Hudson Sesquicentennial half dollar

Hudson, New York, Sesquicentennial half dollar
United States
Value50 cents (0.50 US dollars)
Mass12.5 g
Diameter30.61 mm
Thickness2.15 mm (0.08 in)
EdgeReeded
Composition
  • 90.0% silver
  • 10.0% copper
Silver0.36169 troy oz
Years of minting1935
Mintage10,008 including 8 pieces for the Assay Commission
Mint marksNone, all pieces struck at the Philadelphia Mint without mint mark
Obverse
Hudson Sesquicentennial obverse.jpg
DesignShip Half Moon
DesignerChester Beach
Design date1935
Reverse
Hudson Sesquicentennial reverse.jpg
DesignSeal of the City of Hudson
DesignerChester Beach
Design date1935

The Hudson, New York, Sesquicentennial half dollar, sometimes called the Hudson Sesquicentennial half dollar, is a commemorative fifty-cent piece struck by the United States Bureau of the Mint in 1935. The coin was designed by Chester Beach. Its obverse depicts Half Moon, flagship of Henry Hudson, after whom the city of Hudson is named.

Although the city of Hudson was a relatively small municipality, legislation to issue a coin in honor of its 150th anniversary went through Congress without opposition and was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, becoming the Act of May 2, 1935, though authorization for a Rhode Island Tercentenary half dollar was added in the Senate. Ten thousand Hudson half dollars were distributed to civic authorities in June 1935 for sale to the public.

In addition to showing the ship, the coin depicts a version of the Hudson city seal, with Neptune riding a whale, a design that has caused commentary over the years. Most of the coins were most likely bought by coin dealers, leaving few for collectors, with the result that prices spiked from the $1 cost at the time of issue. This caused anger among coin collectors, but did not lower the coin's value, which has continued to increase for the eighty-plus years since it was struck.

Background and legislation

Hudson, New York, the county seat of Columbia County, lies on the east bank of the Hudson River, south of Albany. It was founded in 1662 under the name Claverack Landing, [1] Originally a trading post for the Rensselaer family, it saw considerable expansion in the early 1780s, and was incorporated under the name Hudson in 1785. During the 1930s, it had about 14,000 residents.[2]

A bill for a half dollar to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the city of Hudson, New York, was introduced in the House of Representatives by New York Congressman Philip A. Goodwin on April 6, 1935, and provided for 6,000 pieces. It was referred to the Committee on Coinage, Weights, and Measures.[3] Goodwin was the longtime president of the Greene County Historical Society, and introduced the bill as a favor for friends in nearby Hudson.[4] A report was issued by Missouri's John J. Cochran, acting chairman of the committee, on April 2, 1935, recommending that the bill pass with an amendment increasing the mintage to 10,000, and noting that Goodwin had appeared before the committee to pledge that the entire mintage would be taken up by the city authorities, thus there would be no coins left on the Mint's hands.[5] On April 3, immediately after the House passed a bill for the Old Spanish Trail half dollar, it passed the bill for the Hudson piece, without debate or opposition, on Cochran's motion. The Missouri congressman also included his report in the Congressional Record.[6]

The bill thus passed to the Senate, where it was referred to the Committee on Banking and Currency. On April 11, 1935, New York Senator Robert F. Wagner issued a report, recommending that the bill pass unamended.[7] When the bill was considered in the Senate on April 15, Rhode Island's Jesse H. Metcalf moved to amend it so that the bill would also provide for the issuance of a Rhode Island Tercentenary half dollar. There was no objection or debate concerning either the amendment or the bill as a while, and it passed the Senate.[8]

The bill returned to the House of Representatives as the two versions passed were not identical. There, on April 18, on motion of Cochran, the House agreed to the Senate amendments.[9], and it was enacted on May 2 by the signature of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.[10] Anthony Swiatek and Walter Breen, in their 1988 volume on commemoratives, suggested that the bill passed because of "probably the usual 'you vote for my bill and I'll vote for yours' arrangement".[11]

Preparation

On the day Roosevelt signed the legislation, Congressman Goodwin wrote to Charles Moore, chairman of the Commission of Fine Arts, charged by a 1921 executive order by President Warren G. Harding with rendering advisory opinions regarding public artworks, including coins, requesting the names of suitable artists to design the coin. Moore suggested Laura Gardin Fraser as standing in the first rank of medallists, with other possibilities to include Mint Chief Engraver John R. Sinnock, Paul Manship, Francis H. Packer and Chester Beach. Mayor Frank Wise of Hudson asked if John Flanagan, who had recently designed the Washington quarter would do; Moore agreed by telegram. However, the commission went to Chester Beach for $1,000; the sculptor also agreed to guide the city through the coin approval process.[12]

