Back in 1923, Hollywood was flexing its muscles even when it came to coins. It got behind the idea of a Monroe Doctrine Centennial half dollar that was to be issued in conjunction with a motion picture exposition. It might seem like an odd pairing, but compared to the historic commemorative half dollars of the period, it actually seems pretty good by comparison.
Hollywood?s reputation for excess seems like it would have had some bearing on this commemorative issue. In fact, that was not the case. The 1923 Monroe Doctrine Centennial half dollar is marked by a design credited to Chester Beach. The obverse does not seem to be Hollywood-inspired. It features James Monroe and John Quincy Adams. The reverse features the Western Hemisphere in a form suggesting two female figures. This design is a very unusual treatment of geography, to say the least.
The date of 1923 might be a big reason why this coin saw few of the problems associated with other commemorative issues. It was not produced for a decade, it was a legitimate topic and there was only one coin, produced in San Francisco. There is no indication of any particular effort to convince collectors to buy more than one coin.
This lack of excess is probably due to the fact that the art of excess was not really refined back in 1923. A bit over a decade later, it is likely that someone would have tried anything to sell more examples of the 1923-S, but in 1923 there had been few programs with special gimmicks to sell coins. The existing efforts were fairly small and focused on selling just a few thousand extra coins. It is possible that the expectations for the Monroe Doctrine Centennial half dollar were worthy of Hollywood since its mintage of 274,077 was one of the highest totals for half dollars of the period.
While the large mintage seems to suggest that sales were impressive, the total is deceptive. Certainly there were thousands of sales at the going rate of $1 each, but it appears that the bulk of the mintage was dumped into circulation. The Monroe Doctrine Centennial commemorative half dollar was common in pocket change and frequently received at banks.
It lists for $75 in MS-60 but goes for $2,950 in MS-65. This MS-65 listing puts it among the more expensive commemorative half dollars in the grade.
Professional Coin Grading Service has seen 2,972 examples of the Monroe Doctrine half dollar, so it is not tough in numbers. But of that fairly large total, only 237 were called MS-65 and just 44 more were called anything better. The best four were called MS-67.
The Monroe Doctrine half dollar is a lot better in top grades than might be expected, either because of its difficult design or the unusual practice of dumping thousands of examples into regular circulation.