In 1936, the United States Mint issued an unusually large assortment of commemorative half-dollars. I believe that much of the reason for this was due to political excesses and abuse regarding the purpose of commemorative coins. This resulted in a glut of coins that celebrated and financed regional events rather than those with a national interest. Consequently, except for the Bicentennial coins, there were no new commemoratives minted after 1954 until the Washington Half-Dollar in 1982.
The aforementioned abuses have given coin collectors a treasure trove of collectible coins representing little-known events in American history. One such coin commemorates the sesquicentennial of Columbia as the capital of South Carolina. Regarding this coin, many people in the numismatic community think its design is simple and uninspiring. However, for the person who examines this coin a little closer, they will find a gold mine of South Carolinian history of national significance.
Since most of the commemorative coins issued in 1936 were regional in nature, their mintages tended to be very low. Correspondingly, this PCGS MS-63, 1936-S Columbia Sesquicentennial Half-Dollar has a mintage of only 8,007. For type collectors, this coin also has mintages from Philadelphia and Denver at 9,007 and 8,009 coins respectively. The composition, weight, and size of this coin are that of a standard 90% silver, US half-dollar and the coins designer is A. Wolfe Davidson, who was an art student at Clemson College.
The central device on the obverse of this coin is an image of Justitia, the Roman goddess of justice. In her right hand, she is holding a double-edged sword and in her left hand, a set of scales. Typically, Lady Justice is also wearing a blindfold to represent impartiality before the law. However, in this instance, she appears as she originally did in ancient Rome, which was without a blindfold. The scales representing truth and fairness equally weigh both sides of an issue. The double-edged sword representing reason and justice cuts both ways, for or against either party.
Behind Lady Justice, are images of the old and the new statehouses of South Carolina identified by the dates 1786 and 1936. Construction of the old statehouse began when Columbia became the state capital in 1786. Nearly three-quarters of a century later construction of a new statehouse began on an adjacent property. Adding to the mystique of this coin are the significant votes that took place in the old statehouse. One such vote on November 10, 1860, shortly after the election of Abraham Lincoln, called for a convention to draw up an Ordinance of Secession. Subsequently, on December 20, 1860, South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union. Unfortunately, the old statehouse burned to the ground under General Sherman’s occupation. Ironically though, the stone exterior of the new statehouse withstood the artillery bombardment of Shermans troops. Subsequently, brass markers identify the damage in the new statehouse by Union artillery shells. Economically devastated by the war, construction of the new statehouse was finally completed in 1903.
The central device on the reverse of this coin is a palmetto tree that is reminiscent of the state seal of South Carolina. At the base of the tree are a banner, twelve crossed arrows or spears, and a fallen oak.
The state seal of South Carolina is made up of two ovals connected to each other by palmetto branches. Atop the palmetto tree in the left oval are two shields with the dates’ March 26 and July 4 representing the date of the first South Carolina constitution and the declaration of Independence. Written on the banner at the base of the tree, at the point the twelve arrows cross, representing the twelve other colonies, is a Latin phrase translated, “who shall separate.” The fallen oak signifies the defeat of the British fleet attacking the fort at Sullivan’s Island on June 28, 1776. Underneath the tree is the phrase, “having fallen it has set up a better.” The right oval features Spes, the goddess of Hope holding a laurel branch and walking on a beach at dawn among discarded weapons. Written on the rim of the left oval is the state name and motto, “prepared in mind and resources,” and the phrase around the right oval is, “while I breathe, I hope.”
I must confess that without this coin I would not have had the occasion to learn the history represented on this coin. Therefore, in the context of history, commemorative coins serve to teach American history to current and future generations of Americans.
I will close this post with a fond memory I have from a vacation with my wife and kids as I was passing through South Carolina. Often while on a road trip, you make stops based on billboards along the way of places and things that look interesting. One such sign led us to a roadside market where I purchased a basket of the best peaches I have ever tasted (sorry Georgia). As I remember those peaches were as large as softballs, delectably sweet, and full of juice as evidenced by my sticky hands and soaked shirt! So until next month, happy collecting!