn’t the “In God We Trust” motto on the gold $5 Olympic coins of 1988?

The motto was left off the $5 gold proof and uncirculated coins because there wouldn’t have been enough room to get it in without further cramping the design. The enabling act specifically exempted the design from the motto requirement. If you look back at the early commemoratives, many of them are lacking one or another of the standard features of our circulating coins, exempted by the act that created them.

What was the first commemorative coin to bear the “In God We Trust” motto?

The Panama-Pacific half dollar of 1915. The commemorative coins were struck under the provisions of special acts of Congress, and thus did not have to abide by the specific regulations that prescribed the mottos and designs of our circulating coins.

What’s the story? I’m told the 1900 Lafayette dollars were issued in 1899 rather than 1900. How did they get away with pre-dating the coins?

On a technicality. The coins were struck to raise money for a statute honoring Lafayette, which was installed in 1900, so it was claimed that the 1900 date is intended to show the installation date, rather than the issue date of the coin.

My friend is betting (heavily) that the Lincoln cent is – or was – a commemorative when first issued. Who wins?

Better start reaching for your wallet. The Lincoln cent was struck in 1909 to mark the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth, just as the Washington quarter was struck in 1932 and the Bicentennial coins in 1976. Since they are circulating coins some feel they are not considered to be true commemoratives, although they readily formed the new class of “circulating commemoratives.”

The “D” mintmark on my 1921-D Pilgrim Tercentenary commemorative half dollar is incuse. Is this a mistake?

Sorry, but the “D” is the designer’s initial for Cyrus E. Dallin and is intended to be incuse as is the “F” on the Buffalo nickel for James Earle Fraser. All of the 1920 and 1921 issues of this design were struck at Philadelphia without a mintmark. There are no pre-1955 U.S. commemoratives with an incuse mintmark.

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