Maine is a lovely state with a reputation of good, honest people, but in the wild and crazy world of commemorative half dollars in 1936, usually admirable traits could work against success. That may explain what happened with the York County, Maine, Tercentenary half dollar.
Of course, York County itself may have worked against the coin, a reminder that events commemorated on coins should be of national interest. It was seen over and over in 1936, as events of local and regional interest suddenly found themselves on commemorative coins. There were coins for Long Island, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Lynchburg, (Va.), Elgin (Ill.), Columbia (S.C.), Norfolk (Va.) and others.
It was not a case where no commemorative should have taken place, but it is one where a coin of the U.S. being used to mark anniversaries of such places can be questioned and York County is certainly suspect.
In the dog-eat-dog world of commemorative half dollar sales back in the 1930s, a commemorative had to have a lot going for it to be successful. Not being well known worked against the York County half dollar.
It is also possible that the design did not inspire much interest. There was nothing wrong with the designs, which were made by Walter H. Rich of Portland, Maine.
The obverse showed a stockade, probably representing Brown?s Garrison on the Saco River, which as the site of the town settled in 1636, while the reverse has the York County seal, which is nice enough as county seals go, though they make for fairly routine coin designs.
It was not exactly a dramatic design, and even slightly confusing, as there was no obvious historical or allegorical figure depicted on either side.
The market was also understated. It was done by numismatist Walter P. Nichols, who did his best to find a wide market for the coins, which was not easy back in 1936, with American collectors being bombarded with one offer after another of commemorative half dollars. Some 25,015 were struck, which seemed to be the basic mintage in 1936.
If anything, the market was small and so were the claims for the York County half dollar, as Nichols did not engage in the promotion and hype seen with other issues at the time. He did not claim that the York County issue was sold out, or about to sell out. His approach worked fairly well, as all except about 6,000 coins were sold in a flurry. However, the sales basically stopped there.
The commemorative continued to be distributed through the 1950s, long after Nichols? death. Arlie Slabaugh suggests that in the 1950s, the association that had sponsored the tercentenary celebration was still selling the coin for $15.50 for 10 pieces. It was not a case of enormous sales, but at least those responsible for selling the commemorative could hold their heads high for dealing in an honest manner.
True to its history, the York County half dollar is not spectacular today. It lists for $250 in MS-60 and $350 in MS-65, which is very reasonable. There are a few circulated examples, but the bulk of them tend to fall slightly below MS-65, though there are enough in MS-65 and above to meet demand.
It?s a fitting price structure for at least one 1936 commemorative half dollar that was handled in a way to approve of.