Booker T. Washington Half Dollar Values
The Booker T. Washington commemorative half dollar was struck at all three US mints from 1946 through 1951. It was both the first US commemorative coin to honor a Black person and the first US coin designed by a Black person.
The Booker T. Washington silver half dollar measures 30.6mm in diameter and weighs 12.5 grams. It is made from .900 fine silver (90% pure) with an actual silver content of 0.36169 troy oz (11.25 gr.). This was the same specifications as circulating .900 silver half dollars, which allowed thousands of Bookers to be released into circulation when sales faltered.
Booker T. Washington Half Dollar Prices and Mintages*
BOOKER T. WASHINGTON HALF DOLLAR VALUES (PHILADELPHIA)
TOTAL MINTAGE: 1,171,658
BOOKER T. WASHINGTON HALF DOLLAR VALUES (DENVER)
TOTAL MINTAGE: 327,147
BOOKER T. WASHINGTON HALF DOLLAR VALUES (SAN FRANCISCO)
TOTAL MINTAGE: 1,133,950
MINTAGE GRAND TOTAL: 2,632,755
*Data supplied by PCGS. Note that the Red Book mintages for these issues differ from other sources.
The obverse of the Booker T. Washington half dollar features the right three-quarters profile based on a life mask of Washington. The inscriptions UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and BOOKER T. WASHINGTON occupy the upper and lower half of the rim, respectively.
The denomination of HALF DOLLAR starts on the left center side of the rim between the U in United and the B in Booker, extending towards Washington’s ear. The year date is positioned above the denomination, offset to the right in order to fit between the UN in United and Washington’s ear. The national motto of E PLURIBUS UNUM appears in two center-justified lines between Washington’s cheek and the right center rim.
The reverse of the Booker T. Washington half dollar is dominated by the large inscription FROM SLAVE CABIN TO HALL OF FAME in the center of the coin. The image of the Hall of Fame for Great Americans in The Bronx, NY takes up most of the upper half of the coin, while the slave cabin where Washington was born in 1856 is on the bottom half. The inscriptions IN GOD WE TRUST and FRANKLIN COUNTY VA appear to the left and right of the cabin, respectively.
LIBERTY is inscribed in large letters along the rim below the slave cabin. It is set off by stars from “BOOKER T. WASHINGTON BIRTHPLACE MEMORIAL” in large letters occupying the rest of the rim.
The History of the Booker T. Washington Silver Half Dollar
The idea of a Booker T. Washington commemorative half dollar was proposed by the Booker T. Washington Birthplace Memorial Committee in 1945 to raise funds for the purchase and preservation of the cabin where Washington was born into slavery in 1856.
The law allowed up to 5 million of the silver commemoratives to be struck, with no time limit and no restrictions on the number of Mints that could be used. This was overly generous, but time would show that it really didn't matter. It took five years to reach slightly more than half the allowed number, after which production ended.
DID YOU KNOW?There were 48 different commemorative silver half-dollar designs between 1892 through 1954. When you count varieties, that number swells to 142! Talk about overwhelming coin collectors!
Sculptor Charles Keck, who had designed several commemorative coins as well as the famous 1927 “Lifting the Veil of Ignorance” statue of Washington, was initially commissioned to sculpt the half dollar. However, a Black artist named Isaac Scott Hathaway submitted his own designs for free. His obverse portrait was based on a life mask of Booker T. Washington. The Commission on Fine Arts, which was responsible for choosing the design, selected Hathaway’s work. (Keck was, of course, paid for his work as contracted.)
Reception of the Booker T. Washington Half Dollar
The reception of the Booker T. Washington Memorial half dollar could be summed up as a resounding “meh.” Out of the 18 different issues (3 Mints x 5 years), ten saw mintages of under 10,000 coins.
The first year of production saw 1.7 million halves struck. To show the disinterest of the coin, this was twice as much as the combined mintages for all subsequent years! Of the total 2.6 million B.T. Washington halves minted, almost 1.6 million are recorded as returned (or never issued) and melted down.
Interest in the Booker T. Washington half dollar plummeted after the first two years. Part of this could have been due to the relative obscurity of Washington compared to earlier commemorative subjects such as the Oregon Trail and the Battle of Gettysburg. But poor strike quality and “commemorative coin fatigue” played a larger part in disinterest in the coin. By 1946, most coin collectors had gotten sick of commemorative coin designs that went on for four or five years.
The 1946–1951 Booker T. Washington half dollar was the next-to-last design of the “classic era” of silver commemorative coins. Curiously enough, given the pronounced lack of interest in the coin, Washington would appear on the last silver commemorative design as well, paired with George Washington Carver.
Information in this article is provided for educational purposes only. It is not an offer to buy or sell the coins mentioned.
Read more about the history of U.S. coins from the expert authors at Gainesville Coins:
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