World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Hawaii Sesquicentennial half dollar

Hawaii Sesquicentennial half dollar
United States
Value 50 cents (0.50 US dollars)
Mass 12.5 g
Diameter 30.61 mm
Thickness 2.15 mm (0.08 in)
Edge Reeded
  • 90.0% silver
  • 10.0% copper
Silver 0.36169 troy oz
Years of minting 1928 (1928)
Mintage 10,008 including 8 pieces for the Assay Commission
Mint marks None, all pieces struck at Philadelphia Mint without mint mark
1928 50C Hawaiian.jpg
Design Captain James Cook
Designer Chester Beach, based on sketches by Juliette May Fraser
Design date 1928
1928 50C Hawaiian.jpg
Design A Hawaiian chieftain with extended arm; Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head in background
Designer Chester Beach, based on sketches by Juliette May Fraser
Design date 1928

The Hawaii Sesquicentennial half dollar was struck in 1928 by the United States Bureau of the Mint in honor of the 150th anniversary of Captain James Cook's landing in Hawaii, the first European to reach there. Depicting Captain Cook on the obverse and a Hawaiian chieftain on the reverse, only 10,000 were struck for the public, making it rare and valuable today.

In 1927, the legislature of the Territory of Hawaii passed a bill calling on the U.S. government to issue a commemorative coin for the 150th anniversary of Cook's arrival in Hawaii. Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon thought the occasion important enough that, unusually for him, he did not oppose the issue of a commemorative coin. The bill for the Hawaii half dollar passed through Congress without opposition or amendment, and became the Act of March 7, 1928 with the signature of President Calvin Coolidge.

Chester Beach made the plaster models for the coins from sketches by Juliette May Fraser. Beach had some trouble gaining approval for his designs, as there were issues raised by the Mint and by Victor Stewart Kaleoaloha Houston, Hawaii Territory's delegate to Congress. These concerns were eventually addressed, and the coin went into production. Although the issue price, at $2, was the highest for a commemorative half dollar to that point, the coins sold out quickly and are valued at over a thousand dollars today.


  • Inception 1
  • Legislation 2
  • Preparation 3
  • Design 4
  • Production, distribution, and collecting 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7
  • Sources 8


The Hawaii Sesquicentennial half dollar came about because of the observances there for the 150th anniversary of Captain

  • Flynn, Kevin (2008). The Authoritative Reference on Commemorative Coins 1892–1954. Roswell, GA: Kyle Vick.  
  • Medcalf, Donald; Russell, Ronald (1991) [1978]. Hawaiian Money Standard Catalog (second ed.). Mill Creek, WA: Ronald Russell.  
  • Slabaugh, Arlie R. (1975). United States Commemorative Coinage (second ed.). Racine, WI: Whitman Publishing.  
  • Swiatek, Anthony (2012). Encyclopedia of the Commemorative Coins of the United States. Chicago: KWS Publishers.  
  • Swiatek, Anthony;  
  • United States House of Representatives Committee on Coinage, Weights and Measures (January 23, 1928). Coinage of 50-Cent Pieces in Commemoration of Sesquicentennial of Discovery of Hawaii. (subscription required) 


  1. ^ House hearings, pp. 2–5.
  2. ^ Slabaugh, pp. 3–5.
  3. ^ House hearings, p. 1.
  4. ^ a b c d Medcalf & Russell, p. 50.
  5. ^ a b Taxay, p. 124.
  6. ^ Flynn, pp. 276–277.
  7. ^ a b "70 Bill Profile H.R. 81 (1927–1929)". ProQuest Congressional. Retrieved August 22, 2015. (subscription required)
  8. ^ House hearings, p. 1–3.
  9. ^ House hearings, p. 4.
  10. ^ House hearings, pp. 3–4.
  11. ^ House hearings, pp. 4–5.
  12. ^ House Committee on Coinage, Weights and Measures (February 1, 1928). "To authorize coinage of silver 50-cent pieces in commemoration of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of discovery of the Hawaiian Islands, etc.". (subscription required)
  13. ^
  14. ^ Senate Committee on Banking and Currency (February 27, 1928). "To authorize coinage of silver 50-cent pieces in commemoration of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of discovery of the Hawaiian Islands, etc.". (subscription required)
  15. ^
  16. ^ Taxay, pp. 127, 130.
  17. ^ Flynn, p. 98.
  18. ^ Taxay, p. 130.
  19. ^ a b Taxay, p. 131.
  20. ^ Swiatek, p. 211.
  21. ^ Flynn, p. 278.
  22. ^ a b Slabaugh, p. 84.
  23. ^ Swiatek, p. 212.
  24. ^ Taxay, p. 129.
  25. ^ Vermeule, pp. 174–175.
  26. ^ Vermeule, p. 174.
  27. ^ a b Bowers, p. 237.
  28. ^ Swiatek & Breen, p. 96.
  29. ^ Bowers, pp. 238.
  30. ^ Swiatek & Breen, pp. 96–97.
  31. ^ a b Medcalf & Russell, p. 48.
  32. ^ Flynn, p. 97.
  33. ^ Yeoman, pp. 1138–1139.


