1946 Iowa Centennial Half Dollars

A New Commemorative Issue

In 1946, by which time President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had been succeeded in the White House by Harry S Truman, the first new commemorative design since the 1930s became a reality, following legislation approved on August 7, 1946.

The subject observed was the 1846-1946 centennial of Iowa statehood. In 1838 Iowa became a territory of the United States, and on December 28, 1846, it was admitted to the Union. The capital was Burlington until 1839, when Iowa City received that distinction, which it retained until Des Moines was chosen in 1857.

Design, Minting, and Distribution

The design of the Iowa Centennial half dollar was handled through the office of Mint Director Nellie Tayloe Ross, who gave the project to Adam Pietz, a medalist who had served on the staff of the Engraving Department, resigning in early 1946 to resume private practice. The obverse depicted a structure with this one-line inscription below: THE OLD STONE CAPITOL IOWA CITY. The reverse depicted an eagle holding a large looped ribbon, adapted from the upper part of the Iowa State Arms. A tight cluster of 29 stars above referred to Iowa as the 29th state.

After approval of the design was rubber stamped with little comment by the Com-mission of Fine Arts, the models were prepared at the Philadelphia Mint. In November 100,057 coins were struck and shipped to the Iowa Centennial Committee in Des Moines (Ralph Evans, the chairman of the Sub-Committee on Coins, lived in and corresponded from Davenport). The Iowa Centennial coins were placed on sale in November. By this time the coin market was exceedingly strong, and the pieces found a ready sale at $2.50 each to residents of Iowa and $3 to buyers located elsewhere; 5,000 examples being reserved for out-of-state purchasers. The effort was a great success, and the available pieces were sold out by March 1947, by which time the price had been raised to $ 3 to all comers.

Interestingly, 1,000 coins were set aside for future distribution, 500 for the 150th anniversary of statehood in 1996 and an additional 500 for the Bicentennial celebration in the year 2046. (See The Numismatist, June 1947, pp. 436437, "Iowa Commemorative Half Dollars Can Be Obtained in 1996 and 2046, " by Loyd B. Gettys, and various other mentions. These coins were examined in 1990 by numismatist Michael Turrini and others, and a detailed article on the hoard, by Turrini, was printed in the October 1989 issue of The Journal of the Pacific Coast Numismatic Society. At present the coins are stored in a vault at the Norwest Bank, 666 Walnut Street, Des Moines.) So far as is known, no quantities were retained by insiders, nor was there widespread speculation, although collectors who were able to purchase them for $3 each were pleased with the opportunity.

Adam Pietz's Personal Files

The following items are reproduced from the personal correspondence and clipping files of Adam Pietz, designer of the Iowa half dollar. (All items are from the Bowers and Merena Galleries Reference Collection.) This highly unusual collection provides an insight into the creation, execution, and implementation of a commemorative half dollar design, together with many interesting technical, scheduling, and financial details.

Western Union telegram to Adam Pietz (3502 Powelton Ave, Philadelphia), August 23, 1946, sent 3:48 p.m. (delivered 7:29p.m.):

"Are your services available to produce model for Iowa commemorative coin? Stop. If so kindly advise amount your fee for complete production. Stop. Wire answer.

"Ralph Evans, Chairman State Centennial Sub-Committee on Coin." (Ralph Evans, vice president of the Central Broadcasting Company, Davenport, Iowa)

Pietz's telegraphed reply, undated copy:

"Mr. Ralph Evans, chairman State Centennial Sub-Committee on Coin, Davenport, Iowa.

"Yes, I can prepare the models for the Iowa commemorative coin, for the usual price allotted for $1,000. The dies however must be reproduced at the Phila. Mint according to law. This price is always included in the cost of the coins. I presume the coin will be half dollar in size.

"Adam Pietz, formerly asst. chief engraver from 1927-1946 U.S. Mint. Studio 1001 Chestnut Phila. Reply to Bell phone WA. 2-2826."

Western Union telegram from Ralph Evans to Adam Pietz, August 27, 1946 (sent 1:48 p.m.; delivered 3:10 p.m.):

"Your telegram received and fee of one thousand dollars satisfactory to our committee. Stop. Will telephone you tomorrow morning regarding suggestions for design."

Excerpt (first part missing) from letter to Mr. Adam Pietz, August 29, 1946, from State Sub-Committee on Coin members:

"Second, I desire to confirm our telephone conversation Wednesday morning, August 28, to the effect that our committee would submit a few basic ideas which would enable you to prepare a rough sketch, and that such rough sketch would be submitted to us within a few days. Therefore, I am now enclosing the following material: 1. A picture of the Old Stone Capitol at Iowa City (front view). 2. A photograph of the Old Stone Capitol at Iowa City (rear view). 3. A leaflet showing the Iowa State flag and, particularly, the eagle with the state motto in its beak. In the same leaflet there is a reproduction of the Great Seal of the State of Iowa.

"Our sub-committee feels that there is too much detail for the Great Seal to be used effectively; but, we have included it in the three major suggestions. We do hope that the Old Stone Capitol can be used effectively and also the eagle bearing in its beak the Iowa State motto. Some question has been raised whether the motto can be arranged so that it is legible. We hope so.