Description and Analysis

Modern Commemoratives

Description & Analysis

President of the United States from 1933 to 1945, Franklin Delano Roosevelt served an unprecedented four terms (an amendment to the U. S. Constitution passed a few years later now prohibits anyone from serving more than two). In fact, his fourth term was cut short by his death in office less than three months after the inauguration. Mourned around the world, Roosevelt had led the nation through the bleak years of the Great Depression and through most of World War II. In 1946 his portrait was placed on the circulating dime, where it remains today.

The building of a memorial to Roosevelt in Washington, DC prompted the issuance of this gold half eagle in 1997. The authorizing legislation permitted the striking of up to 100,000 pieces. Surcharges included within the sales price of each coin went to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial Commission.

Roosevelt loved the sea and the U. S. Navy in particular. He had been assistant secretary of the Navy under President Wilson, and during his own presidency he was fond of reviewing the fleet from his favorite ship, the cruiser U.S.S. Houston (lost to enemy action in 1942). The obverse of this coin depicts him in right-facing profile aboard this vessel, wearing a boating cloak, as seen in a 1938 photograph that became a favorite of his. This obverse was sculpted by T. James Ferrell of the U. S. Mint and features Roosevelt’s name in full above and the date of coining at right. Mottoes of a purely statutory nature balance the design.

The reverse of this issue was prepared by Thomas D. Rogers, Sr., also of the Mint staff. It features a view of the presidential seal as displayed at Roosevelt’s famous 1933 inauguration, during which he proclaimed “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” The remaining text on this side of the coin is statutory, except for the initials of the designer and sculptor beneath the seal at left and right, respectively, and the mintmark to the right of the seal.

The West Point Mint produced both the uncirculated and proof examples of this half eagle, which is only fitting, since Roosevelt’s family estate is nearby at Hyde Park. As with most commemorative coins of the 1990s, sales of this issue fell far short of the maximum authorized mintage. The proof edition outsold the uncirculated coins at a ratio of nearly three-to-one, but both posted disappointing totals when all was said and done. Given the current popularity of modern United States coins, a factor which didn’t exist as recently as 1997, this issue has proved to be yet another rarity.