  1. ^ Hawaii became a state in 1959.
  2. ^ The commission, pursuant to a 1921 executive order by President Warren G. Harding, rendered advisory opinions on proposed designs for coins. See Taxay, pp. v–vi.


The Captain Cook Memorial Collection, purchased in part with funds raised from the coins, is now in the Bishop Museum in Honolulu.[32] The Hawaii Sesquicentennial coin is the scarcest commemorative half dollars by design; according to R.S. Yeoman's A Guide Book of United States Coins published in 2015, they list for between $1,850 and $11,000 depending on condition. The sandblast proofs are listed for up to $50,000 but none has recently been sold at auction—an exceptional specimen of the regular type went under the hammer for $25,850 in 2013.[33] At least three different counterfeits are known.[31]

Sales began October 8, 1928; sales were good and supplies were quickly exhausted. Although numismatists Anthony Swiatek and Walter Breen, in their book on commemoratives, write that "there was never any scandal about these coins", they relate unconfirmed rumors of hordes of coins, totaling as many as 1,500, bought by insiders and kept off the market.[30] One such grouping, of 137 pieces, were coins from an allotment for the Bank of Hawaii for sale to its employees. When the display coin was stolen, the bank president took the others off sale, and they remained in the bank's vaults until 1986, when they were sold at auction.[27] Many of the coins were purchased by non-collectors and display the effects of poor handling.[31]

Special issue by the United States Post Office Department for the anniversary of Cook's arrival

The Philadelphia Mint coined 10,008 Hawaii Sesquicentennial half dollars in June 1928, with the eight pieces above the authorized mintage reserved for inspection and testing at the 1929 meeting of the annual Assay Commission. Fifty of the ten thousand were specially finished as sandblast proof pieces,[27] to be presented to various individuals and institutions, such as members of the Captain Cook commission, President Coolidge, and the British Admiralty. Of the remainder, half was to be sold on the Hawaiian Islands, half reserved for sale from elsewhere. The Bank of Hawaii took charge of distribution.[28] The price was $2 per coin, the highest for a half dollar commemorative to that point.[29]

Production, distribution, and collecting

Art historian Cornelius Vermeule, in his volume on U.S. coins and medals, wrote that the obverse "is too crowded, despite the large, flat, clothed bust" and that the various elements of the reverse design "are all too much for one small coin".[25] He deemed "the coin honoring Hawaii in 1928 no more a credit to Chester Beach than was the Lexington Concord coin [of 1925]".[26]

The reverse was based on a statue of King Kamehameha I of Hawaii, designed by Thomas R. Gould, and intended "to symbolize the past and future glory of the Kingdom [of Hawaii]".[4] The one that stands in downtown Honolulu today is a replacement for one that sank while being transported from Germany to Hawaii; the original was later salvaged and stands at Kohala on the island of Hawaii.[4] The coin features a Hawaiian chieftain in ceremonial dress surmounting the top of a hill, with his arm extended in greeting. He represents Hawaii rising from obscurity. The palm tree that rises above him is intended to signify romance. A Hawaiian village at Waikiki Beach with Diamond Head nearby are seen behind him, representing history and antiquity. The design is almost free of lettering, with only "E PLURIBUS UNUM" and 1778 1928 to be seen.[22] Ferns are visible under that Latin motto: Houston wanted the plants removed, but Beach insisted on retaining them to balance the design.[24] Juliette Fraser had made several sketches, all with the same basic design elements, but with the chieftain in various poses and with Diamond Head in different positions.[4]

The obverse depicts Captain James Cook. He faces left towards a compass needle and the words CAPT. JAMES COOK DISCOVERER OF HAWAII;[20] thus, his gaze is westward.[21] IN GOD WE TRUST is to the right, the name of the country above, and the denomination below. The words HALF DOLLAR are flanked by eight triangles, four on each side. These represent the eight largest volcanic islands of Hawaii: Oahu, Maui, Kauai, the "Big Island" of Hawaii, Niihau, Lanai, Kahoolawe, and Molokai.[22] The designer's initials, CB, are found to the right of the base of the bust.[23]

An impressive statue of a dark-skinned man, richly dressed in native garb.  One arm is extended, as if in greeting, and he holds a spear, butt end grounded, in the other.
Statue of Kamehameha I, Honolulu


The coin was endorsed by the Commission of Fine Arts; on May 2, O'Reilly wrote to Beach that the design had received Secretary Mellon's approval.[19]

