The sesquicentennial of the city of Columbia, South Carolina as the capital of that State was celebrated with the issuance of a commemorative half dollar. Struck at all three mints in use at the time, each issue had a relatively low mintage of less than 10,000 coins, but there are still plenty of coins available to make this one of the more affordable classic commemoratives. The coins were issued by the Columbia Sesquicentennial Commission, and they did a fair job to prevent dealers from making large quantity purchases in order to drive up the price (something that was common with other commemoratives of the era).
The Columbia half dollar (as it is usually referred to) was authorized by the Act of March 18, 1936. It called for no more than 25,000 coins to be produced, but did not stipulate that the coins were to be struck at a single mint (such legislation was enacted shortly thereafter in an effort to cease misuse of commemorative issues by issuance committees). As a result the commission requested the mintage to be divided over the three mints in order to increase sales (collectors wishing to keep their commemorative coin sets complete had to buy three coins instead of one) and boost revenue. This resulted in 9,000 coins produced at the Philadelphia Mint, and 8,000 each at both the Denver and San Francisco mints.
Columbia, SC was first explored by Spanish explorers in the mid 16th century, although settlement during the following two centuries was sparse. A fort was built on the Congaree river, and in 1754 a ferry connected the two banks. In 1786 the site was selected by the South Carolina General Assembly to become the State capital, thanks to the central location. A city plan of 400 blocks was laid out (it was one of the first planned cities in the United States), and the Columbia began to grow, with the State Legislature first meeting in the city in 1790. Today the city has a population of approximately 134,000 living in the city itself and almost 800,000 people living in the metropolitan area.
Festivities to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the city’s selection as the State capital were held in Columbia in late March of 1936, just over a week after Congress had enacted legislation authorizing the issue. Obviously, the coins were not ready for the week, and they would not be distributed until later that year. The commission appointed Abraham Wolfe Davidson, a local sculptor from Clemson College in Columbia, to design the coin.
The obverse of the coin features Justice standing, with a sword in her right hand and a balance in her left hand. This is taken from the City Seal as well as the city’s flag, on which it also appears. Curiously Justice is not blind folded, as she usually is. On the viewers left is the Old State House in Columbia, and on the viewers right is the State Capital building. The dates 1786 and 1926 appear on the sides of Justice, and in the left field is the word Liberty. All this is located in an enclosed circle. Between the circle and the rim, completely circumventing the coin are the worlds “SESQUICENTENNIAL CELEBRATION OF THE CAPITAL” and “COLUMBIA SOUTH CAROLINA”.
The reverse features a similar enclosed circle. Within it is a palmetto tree with oak branches located near the bottom. This is the official state emblem of South Carolina and appears on both the state seal as well as the flag. Thirteen stars surround the tree. Above the tree is the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM. In addition to this IN GOD WE TRUST is placed in the right field. Along the rim is UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, and near the bottom is the denomination, as HALF DOLLAR. It must be noted that unlike he majority of classic commemoratives the designer initials are nowhere to be found on the coin.
Even though celebrations in the city were finished by the end of March the coins were not struck until September 1936. The Columbia Sesquicentennial Commission decided that the coins would not be released until shipments from all three mints had been received, and it would take until December until the coins were finally distributed to buyers. Single coins were available for $2.15 each, while complete 3 piece sets were offered for $6.45 per set. The coins were distributed in special three-piece envelopes, with the coins being held in place by tabs, and occasionally an original set will come on the market. By now, however, the tabs will have caused uneven dark toning which is not always attractive.
As a type coin the Columbia Half Dollar is relatively easily acquired despite the low mintages, and in MS-65 condition the coins remain relatively affordable. Most sets have been broken up, and collectors wishing to acquire one Columbia Half Dollar from each Mint will usually have to buy the coins individually. All three coins can be found up to the MS-67 level with relative ease, with the Denver issue having the highest population of all three Mints. There are also several dozen MS-68s known for the Denver coin, making that issue the coin of choice for type collectors. At that grade level both the Philadelphia as well as the San Francisco issues are very seldom encountered. Generally speaking this issue comes with excellent eye-appeal, and circulated pieces are rarely found.