Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Journey of the Mayflower Pilgrims is Commemorated in this 1920 50-Cent Piece

Plymouth Colony Governor William Bradford
appears on the 1920 Pilgrim Tercentenary half dollar.
 In May of 1920 the U. S. Congress authorized the minting of a coin that would commemorate the 300th anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower Pilgrims on what would eventually be known as American soil. Boston sculptor Cyrus E. Dallin, known for his Appeal to the Great Spirit, a statue of a Native American on horseback which can be seen at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, was engaged to design the coin. In fact, the design of this fifty-cent piece may have been rushed a bit since the anniversary year was already half over when the notion (and then the motion) to create this new coin was approved. That may explain a few errors in the design, such as the shape of the Mayflower, on the back of the coin, along with the type of sails and their placement on the masts, making this ship look a bit more like the Santa Maria, the ship that carried Columbus to the Bahamas (not to American shores) in 1492.

This coin celebrates the 300th anniversary of the Mayflower
Pilgrims' journey to religious freedom in the New World.
The front side of the coin portrays William Bradford, the leader of the Pilgrims, who would become the governor of the Plymouth Colony and serve in that position, on-and-off, for close to 30 years. In designing the coin, Dallin invented the image of Bradford, as no known drawing of his actual likeness exists. He gave Bradford the sort of features and clothing often seen in paintings by Dutch Masters of the 1600s. Actually, most of the Pilgrims typically dressed a bit less formally rather than in the staid styles and dark colors in which they have most often been depicted over the years.
Historians will argue as to whether the book Bradford holds is a Bible or his own book, Of Plymouth Plantation, in which he details a good bit of the history of Plymouth and its people, as well as conditions and events that led 102 souls to leave their homes in England and Holland for an uncertain life in the New World. This book is where we find a great deal of our knowledge today of the journey, the lives and the struggles of the Pilgrims.
In 1920 there were 152,112 of these commemorative coins minted. Today they typically sell for about $60 to $90, depending on their condition. Half-dollar coins have been churned out nearly every year since the first U.S. Mint was built in 1792, in Philadelphia, which was the nation's capitol at the time. Should we begin lobbying Congress for a 2020 quatercentenary coin acknowledging Provincetown as the Pilgrims' first landing place? 

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