The Columbian Exposition half dollar commemorative coin, commonly referred to as the Columbian half dollar, was minted for the Columbian Exposition held between 1892 to 1893. It honors the 400th anniversary of Columbus' discovery of America.
The coin was originally supposed to be made by U.S.J. Dunbar. His design was based on a portrait painted by Lorenzo Lotto of Columbus in 1512. The U.S. Mint's Chief Engraver at the time, Charles E. Barber, derailed any attempt by Dunbar from producing the coin, and instead took on the project, basing his depiction of Columbus allegedly on a bust made by artist Olin L. Warner.
The obverse depicts a right-facing portrait of Columbus flanked by the legends UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and COLUMBIAN HALF DOLLAR.
Barber clashed with exposition officials over the reverse, favoring his own design of the Western Hemisphere covering the entire reverse. Exposition officials wanted a depiction of Columbus' flag ship Santa Maria poised over two globes. Seeking to absolve himself of the argument, Barber delegated the task to his Assistant Engraver, George T. Morgan.
The reverse features a port view of the Santa Maria above two hemispheres flanked by the date 1492. WORLD'S COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION CHICAGO encircles the rim, and the mintage date (either 1892 or 1893) is minted at the bottom of the coin.
The Columbian Half Dollar was minted exclusively at the Philadelphia Mint. A bill was passed on August 5, 1892 allowing no more than 5,000,000 to be produced for the fair. Mintage began on November 19, 1892.
Mintage for the 1892 Half Dollar numbered around 950,000. Mintage for the 1893 Half Dollar numbered 4,052,105; however 2,501,700 were returned to the mint for melting.
Proof strikes numbered 103 in 1892. Three of them were the 400th, 1,492nd and 1,892nd coins struck by the mint. These were in recognition of the 400th anniversary of the discovering of America, the year America was discovered, and the year of the anniversary.
An unknown amount of coins were retained for assay testing in 1892, and 2,105 were retained for assay testing in 1893.
The first struck half-dollar proof was bought by the Remington Typewriter Company, in a publicity stunt which garnered attention during the Exposition, for $10,000. The proofs were distributed to dignitaries and other Exposition officials. An unknown quantity of half-dollars were used as collateral against loans made to the Exposition by banks. When the Exposition failed to repay the debits, the banks dumped the coins into circulation. Coins were sold at the exposition for one dollar.
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Most coins can be had in mint state grades, and can be had for a nominal sum. Due to creditors dumping many half dollars used as collateral for loans, some coins are sometimes encountered with signs of circulation wear.
Portions of this article used material from the United States Mint website, which is in the public domain.