Description and Analysis

Silver Commemoratives
1937 S ARKANSAS 50C MS

Description & Analysis

The Arkansas half dollar is a good example of a worthy project discredited through greed and poor management. It follows in the footsteps of other commemorative issues of the time with multiple date and mint-mark combinations that infuriated collectors of the day.
The story of this coin all began with the grand plans for marking the state of Arkansas’ 100th anniversary in 1936 in the state capitol. Noting the success of other states in funding such events through the sale of commemorative coins, a similar plan was devised by a state-appointed group calling itself the Arkansas Centennial Commission.

This commission got right to work, and a bill was quickly passed on May 14th, 1934, authorizing the coinage of up to 500,000 half dollars honoring the centennial of the state. The language of the Arkansas bill conveniently omitted any reference to a place or date of coinage, yet it specified that the coins were to be delivered only to the Commission or its designated agent “at such times as they shall be requested.” With so generous an authorization, the Commission could and did request that Arkansas halves be coined at all three mints and in several consecutive years. If this weren’t enough to aggravate collectors (who naturally sought completeness in their sets), the Commission’s clumsy and sometimes suspect handling of distribution further fueled the fires of resentment surrounding this and other “serial” commemoratives.

The commission selected Edward Everett Burr to design the coin, and Emily Bates was to put the design into plaster. Unfortunately, the design of this issue was not well received. In fact, after the first models were delivered, the Fine Arts Commission requested that both the artist and sculptor be replaced. However, after some reworking, the design was eventually approved and sent to the Medallic Art Company of New York for reduction to hubs. The obverse of the coin features the conjoined busts of a Quapaw Indian and Lady Liberty. The reverse is emblazoned with a large eagle in front of a rising sun with the name Arkansas above.

A total of 10,008 coins were coined in Philadelphia in May of 1935. They sold well, and an additional 3,000 were ordered later in the year. At the advice of prominent coin dealer B. max Mehl, small mintages were ordered from the Denver and San Francisco Mints, to the tune of 5,500 coins each. They were supposedly available for purchase from the Arkansas Centennial Commission for just $1, but unfortunately most of them had already been secretly sold to Mehl, who then retailed them for $2.75 each. . Subsequent issues, offered annually through 1939, were subject to the same unfair manipulations at ever-higher mark-ups. Such practices ultimately brought down the wrath of Congress. It passed a law on August 5, 1939, terminating the re-issue of all previously-authorized commemoratives.