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Maine Centennial half was party no-show

item170.jpgOne would think that a Maine Centennial half dollar would be a relatively straightforward commemorative. Well, in some ways it is. But reading between the lines reveals potential for later and greater problems with other issues.

No regular commemorative coin program existed in 1920. The last commemorative half dollar had been the Lincoln-Illinois Centennial half dollar of 1918, which saw a very large mintage. Many of these coins ended up sitting in bags in bank vaults for years before basically being released at face value. Commemorative programs at the time were not run very well and were not all that successful in terms of sales.

The programs were also not very consistent. For example, the gold dollar had been used for commemoratives more than any other denomination. The 1920 Maine half dollar did not follow this pattern.

The Maine Centennial got off to a rocky start. A mintage of 100,000 was authorized on May 10, 1920. The idea was that the half dollars would be sold at the centennial celebration in Portland. Anthony de Francisci would model the coin from a design by Harry H. Cichrane. The obverse is the arms of the state of Maine that includes the Latin word ?DIRIGO? for ?I Direct,? and the reverse is very simply, ?MAINE CENTENNIAL? with the dates in a wreath. As it turned out, just half of the 100,000 coins authorized were produced, along with 28 pieces for the Assay Commission. This was not unusual since the Treasury had ended up melting large numbers of unused coins from prior mintages that turned out to be far too large.

There were no coins to sell at the big celebration because they were not ready. They ended up arriving later at the office of the state treasurer. Considering that the celebration was over, the state treasurer made the best of the situation and did better than expected. More than 30,000 were quickly sold, and the rest were sold off over time.

It was rare for state officials to get involved in marketing commemoratives, and usually the results were not very good. Iowa set aside 1,000 examples of its 1946 commemorative. Five-hundred were to be sold in 1996 and the rest in 2046. They did not wait and tried to sell 500 coins in 1992 at an outrageous price of $500 each. Maine just kept selling the coins at reasonable prices, and it appears they were all sold by the 1930s.

With a mintage of 50,000, high prices aren?t likely for the Maine half dollar. It currently lists at $165 in MS-60, but an MS-65 is $585. The supply in top grades is not that strong. Perhaps this is a reflection of the rushed production that still failed to get them to Maine in time.

The Maine Centennial half dollar is not a rare coin; however, it comes with a great story of overcoming problems to make an early commemorative program successful.

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