Technically, they are the California Pacific International Exposition half dollars, but that has been shortened to San Diego by most. It was a technical correction of sorts, and that and other changes seemed to be the order of the day for the coin.
The idea, which seemed harmless enough, was to have a half dollar to help with the costs of the California Pacific International Exposition. The proposal was approved on May 3, 1935, and Robert Aitken designed a coin that had a female seated with a spear, with a bear at one side and a shield on the other. The reverse shows the observation tower and State of California building at the exposition.
It seemed innocent enough, although there was going to be some serious competition when it came to sales, as in 1935 there were not just a lot of new commemoratives, but a fair number of continuing programs. The Texas and Daniel Boone half dollars were continuing, while Arkansas, Connecticut, Hudson, New York and Old Spanish Trail half dollars all made their appearance.
The initial idea was for just one year of production, with the coins being sold at the California Pacific International Exposition. Things changed as the coin was authorized under the authority of the special Recoinage Act of May 6, 1936, which specified that 180,000 pieces could be recoined with the date 1936, no matter the year of issue.
There would be a difference, as the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition half dollar was produced at San Francisco, while the 1936 would be produced at Denver.
It was unusual to have the same coin produced at different facilities in two years. There were issues that had sets produced at all three facilities, but not individual coins at different facilities in different years.
There was unusual activity regarding the sales, as well. Thousands were sold at the California International Pacific Exposition and some were probably sold by mail. How many were sold in each manner is uncertain.
When it came to sales, a great deal was uncertain. We know that Anthony Swiatek and Walter Breen claim that a hoard of 31,050 pieces of the 1935-S issue was dispersed after 1966. Considering the total mintage of the 1935-S was 70,132, that was an enormous number.
Dealer Dwight Manley adds more than 5,000 examples of the 1935-S and that was possibly out of a hoard of 10,000, plus 5,000-6,000 examples of the 1936-D to the hoard reports, making it start to seem like virtually none were ever sold back in the 1930s.
The hoards have reportedly now been dispersed, but in the wake of such numbers, we have solid supplies today. That can be seen in an MS-60 price of $140, while an MS-65 is at $180 one of the lowest historic commemorative MS-65 levels. In fact, that seems consistent with the report of the large totals of the 1935-S, with many being top grade.
The 1936-D is slightly tougher with a reported mintage of just over 30,000 and smaller hoards. Even so, at $150 in MS-60 and $185 in MS-65, the 1936-D also has to be seen as available.
Certainly, the hoards made a significant difference when it comes to the availability of the San Diego half. There is nothing wrong with that, as it allows you to get a good coin at a better price, while considering just which hoard your coin might have been in at one time.