Wise and his officials had tentatively decided to have a head of Henry Hudson on one side of the coin with the city seal on the other. Beach quickly prepared sketches and met with Wise on May 13, but convinced the mayor that instead of the explorer (no actual portrait of him is known) his ship, the Half Moon would be a better choice. Working at speed unusual for a commemorative coin of that era, Beach completed plaster models in one week, adding a crescent moon to the left of the ship. The models were converted to coinage dies by the Medallic Art Company of New York, as it could do it faster than could the Philadelphia Mint. The company apparently contacted the Mint for advice as Chief Engraver Sinnock wrote on May 23. Though unfamiliar with the Hudson legislation, Sinnock had confidence in Beach's ability, since designs prepared by Beach had made coins easy for the Mint to strike. Beach quoted this passage in reporting to Moore on May 27 that the sculptor-member of the Fine Arts Commission, Lee Lawrie, had approved the designs. Approval by the full commission followed on May 28, and by Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau a week later.[13]

Design

The obverse of the coin shows the Half Moon, Henry Hudson's flagship, sailing to the right. To the left of the merchantman's rigging is a stylized crescent moon. The ship is surrounded with two rings of lettering, the inner reading "IN GOD WE TRUST" and HUDSON and the outer the name of the country and the coin's denomination. The designer's monogram, CB may be found at the waterline on the left side of the coin. The reverse is a rendition of the city of Hudson's seal, with Neptune holding a trident, riding backwards on a whale. A mermaid or triton in the background blows into a conch shell.[14] The seal design comes from the fact that Hudson was a whaling port, although it is some distance up the Hudson River from the ocean.[15] The motto ED DECUS ET PRETIUM RECTI (Both the honor and the reward of the righteous) comes from the city seal; the name of the city and the anniversary dates surround the seal, with E PLURIBUS UNUM above the dates.[16]

Don Taxay, in his book on commemorative coins, described the seal as "a rather whimsical composition";[17] Beach deemed it "rather amusing" and hoped the new coins "will be a little more interesting than the others I have done".[18] Anthony Swiatek and Walter Breen, in heir volume on commemoratives, referred to "the quint device of King Neptune riding backwards on a spouting whale, whose eye is represented as being about where its blowhole should be. Neptune is briefly clad in a wisp of cloth 'blowing in the wind'."[19] They suggested that the position of the moon meant, if it was waxing, that the ship was sailing west toward America, but if waning, was sailing east to Europe.[19]

Art historian Cornelius Vermeule, in his volume about U.S. coins and medals, considered the ship on the obverse "straightforward faire for commemorative half-dollars", though he found the name "HUDSON" beneath the waves unneeded given the legend on the reverse.[20] The reverse based on the city seal was to him "a harming throwback to colonial days, and in American numismatics to the quasi–federal and state issues of the period 1780 to 1792".[20] Vermeule noted "the baroque motto above Neptune and his group [which] makes it evident that this subject, appealing and amusing in itself, appears here because it is the singular characteristic of the City of Hudson on the river of the same name.[21]

Production, distribution, and collecting

So far as known, this piece is the first ever dedicated to the coin collector. Everything about it shows the purpose for which it was issued. Behold, on the obverse, the ship of Hudson homeward bound in all its triumph. Is it not laden, oh, my friends, with the catch of a most profitable expedition to the Sea of Suckers, where the proverbial one is born every minute?  ... But, ah! the reverse — can it really be the devil himself? Be still, my troubled heart, 'tis only the captain of the great Half Moon jauntily sporting his workaday clothes! Caught, too, in the very act of administering the coup-de-grace to the poor sucker that was snared into his trap. Another unsuspecting sucker may be seen nearby awaiting his turn and blowing his trumpet in anticipation of what he believes to be his great moment.

"A. Shornlamb", The Numismatist, February 1936, p. 109.[22]

On June 12, 1935, John Evans, vice president of the First National Bank of Hudson to the acting Director of the Mint, Mary M. O'Reilly, asking on behalf of Mayor Wise that only 6,000 coins be struck at that time, with the remainder to be coined later if demand justified it.[23] But the Mint delivered the entire 10,000 authorization on June 28. Reservations for coins had been taken since early May (at $1 per coin, plus postage of $.03 per two coins and registered mail fee of $.18 per order), and on July 2, Evans, who was in charge of distribution, began informing what Swiatek called "Infuriated collectors" that the coins were sold out.[16] Coin dealer Julius Gruttag, of New York City's Gruttag Brothers, is believed to have bought 7,500 coins at $.95 each, with Hubert W. Carcaba of Saint Augustine, Florida believed to have bought 1,000 more.[24] In addition to the 10,000 pieces distributed, eight coins were struck at Philadelphia and retained there to be available for inspection and testing at the 1936 meeting of the annual Assay Commission.[10]

