Numismatics and coins in general can often be classified as a non-corrupted hobby, as in that prices generally change slowly, sometimes with a bit more rapid development when certain coin issues are promoted. However, generally speaking there aren’t many stories and advertisements in national newspapers regarding new coin issues, even though once in awhile a scandal does arise in the numismatic world. Such an instance was the significant turmoil that arose with the issuance of the Daniel Boone Bicentennial Half Dollars, struck from 1934 to 1938 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Daniel Boone in 1934.
First of all, this issue was not the first commemorative half dollar to feature a portrait of Daniel Boone. He had first appeared on the 1921 Missouri Centennial Half Dollar, where he appeared on both obverse and reverse, both artist interpretations of how the famous trapper might have looked like, since no lifetime portraits of Daniel Boone are known to exist. The money raised from the issuance of the coins in the 1930s was meant for the Daniel Boone Bicentennial Commission, together with the American Order of Pioneers, in order to restore several sites important in Daniel Boone history. The act of May 26, 1934 authorized the issuance of 600,000 Daniel Boone Bicentennial Commemorative Half Dollars, and that same year the Philadelphia Mint struck the bicentennial issue dated 1934 to the extent of 10,000 coins plus a small number of assay pieces.
The coin was designed by Augustus Lukeman, an American sculptor known mostly for historical monuments located throughout the United States. On the obverse it features a bust of Daniel Boone, bareheaded facing left, based on an image that appeared in the 1847 dated publication “Collin’s Historical Sketches of Kentucky”. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA is on top, and HALF DOLLAR is near the bottom rim. While the bust remains a fantasy, it appears to be a more lifelike image of Boone than that which appeared on the 1921 Missouri Commemorative, where he is seen wearing a coonskin cap, a type of hat that Boone apparently detested in person but has become the primary image remembered by the American public of Daniel Boone.
The reverse shows a more elaborate design somewhat reminiscent of the reverse design of the 1921 Missouri Half Dollar. It shows Daniel Boone standing and in discussion with Chief Black Fish, of the Shawnee Indian Nation, with Boone holding a musket in his left hand and Chief Black Fish holding a tomahawk. The two men are discussing a treaty after a nine day siege of Fort Boonesborough in Kentucky (founded by Boone in 1775), which occurred in 1778. In the background we see a small building and a sun, setting or rising. On top is IN ● GOD ● WE ● TRUST, with E • PLURIBUS • UNUM directly below it. In the left field, in a somewhat smaller font is DANIEL BOONE BICENTENNIAL, and in the right field directly above the sun is PIONEER YEAR. On some of the 1935 issues and all of the 1936-38 issues the date 1934 (the actual bicentennial year) is added directly above this.
The reason that we have a total of sixteen different Boone Bicentennial Half Dollars seems to be C. Frank Dunn, who was secretary of the Boone Bicentennial Commission. Initially he sold the 1934 issue out of his office, somewhat slowly and steadily, and the numismatic community accepted them as a new commemorative half dollar. New coins, however, were created in 1935, a year after the actual bicentennial, when the Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco Mints struck coins (Philadelphia coins carried no mintmark, the mintmark for the Denver and San Francisco issues was placed on the reverse, next to the feet of Chief Black Fish). Of this issue the Philadelphia Mint struck approximately 10,000 coins, while the mintages at the Denver and San Francisco Mint were more limited at approximately 5,000 coins.
Collectors wishing to keep their commemorative half dollar collectors complete would need to purchase any new coins issued, and Dunn realized this, as he managed to have Congress pass legislation for additional Boone Half Dollars, changed because of the addition of “1934” on the reverse (which now carried two dates) right above the words “PIONEER YEAR”. Even though 1935 dated pieces had already been struck additional coins were struck with the same date, but with the addition of 1934 on the reverse. This second issue had the same mintage at the Philadelphia Mint, 10,000 coins, while the Denver and San Francisco issues had a total mintage of only 2,000 coins each. Dunn was now on a roll, heavily marketing the pieces, especially the two low-mintage issues. It appears that there was some sort of scheme going on, at least according to Q. David Bowers, who describes the situation extensively in his Guide Book of United States Commemorative Coins. Apparently Dunn ran a second office on the same floor as his office of the Centennial Commission, and after the low-mintage issues were sold-out, he mysteriously managed to buy the pieces back from the original purchasers and sell them to collectors at heavy premiums. It appears likely that Dunn kept the pieces for himself and sold them directly for the higher price, pocketing the profits for himself.
The years 1936 and 1937 saw more Boone Commemorative Half Dollars produced at all three mints: 12,000 coins at the Philadelphia Mint in 1936 and 5,000 each the same year at the Denver and San Francisco Mint. Sales were disappointing in 1937 (one would assume that collectors had gotten tired of the many different commemorative issues, as other designs were also sold on an extensive basis during these years) and net mintages were 9,800 Philadelphia coins and 2,500 each for the Denver and San Francisco issues. Dunn had claimed that the 1937 issues were to be the last, but three different 1938 issues were released as well. There were 5,000 coins were struck at all three Mints, but 2,900 of each issue were melted, resulting in net mintages of 1938 P, D and S Boone Commemorative Half Dollars of just 2,100 coins each. The 1934 and some of the 1935 issues had been sold for $1.60 each, while other 1935 and 1936 issues were sold at $1.10 each. Premiums rose eventually, and the 1938 issues were sold in a 3 piece set for $6.50 each.
With plenty of issues to choose from, most collectors assembling a type set of Classic Commemoratives should have no trouble finding a nice example up to the MS-65 level. Some issues are somewhat scarcer above that grade level, but plenty are available that most collectors should have little problem to pursue an example at an even higher grade level. Prooflike strikes exist for most dates and are scarce, but one has to wonder if the market for prooflike classic commemorative half dollars will mature more over the next couple of years (presently only NGC classifies classic commemoratives as prooflikes and even though the populations are limited depend appears to be limited as well). Of course, ownership of one of the low-mintage 1938 issues is something that many collectors will enjoy, and the set trades at a healthy premium over the other issues.