The Washington-Carver Half Dollar 1051-54

The Washington-Carver Half Dollar 1051-54

It was 1951, and the legislation for the Booker T Washington half dollars built in ending deadline was reached. Congress was probably thankful that the last commemorative half dollar was now history.

 But the promoter of the BTW half, SJ Phillips, still wanted to be able to sell the other 3.5 million half dollars that the BTW had originally authorized.  So he came back to Congress with another commemorative half dollar proposal combining Booker T Washington with another great Negro scientist Washington Carver.

After the scandals of the earlier commemorative half dollars and the poor sales of the BTW halves over the past five years you would think that Phillips’ chances of getting another coin approved would be about zero.  But Phillips understood politics and what was going on in the country at the time, so he included a clause in the bill that would guarantee that his bill would be passed.  It stated that part of the proceeds of the sale of the coins would be used  “to oppose the spread of Communism among the Negroes in the interest of national defense”.  This was 1951; Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s Un-American Activities Committee was in full swing denouncing people all over as being Communists.  The Committee was “all powerful” and was able to jail or destroy the careers of people denounced.  Proof wasn’t needed, the simple act of being accused could end careers and destroy lives.  About the only way for an accused person to appease the Committee was to name others as suspected Communists.  It was the Salem Witch Trials magnified a thousandfold.  No one would want to go on record voting against something with the avowed purpose of opposing the spread of Communism.

So, on September 21st, 1951 Congress passed the legislation giving Phillips three more years in order to sell the remaining 3.5 million coins in the form of Washington-Carver half dollars.

Phillips went back to Isaac Hathaway, designer of the BTW half, to design the new coin.  If the BTW was bad, the Washington-Carver was even worse.  The obverse shows the right facing conjoined busts of Washington Carver, and Booker T Washington (in different size scales) in the center of the coin.  The bulk of the obverse is then given over to inscriptions in two concentric circles.  UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, IN GOD WE TRUST, and E PLURIBUS UNUM make up the outer circle while WASHINGTON W CARVER, LIBERTY, BOOKER T WASHINGTON, and HALF DOLLAR are the inner circle.  The date is seen behind the heads at 9:00.

The original reverse for the coin used the badge of the American Legion with the inscriptions UNITED AGAINST THE SPREAD OF COMMUNISIM above and NATIONAL AMERICANISM COMMISSION below it.  The Fine Arts Commission approved this design but Secretary of State Dean Acheson felt the inscriptions would antagonize the Soviet Union and worsen the Cold War so he vetoed the design.  Hathaway then created the final design of the large map of the USA with USA plastered across it with the inscriptions FREEDOM AND OPPORTUNITY FOR ALL, AMERICANISM.  This design was approved on November 15th 1951.

Deliveries of the new coins began in December of 1951, 110,000 Philadelphia coins and 10,000 each for Denver and San Francisco.  This provided coins for 10,000 three piece sets and 100,000 coins that could be sold individually.  The sets were priced at $10 each and the single coins were $5.50 each.  A similar pattern would be followed in 1952, 53, and 54 but the number of coins would vary for each year.  For some reason the number of Philadelphia coins in 1952 was huge with 2 million pieces being struck.  In 53 and 54 they only made 100,000 individual coins.  The number of sets dropped to 8,000 in 1952 and 53, and rose slightly to 12,000 in 1954.  But sales as usual did not approach the mintages.  They did manage to sell all of the three coin sets in 1951, 52, and 53, but 4,000 of the 1954 sets went back to the mint for melting.  For the individual coins the melting were high so that only roughly 40,000 each of the 1951, 53, and 54 survived.  The 1952 was somewhat different with 1.1 million of the 2 million coins being sold.  (I suspect the 1951 coins came out late enough in the year they weren’t noticed and most of the 1952’s were purchased as the initial issue and interest died for the later years.)  So of the 3.5 million coins authorized 2.4 million were coined and 1.1 million were melted back down.  This left a final mintage of 1.3 million coins when the authorization expired in 1954.  Some 2.9 million total of the original 5 million coins authorized for the two coins were sold.

Even with the roughly $3.5 million Phillips received from this coin and the $1.8 million from the BTW half, in 1955 the Booker T Washington memorial he created in 1946 closed and was sold in 1955 due to debts of over $140,000.  Phillips tried to keep it open by trying to get yet a third coin authorized for Booker T Washington in 1955 but by then Congress didn’t want to have anything to do with him or commemorative coins.  It would be 2 years before another non-circulating commemorative half dollar would be struck.

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