The Stone Mountain Memorial half dollar is a coin that might very well not get approved today. It was a different era and people viewed things differently than we do today. That is not to excuse anything, or to draw any conclusions except to suggest that the idea of a half dollar to help pay for the carving of Confederate leaders and soldiers into a mountain in Georgia is probably today a non-starter when it comes to ideas. This, however, was 1925 and the idea was approved.
It’s worth noting that 1925 was a very busy year. It was probably an ominous sign of things to come as the Stone Mountain half dollar was joined by half dollars for the Lexington-Concord sesquicentennial, the California Diamond Jubilee and the Fort Vancouver centennial. At the time, four different topics in one year was a record.
Under the circumstances, it was going to be tough to sell the numbers desired. The Stone Mountain half dollar was first released on Jan. 21, 1925, which happened to be the anniversary of the birth of Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. This had a number of advantages, not the least of which was the use of mounted figures of Jackson and Robert E. Lee on the obverse. The design by Gutzon Borglum had to strike a chord with some using Lee and Jackson as well as the defiant eagle on the reverse along with a dedication to the valor of soldiers of the South. Once again, people today might not be so thrilled but this was 1925 and there were still some alive who remembered the war and others in their immediate families who served and there is no doubt this coin had a following.
Something else the half dollar had was marketing. Commemoratives prior to this would have had an unusual feature like a star added in the hope additional coins would sell.
Just consider the fact that the total of Stone Mountain half dollars stood at 1,314,709. The other totals for the year showed the Lexington-Concord at 162,013, the California half dollar was under 90,000 and the Fort Vancouver was under 15,000.
It was the most successful private coin marketing attempted. It was creativity and hard work with coins privately counterstamped by various state sales agencies. Such examples command high prices, but the approach produced results in state after state in the old Confederacy.
And there were big buyers with the estimates being that financier Bernard Baruch owned 100,000 pieces at one time. We cannot be sure of the number but certainly thousands were sold at $3.25 through the Citizens & Southern National Bank of Atlanta while others surfaced in other places.
It was an effort to market coins on a scale never seen before or since at least from private sources. The Stone Mountain carving was completed in 1970 and the Stone Mountain Memorial half dollars remain in large numbers today with an MS-60 at just $67.50. In MS-65, they are $315. For a commemorative with a low price and special counterstamped options which are many and costly, all make the Stone Mountain half dollar an extremely interesting, although controversial, coin.
This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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