Missouri, sitting nearly smack-dab in the middle of the continental United States, has long been a crossroads for traders, explorers, settlers, and eventually interstate highways. No other state borders as many other states as Missouri, which counts eight immediate neighbor-states. Missouri itself was named for either the namesake indigenous tribe or the river carrying their name. The name Missouri also refers to the region, which is defined as the Missouri River Valley.
The Missouris were a Sioux people, their name often mistranslated as “muddy waters,” when it rather means “town of the large canoes.”
The Missouri River, itself a massive waterway traversing seven states, flows into the Mississippi River at present-day St. Louis. Farther west, some 275 miles up the Missouri River, lay Kansas City, which, too, sits at the confluence of two major rivers where the Kansas River and Kaw River flows into the Missouri. Whether you’re talking about the state, the river, or its people, the historical connections running through Missouri are foundational for our great country.
Folks from Missouri are proud. The Missouri state nickname, the “Show Me State,” has several possible origins, with the most popular being that the term came from Missouri Congressperson Willard Duncan Vandiver, who served from 1897 to 1903 and was a member of the House Committee on Naval Affairs. Evidently, when speaking at a Naval Banquet in Philadelphia in 1899, Vandiver said, “Frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.”
The moniker “Show Me” is most often tied to Vandiver, although there are other less-attractive theories, including a story that miners from Missouri, when they later worked in Colorado mines, had to “be shown” what to do.
Much of the appeal behind Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain) as an author was the unvarnished truth of his fiction. Save the talk, first you must “show me” how this works.
Making The Missouri Commemorative Half Dollar
Congress authorized 250,000 silver half dollars to be struck for the Missouri Centennial Exposition on March 4, 1921. The coins were to be distributed at the Missouri Centennial Expo and Missouri State Fairs, being held concurrently in Sedalia, Missouri, from August 8 through August 20, 1921. Sedalia was the first capital of Missouri, where the coins would be issued, and an inscription bearing the city’s name appears prominently on the reverse of the coin.
Robert Aitken, a prominent sculptor known for his design of both Panama-Pacific $50 gold coins, was nominated to prepare models possibly using suggestions from the Missouri Centennial Exposition Committee. Aitken’s design features a portrait of Daniel Boone on the obverse with standing figures of both Boone and an individual from an indigenous group who are set against a background of 24 stars on the reverse.
To expedite production, the Medallic Art Company was utilized to make dies. Suggestions for a second coin with “2X4” incused on the obverse on some of the coins was originally made by James Montgomery, the chairman of the Missouri Centennial Commission. Montgomery believed the additional “2X4” variety would generate more overall sales and only the plain variety was offered for sale during the expo.
Debate over how many of each variety were made has never been answered fully, but consistent availability of both varieties in all but the loftiest grades over the last 100 years argues that roughly the same number of both the 2X4 and plain varieties were distributed. A total of 15,428 examples of the plain (no “2X4”) were struck, while 5,000 carrying the “2X4” inscription were made.
They were sold at $1 each at the expo and state fair, but there is no known original packaging or pamphlets that came with the coins. It would stand to reason that many of the coins purchased at the expo were simply placed in the buyer’s pocket or purse to carry home.
Added to the lack of proper storage, mintage was somewhat hurried and fully struck examples aren’t available. Although quite beautiful, the Aitken design and the striking requirements needed to produce it meant few examples were fully struck. This is especially seen with Boone’s hat and shoulder on the obverse and Boone’s cheek, arm, and hip on the reverse often show little detail or catch the first wear. A Missouri Half Dollar with a fully defined left shoulder strap on Boone’s powder and shot bags is a true rarity.
In any case, examples grading MS65 are scarce, with examples grading MS66 or better being rare. As of February 2023, the PCGS populations for Missouri and Missouri 2X4 in MS65 or better stands with 328 “plain” Missouri Half Dollars graded MS65 or MS65+, while 342 of the 2X4 variety were graded at a similar level. Meanwhile, just 75 of the plains earned the grade of MS66 or MS66+, with just 54 of the 2X4 having done the same.
While the 2X4 is scarcer in MS66 or better, I find it curious that the total PCGS population in MS65 or better for the Missouri (plain) and Missouri 2X4 is 403 versus 397. Both of the Missouri commemorative half dollars were among the first 10 commemorative half dollar issues. All of our first 10 commemorative half dollars marked an event. Some, like the Columbian Exposition, the Panama Pacific Exposition, or the 300th anniversary of the Pilgrim landing in Massachusetts celebrated expositions or events. Many, like the Lincoln, Maine, Missouri, and the Alabama halves all celebrate the anniversary of that respective state’s admission into the Union.
As a native of Missouri, with family farms between Warrensburg and Knob Noster – and having attended many coin shows in the Show Me State – I can tell you that Missouri commemoratives are quite scarce and not often encountered – even in Missouri. Interestingly, commemoratives honoring other parts of the country, such as the Maine and Pilgrim Half Dollars of the Northeast, often come up in liquidations from the original collectors or their families; this is also true for both of the Alabama issues in collections I’ve encountered from the Southeast. But in Missouri? I just didn’t see many 1921 Missouri halves… “Show me” some more!
- Bowers, Q. David. Commemorative Coins of the U.S.: A Complete Encyclopedia. Bowers & Merena Galleries Inc, Wolfeboro, 1991.
- Konstantinovsky, Michelle. “Why Is Missouri Called the Show-Me State?” How Stuff Works. https://history.howstuffworks.com/american-history/missouri-show-me-state.htm.
- Yeoman, R.S. A Guide Book of United States Coins. Whitman Publishing LLC, 2017.