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Monroe Doctrine Centennial Half Dollar Design? I Thought It Was the 1901 Pan-American Exposition Design!

By Frank Van Valen, Numismatist & Cataloger, U.S. Coins

Author: Frank Van Valen / Thursday, December 10, 2015 / Categories: Exonumia Corner

This time around, I thought I’d mix in a bit of scandal for the readers. I was always a great fan of the 1923-S Monroe commemorative half dollar design with its two diaphanously shrouded females cleverly mimicking North and South America with their somewhat contorted figures. The coin’s design was by Chester Beach, and for years I had no idea there had been an amazingly similar design back in 1901. This installment features a bronze or copper medallion from the 1901 Pan-American Exposition held in Buffalo, New York. It is roughly the size and thickness of a two-cent piece and features two female figures that represent North and South America on the obverse with PAN-AMERICAN EXPOSITION BUFFALO N.Y. U.S.A. around and a fancy monogram in the field at 2 o’clock. The reverse features the façade of a five-story building with H.A. MELDRUM CO. vertically to the left of the building and BUFFALO N.Y. vertically to the right. The obverse design, the official seal of the Exposition, was copyrighted in 1899 by the artist, Ralph Beck. According to information by Dave Bowers, Chester Beach of the 1923-S half dollar design was working in concert with James Earle Fraser who suggested the two-continent design to Beach. Beck protested about the plagiarism of his design, but reportedly Fraser told those involved he had never seen the medallic tributes for the 1901 Pan-American Exposition. As Dave Bowers wrote: “A comparison of the 1901 and 1923 designs shows that this was highly unlikely.” I, too, have to side with Mr. Beck on this one! As you might expect, this frosty and nicely struck little red and brown token tells a great story and is a fun addition to my exonumia hoard.