The Columbian Half Dollar
The first commemorative half dollar from the United States was issued in 1892 and 1893 in honor of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Columbus to the New World. The mint sold souvenir half dollars bearing a portrait of Columbus for one dollar each. They also introduced a quarter with Queen Isabella that was also sold for one dollar.
Columbus Discovered the Earth was Round? Nonsense!The idea that Columbus discovered the Earth was round is total rubbish. At the time of Columbus, anyone with half a pea brain knew that he Earth was round. This fact had been discovered thousands of years earlier by noting that the Earth always casts a round shadow on the moon during a lunar eclipse. Relatively modern pseudohistorians added the notion that people at the time of Columbus thought Earth was flat. This is discussed in the book, Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians
The Columbian ExpositionThis anniversary was highlighted by the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, which was attended by about 27 million people. Columbus' reputation has been on the decline ever since. The Columbian Exposition, the largest event in US history at the time, was a showcase of new ideas. The Exposition brought the first Ferris wheel, the first commercial movie theater, cracker jacks, the first hamburger in the US, and a city with electric streetlights.
The Introduction of the Columbian Half Dollar
In 1892, a souvenir half dollar was sold at the fair for $1. The obverse (designed by Charles Barber) depicted a portrait of Christopher Columbus -- although no one knows what Columbus looked liked as there are no contemporary portraits of Columbus. The reverse of the coin (designed by George Morgan) shows the Santa Maria with two hemispheres beneath. The public made fun of the design calling it the ship on wheels.
The Columbian Exposition Party EndsIn 1893, a major depression began, highlighted by over 600 bank failures. Many could no longer afford to attend the exposition. And this would impact the coins as well.
Collecting Columbian Half Dollars
Columbian half dollars were minted in both 1892 and 1893. Over four million were minted in 1893,most of which were melted at the mint. Many of the remaining coins were given to banks as collateral against loans made by the exposition. When the exposition was unable to pay the bills, the bank dumped the coins into circulation. The half dollars are quite common and can easily be found in circulated or uncirculated condition. Columbus made his next appearance on a set of 1992 coins.
The Isabella Quarter Dollar
In 1893, the mint released the Isabella Quarter -- the only commemorative quarter ever released in the United States. With only 24, 214 minted, the quarter is much scarcer than the half.