Delegate Houston had a long list of quibbles about the coin's design. For example, Beach had placed an anklet on the chief's leg; Houston felt such an item would not have been worn. Beach defended some of his choices, such as the anklet (which was removed when Houston insisted), and promised to comply with the others. This did not fully satisfy Houston, who was also unhappy about the shape of the palm tree on the coin, and Beach modified the design again. Beach forwarded final models, indicating that he would only consider making changes if the Mint requested it. He wrote to Moore, "I think the proper thing for Mr. Houston to do would be to take the sculptor and family to Hawaii and let us live in the cocoanut [sic] trees for a while and absorb the atmosphere of that paradise."[19]

Once Beach accepted the commission on March 12, 1928, Juliette Fraser's sketches were forwarded to him. On April 7, he sent completed models to the Mint and photographs to the Fine Arts Commission. Both the Mint and Houston responded with criticism; the former that the relief of the coin was high and difficult to reduce to coin-sized hubs.[16] On April 19, Mint Chief Engraver John R. Sinnock wrote in a memorandum that the coin would be very difficult to coin because the area of greatest relief on each side was in the same part of the coin.[17] Beach agreed to lower any high points which might cause the Mint difficulty.[18]


The bill was passed without objection by the House of Representatives on February 20, 1928.[13] The bill was received by the Senate the following day and was referred to the Committee on Banking and Currency. On February 27, South Dakota Senator Peter Norbeck reported the bill back to the Senate without amendment and included in the report a letter from Secretary Mellon to Perkins dated February 13, in which Mellon expanded on his reasons for not opposing the Hawaii coin legislation: that only a token number of pieces would be issued, and that the celebration, sponsored by the territorial government, was of national significance.[14] The bill was passed by the Senate on March 2, 1928 without recorded opposition[15] and was enacted on March 7, 1928 with the signature of President Calvin Coolidge. It provided for the issuance of up to 10,000 half dollars in honor of the sesquicentennial, with the money to be used toward establishing a Captain James Cook collection in the territorial archives.[7]

Houston stated he had not lobbied the Treasury for the coin, and Perkins, before promising to find out more information, speculated that perhaps it was because the coins were to circulate far from the continental United States. Houston told the committee that the coin was "something that may be kept by those who attend the celebration as a memorial of it and will be available to foreigners who come there, as well as our own people who celebrate the occasion".[10] Kvale stated he would vote for the bill. Mississippi's Bill G. Lowrey noted that as he had said before, he would not vote for any coin bill; Perkins agreed that Lowrey had made his position clear.[11] Perkins issued a report on February 1, 1928, recounting the history behind the proposed coin and indicating his committee's support.[12]

Numismatic historian Don Taxay found it likely that members of the House Committee on Coinage, Weights and Measures were pledged to support a Hawaii half dollar well before legislation was introduced in December 1927 to authorize it, as preparations had begun.[5] Legislation for a Hawaii Sesquicentennial half dollar was introduced into the House of Representatives by the territory's delegate to Congress, Victor Stewart Kaleoaloha Houston, on December 5, 1927.[7] It was referred to the Committee on Coinage, Weights and Measures, of which New Jersey Congressman Randolph Perkins was the chair. That committee held hearings on the bill on January 23, 1928. Delegate Houston appeared in support of his bill, and to the surprise of committee members, had gotten a statement from Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon, stating that Mellon did not oppose the bill. Usually, when a commemorative coin was proposed, Mellon argued that a medal should be issued instead. This had been the case for the Norse-American medal three years previously; its sponsor, committee member Ole J. Kvale of Minnesota, had scuttled plans for a coin because of Treasury Department opposition. Congressman Kvale was "very much interested in learning what powers of persuasion have been exercised by the gentleman from Hawaii to bring out a favorable report".[8] Kvale, a Norse-American, asked, "why this discrimination against two and a half million people in the United States has come about in favor of about 35,000 whites in that Territory?"[9]


The Commission of Fine Arts met, and, at the suggestion of sculptor-member Lorado Taft, decided to ask Buffalo nickel designer James Earle Fraser (no relation) as to who would be most suitable to turn the sketches into plaster models, from which the Mint could make coinage dies and hubs. Moore wrote to James Fraser on December 19, but the matter slipped the recipient's mind, and he did not respond until February 7, 1928. James Fraser suggested Peace dollar designer Anthony de Francisci, but Chester Beach was engaged instead.[6]

The Captain Cook Sesquicentennial Commission was to be the group authorized to order the Hawaii half dollars from the Mint.[3] Bruce Cartright, Jr., was in charge of choosing a coin design for that commission. Mrs. Ethelwyn Castle arranged for him to meet Juliette May Fraser, a local artist. Cartwright had prepared cartoon-style drawings, with the portrait of Cook based on a Wedgwood plaque which had been owned by Queen Emma, showing the explorer facing right. Within two days, Fraser had produced sketches.[4] On November 2, Charles Moore, chairman of the Commission of Fine Arts[2] wrote to Assistant Director of the Mint Mary M. O'Reilly, that Juliette Fraser's sketches were excellent and would translate well into a coin.[5]


This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Hawaii eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.