The uproar in the coin collecting community resulted in bad publicity for the city of Hudson. Although the specifics of how the coins came to be so quickly sold out were not immediately known, collectors intuited a trick, especially when coins proved plentiful on the market at between $5 and $7 each. Many of these sold, helping set off a commemorative coin boom that would continue later in 1935 when low-mintage varieties of the Daniel Boone Bicentennial half dollar came on the market after a similar immediate sellout. But collectors wrote angry letters to numismatic societies and periodicals, and the Hudson piece was among those described to Congress by future American Numismatic Association president L. W. Hoffecker when he testified in March 1936. By 1940, the price on the secondary market had dropped back to $5.50, but thereafter rose steadily and reached $1,700 during the commemorative coin boom of 1980.[25] The edition of R. S. Yeoman's A Guide Book of United States Coins published in 2017 lists the coin for between $700 and $1,500, depending on condition.[26] A near-pristine specimen sold at auction in 2014 for $15,275.[27]

References

  1. ^ Slabaugh, p. 103.
  2. ^ Bowers, pp. 293–294.
  3. ^ "Hudson, New York and Providence Rhode Island Anniversary Commemorative 50-Cent Pieces)". ProQuest Congressional. Retrieved August 8, 2017. Unknown parameter |subscription= ignored (help)
  4. ^ Swiatek & Breen, p. 102.
  5. ^ House report, pp. 1–2.
  6. ^ 1935 Congressional Record, Vol. 81, Page 4951–4952 (April 3, 1935) (subscription required)
  7. ^ Senate report, p. 1–2.
  8. ^ 1935 Congressional Record, Vol. 81, Page 5643–5644 (April 15, 1935) (subscription required)
  9. ^ 1935 Congressional Record, Vol. 81, Page 5995 (April 18, 1935) (subscription required)
  10. ^ a b Swiatek, p. 249.
  11. ^ Swiatek & Breen, pp. 101–102.
  12. ^ Taxay, pp. v–vi, 161.
  13. ^ Taxay, pp. 161–166.
  14. ^ Swiatek, pp. 249–250.
  15. ^ Taxay, p. 166.
  16. ^ a b Swiatek, p. 250.
  17. ^ Taxay, p. 161.
  18. ^ Taxay, p. 165.
  19. ^ a b Swiatek & Breen, p. 101.
  20. ^ a b Vermeule, p. 189.
  21. ^ Vermeule, p. 190.
  22. ^ Bowers, p. 297.
  23. ^ Flynn, pp. 282–283.
  24. ^ Bowers, p. 295.
  25. ^ Bowers, pp. 295–299.
  26. ^ Yeoman 2017, p. 305.
  27. ^ Yeoman 2015, p. 1147.

Sources

  • Bowers, Q. David (1992). Commemorative Coins of the United States: A Complete Encyclopedia. Wolfeboro, New Hampshire: Bowers and Merena Galleries, Inc. ISBN 978-0-943161-35-8.
  • Flynn, Kevin (2008). The Authoritative Reference on Commemorative Coins 1892–1954. Roswell, Georgia: Kyle Vick. OCLC 711779330.
  • United States House of Representatives Committee on Coinage, Weights and Measures (April 2, 1935). Coinage of 50-cent Pieces in Commemoration of the One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Founding of the City of Hudson, N. Y. (PDF). Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office. Unknown parameter |subscription= ignored (help)
  • United States Senate Committee on Banking and Currency (April 11, 1935). Coins in Commemoration of the Founding of the City of Hudson, N. Y. (PDF). Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office. Unknown parameter |subscription= ignored (help)
  • Slabaugh, Arlie R. (1975). United States Commemorative Coinage (second ed.). Racine, Wisconsin: Whitman Publishing. ISBN 978-0-307-09377-6.
  • Swiatek, Anthony (2012). Encyclopedia of the Commemorative Coins of the United States. Chicago: KWS Publishers. ISBN 978-0-9817736-7-4.
  • Swiatek, Anthony; Breen, Walter (1981). The Encyclopedia of United States Silver & Gold Commemorative Coins, 1892 to 1954. New York: Arco Publishing. ISBN 978-0-668-04765-4.
  • Taxay, Don (1967). An Illustrated History of U.S. Commemorative Coinage. New York: Arco Publishing. ISBN 978-0-668-01536-3.
  • Vermeule, Cornelius (1971). Numismatic Art in America. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-62840-3.
  • Yeoman, R.S. (2015). A Guide Book of United States Coins (1st Deluxe ed.). Atlanta, Georgia: Whitman Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7948-4307-6.
  • Yeoman, R.S. (2017). A Guide Book of United States Coins (The Official Red Book) (71st ed.). Atlanta, Georgia: Whitman Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7948-4506-3.

External links