Coin Specifications

Category: Silver Commemoratives (1892-1954)
Mint: Philadelphia
Mintage: 5,000
Obverse Designer: Constance Ortmeyer
Reverse Designer: Constance Ortmeyer
Composition: Silver
Fineness: 0.9000
Weight: 12.5000g
ASW: 0.3617oz
Melt Value: $6.21 (10/17/2017)
Diameter: 30.6mm
Edge: Reeded
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1936 CINCINNATI 50C MS obverse 1936 CINCINNATI 50C MS reverse

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Description & Analysis

The 1936 Cincinnati Half Dollar was another in a long line of clear money grabs in the history of the classic commemorative series. Just as the Alabama “Centennial” half dollar was essentially an afterthought used to raise money, so too was the Cincinnati. The coin was ostensibly struck to celebrate the anniversary of Cincinnati, Ohio “as a center of music,” and to commemorate “its contribution to the art of music for the past 50 years.” However, in reality, the purpose of this half dollar was to make money for a small group of coin collectors and dealers, primarily Thomas G. Melish.

One of the biggest issues with the minting of this coin is that, historically, the commemorative coins were reserved for celebrating special anniversaries. In this case, however, there was no special anniversary of any sort within a decade of 1936. In fact, even the Commission of Fine Arts noted that there were a multitude of reasons not to issue this coin and advised against it.

Yet, Melish and his Commemorative Coin Association prevailed, and on March 31, 1936, Congress authorized the striking of 15,000 coins at the “mints.” Melish originally wanted 10,000 pieces struck at the Philadelphia Mint, 3,000 in San Francisco, and only 2,000 in the Denver facility. This, of course, would have made the 1936-D coins instant rarities. The Congressional Act, however, was amended to specify that the term “at the Mints” meant that 5,000 pieces were to be struck at each of the three mint branches.

The coin itself was designed by artist Constance Ortmeyer. The obverse has an image of Stephen Foster, who is known as the father of American Music and lived in Cincinnati for a few years (not while writing music), which was apparently enough for Melish. The back portrays a kneeling woman which is supposed to represent the Goddess of Music. The coin itself supposedly honors the golden anniversary of the Cincinnati as the Center of Music, but if that was reality, then the coin should have been struck in 1923 as opposed to 1936.

As if only to further prove to future generations that the Cincinnati Commemorative was a money grab, the 3-coin sets were issued at a costly $7.75, as opposed to the more reasonable $3 per set price point of most other commemoratives. But to add even more insult to injury, the sets (sold by Melish, of course,) were “over-subscribed,” and he began to sell sets on the secondary market for $45. In the end, Melish created the instant rarity he wanted, and today, decades later, the coins are still sought by collectors as one of the key types of the commemorative coin series.


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Price Guide

Last Updated: 11/30/2016

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Base $ - - 160 190 250 260 265 275 280 290 300 310 335 375 575 1350 8100 - - -
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Total Graded: 856
Low Grade: 60
Average Grade: 64
High Grade: 67

Upcoming Auctions

Auction Prices Realized

A random selection of coins is shown below.

Auction House
Sale / Lot
11/16/1998 NGC MS 64   Teletrade Auction 1105, 1105/Lot# 1636 $196.20
9/15/2003 PCGS MS 66   Goldberg September 15-17, 2003 Pre-Long Beach Coin and Currency Auction, 21/Lot# 933 $1,351.25
3/24/2005 PCGS MS 65   Heritage Auctions 2005 March Palm Beach, FL Signature Sale #368, 368/Lot# 6499 $1,587.00
9/19/2005 PCGS MS 66   Goldberg September 19-21, 2005 Pre-Long Beach Coin and Currency Auction, 32/Lot# 2168 $1,207.50
2/24/2010 NGC MS 60   Stack's Bowers The March 2010 Baltimore Online Session, 40/Lot# 5314 $244.95
12/1/2011 NGC MS 64   David Lawrence Rare Coins Thursday - Internet Auction # 641, 648/Lot# 5483 $310.50
8/8/2013 PCGS MS 66   Heritage Auctions 2013 August 8 - 10 US Coins Signature Auction - Rosemont Session(3), 1188/Lot# 4663 $3,407.50
10/27/2013 PCGS Genuine UNC   GreatCollections GreatCollections Coin Auctions 10/27/2013, 98/Lot# 146392 $160.60
4/13/2014 PCGS MS 65   Heritage Auctions Internet Coin Auction Session(1), 131416/Lot# 20353 $611.00
11/6/2014 PCGS MS 66   Heritage Auctions 2014 November 6 - 10 US Coins Signature Auction - Beverly Hills Session(6), 1211/Lot# 9044 $1,880.00

NGC Registry

NGC Registry Score 1936 50C MS CINCINNATI Prooflike
Registry Image Gallery
Grade: MS 67
Points: 5212
Owner: J & L
Grade: MS 66
Points: 2254
Owner: Conly Rieder
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