Issued to mark the centennial of the statehood of Missouri, the first commemorative half dollar design of 1921 follows a somewhat common theme of the early 20th century. The pieces were struck for the Missouri Centennial Exposition, which was held in August of 1921 in Sedalia, where virtually all state fairs had been held since the beginning of the 20th century. Some sources mention that Sedalia was the first Capital of Missouri when discussing this coin in a historical context. This, however, is incorrect as Sedalia was not settled until the late 1850’s and Missouri became the 24th state in 1821. The early Missouri government first used Saint Charles as its capital before moving to Jefferson City a few years later.
That said, the Missouri Centennial Half Dollar is an interesting coin for collectors as it is one of the earliest issues for which two varieties were created. This is a theme that would continue throughout the rest of the commemorative half dollar series and the reason why a complete type set has fifty coins but a complete set with varieties has a whopping 144 coins. 1921 would mark the start of this practice, as the Pilgrim, Alabama, and Missouri half dollars had multiple varieties created for the simple purpose of making additional money for the centennial commissions.
A commemorative coin celebrating the centennial of Missouri statehood was authorized by Congress on March 4, 1921. The coins were to be available for the exposition in August, which gave the Mint plenty of time to prepare models for this issue, of which a total of 250,000 pieces were authorized. Like other commemorative half dollars, actual sales for the Missouri Half Dollar would be nowhere close to the number authorized, but hopes were high that a feasible number would be sold to both collectors as well as the general public attending the fair. Designs were to be created by Robert Aitken, who had been responsible six years earlier for the now famous $50 gold pieces struck for the Panama-Pacific exposition in San Francisco, where he was born.
Aitken, working with ideas provided by the Missouri Centennial Commission decided to feature Daniel Boone on both the obverse and reverse. This was perhaps not the most logical choice, as Boone is more famous for his tenure in Kentucky, but it was deemed appropriate by the Commission. Boone had moved into the area which would eventually become Missouri in 1799, and he would live in the area until his death in 1820. Upon first settling there, he had received the title of “syndic” from the Spanish governor, in whose possession the area was at the time, before being transferred to the French. This position is generally considered to have been comparable with a modern day juror or even a mayor.
After the United States purchased the area, Boone lived the rest of his live quietly, as was to be expected at his old age. The commission felt that Boone had left his mark on Missouri. As such Aitken placed a side-view portrait on the obverse. It features Boone with a coonskin hat, an image that seems to have stuck with the American public, although it is historically incorrect. Author Robert Morgan tackles the subject in the first few sentences of his work on Daniel Boone: “Forget the coonskin cap; he never wore one. Daniel Boone thought coonskin caps uncouth, heavy and uncomfortable. He always wore a beaver felt hat to protect him from the sun and rain.”
The rest of the obverse design is relatively simple, with “United States of America” and “Half Dollar” together and the dates “1821” and “1921” visible. The reverse design of the coin is more elaborate. It features a scene which shows Daniel Boone with a Native American in what appears to be a friendly conversation, with a background of trees. Here perhaps Aitken based his image on a little bit of fact, as the appearance of Boone on the coin appears to have a slight resemblance to that described by the words of a contemporary, which are mentioned in Morgan’s book: “His large head, full chest, square shoulders and stout form are still impressed upon my mind…about five feet ten inches in height…solid in mind as well as in body…always quiet, meditative, and impressive.”
Other than the view of Boone and the Native American the only other design elements of the reverse are the words “Missouri Centennial” and the name of the city were the exposition was held, “Sedalia”.
As previously mentioned two distinct varieties were created. Produced first but sold second is a variety with the numbers “2” and “4” placed adjacent to a star on the obverse, signifying that Missouri was the 24th state admitted into the Union. The second variety does not contain this element. To modern collectors, the two varieties have caused some problems, as exact mintages of each are unknown. Advertisements from the time the coins were released said that only 5,000 of the first variety (with the “2★4”) were released, but the actual mintage appears to have been larger, as they are only slightly scarcer than the plain variety, which reportedly had a much higher mintage.
We do have Mint records available that have recorded the total mintage of both varieties as 50,028, of which a total of 29,600 were melted, leaving us with a net mintage of 20,428 pieces. