The Oregon Trail half dollar commemorates the arduous and dangerous journey made by thousands of pioneers who braved the 2,000-mile route during the 1840s from Independence MO to Fort Vancouver, in what is now Washington State. Issued as one of many early silver commemorative coins, the Philadelphia Mint struck the first 48,000 coins in September 1926. The San Francisco mint issued an additional 100,000 pieces later that year due to public demand. Production halted in 1927 when the US Treasury realized that buyer enthusiasm was not what it once was but the mints resumed production in 1928 with 50,000 coins remaining in the vaults until 1933.
The Scott Stamp and Coin Company in New York attempted to liquidate the 1928 issues but sold only 6,000 coins and sent 44,000 units to the melting pot. The Denver Mint issued 7,000 Fort Hall, Fort Laramie and Jason Lee issue coins in 1934 with another 10,000 coming from the Philadelphia Mint and 5,000 from San Francisco in 1936. The Denver Mint followed up with 12,000 coins in 1937. Sets featuring one coin from each mint became available in 1938 and 1939.
James Earle, designer of the Buffalo nickel, created the obverse design featuring a team of oxen pulling a Conestoga wagon toward a setting sun. Earle’s wife, Laura Gardin Fraser, is responsible for the reverse design with its depiction of a Native American standing with outstretched arm and a United States map serving as the background. Collectors consider the coin to be one of the best examples of American design among all US coins.
Capped Bust Half Dollars dated from 1807-1836 are enjoyed by collectors from all over the world. The initial releases of these coins had lettered edges and were produced using a screw press. Certain design elements such as the stars, the date, and the lettering were specifically set in by hand. This way of making the coins created a variety of these precious coins that collector’s worldwide desire.
Later in the series, more advanced production equipment was adopted at the Philadelphia Mint. This resulted in more standardized specifications for the coins and the use of a reeded edge. This portion of the series is generally more available than the previous.
There are two entirely different series which are sometimes broadly classified as Bust Halves. This includes the capped bust half dollars and draped bust half dollar coins. Draped bust halves are available in two kinds for the collector, which is one with a small size eagle on the back of the coin and the other with a larger eagle, which makes them very different in appearance. Capped and draped coins are very popular with many collectors and desired by them for their value and for coin collecting.
Typically these coins are mostly encountered in circulated grades or with various problems. Advanced collectors will seek out problem free examples with original surfaces. For those with larger budgets, examples can be acquired in uncirculated grades. These are particularly expensive for certain lower mintage issues of the series.
Only 1,758 flowing hair dollar coins had been minted and put into circulation, when production was halted in 1794 due to striking issues. A more effective press was obtained and production of the coin resumed in the following year.
The coin depicts a youthful looking Lady Liberty with flowing hair, as well as the date, the 15 stars that signified the Union at the time, and the word liberty. The reverse side of the coin features the recently established name of the country that issued the coin, as well as two olive branches enclosing an eagle with spread wings. There are dentils circling both the back and the front, and several variations of the design were made, including coins with two or three leaves under the wings of the eagle. All the coins were minted in Philadelphia but there is no mint mark, and on the more than 160,000 coins that have the date of 1795, no denomination information appears.
Today, silver dollars are popular and in particular, the flowing hair dollar dating from 1794 is a highly prized US coin. Only a small number of the coins are still in existence today and some fine and rare coins are regarded as being almost proof like.
Does absence make the heart grow fonder? Collectors get to answer the question in 2010, as the proof version of the Gold Eagle returns after the US Mint canceled last year’s offering.
Congress authorized the production of gold and silver bullion coins to provide investors with an easy and cost effective method for investing in precious metals. The bullion coins were distributed through a network of primary dealers, who could purchase the coins directly from the United States Mint and resell them to others. The coin’s design featured the obverse of the classic Saint Gaudens Gold Double Eagle, while the reverse featured a newly created rendition of a family of eagles.
Since the start of the program, the Mint also struck proof versions of the coins. These were packaged in display cases and sold directly to the public. The proof Gold Eagles carried fixed prices and reflected higher premiums due to the specialized minting process and higher quality of the coins. For the first year, only one ounce proof coins were struck. The following year one ounce and one-half ounce coins were available. For subsequent years until 2008, a full range of four sizes and a 4 Coin Set were available for collectors.
The cancellation of the popular collectible Gold Eagles in 2009 was the result of demand for gold bullion coins. The increased level of demand stressed, the Mint’s supply chain and not enough planchets were available. Since there was no legal requirement to offer proof coins, these were foregone in favor of making as many bullion coins as possible.
Production limits for the 2010 Proof Gold Eagle reflect slightly higher levels than the last time the coins were available, but will it be enough? Record gold prices and continued focus on materials of lasting value and beauty might make the coins a hot ticket.
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The last American silver dollars produced and released for circulation were the 1935 Peace Dollars. Following the massive production of the past few decades, which was required by certain legislation, there were more than enough coins remaining within Treasury stockpiles to satisfy the needs of circulation. Over the years, bags upon bags or silver dollars were slowly paid out to banks or individuals who requested them.
By the 1960’s, the rate of withdrawal from the silver dollars in storage began to increase. Millions began to be withdrawn, leading to the threat of a nationwide coin shortage. Congressmen from the regions where the coins were used most frequently in circulation, called for new production to begin. In 1964, legislation was passed, which would require the US Mint to strike more silver dollars.
The Denver Mint produced some 300,000 silver one dollar coins that were never issued. These coins carried the same Peace Dollar design by Anthony De Francisci that had been introduced in 1921 and used until 1935. The obverse of the coin showed an image of Liberty, who is said to have been modeled after the artist’s wife Teresa Cafarelli. The reverse features an eagle perched on a stone with the word “Peace.” Before the newly minted coins could be released, they were ordered to be recalled and melted. Presumably the entire mintage was melted and lost to collectors and future generations.
Subsequently, the Coinage Act of 1965, which took the silver out of most circulating coins, would require a five year ban on the silver dollar. Around 1969, when the ban was about to end, the idea emerged to create a new dollar coin featuring President Eisenhower, who had died recently. The plan eventually resulted in a copper nickel clad struck coin with no silver content. The coins would carry the same diameter of the classic silver dollars.
The first of the so-called Eisenhower Dollars were released in 1971. Under a special provision of the authorizing legislation, quantities of the coins with silver content were struck and offered for sale to collectors. From 1971 to 1974, the US Mint produced the dollar coins with a composition of 40% silver. None of these coins were issued into circulation, but sold to collectors for $3.00 each for uncirculated coins and $10.00 each for proof coins.
Perhaps it was not the way most people would have envisioned it, but after a lapse of more than 30 years, the United States experienced the return of the silver dollar.
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Considered to be one of the most beautiful designs in the history of U.S. coinage, Adolph A. Weinman’s design for the Walking Liberty Half Dollars appeared on circulating coins for more than thirty years. The design was revived for use on a silver bullion coin four decades later, putting it in the spotlight and forefront of American consciousness once again.
The “Walking Liberty” design features an image of the iconic Liberty figure striding confidently forward. One hand is outstretched before her while the other holds a bouquet of olive branches. An American flag is draped across her shoulders and billows in the breeze. The sun is rising in front of her. This design, steeped in symbolism and rich in beauty, is considered one of the highlights of the so-called Renaissance period of American coinage.
Used in circulation from 1916 to 1947, the design was replaced by the less popular Franklin design in 1948. Around that time, designs featuring Liberty were being phased out in favor of designs featuring famous or important figures in American history.
When a new bullion coin program was created for the United States, the obverse designs of the gold and silver coins revived some of the classic designs from earlier circulating coinage. The American Silver Eagle used Adolph A. Weinman’s design from the Walking Liberty Half Dollar. A new reverse design was created by John Mercanti featuring a heraldic eagle and shield.
In the past decade, more investors and collectors have been buying Silver Eagles, giving wide distribution to this classic design. In each of the past two years, more than 20 million coins have been minted and issued. As an annual mintage, this rivals most of the years of issuance of the original half dollar.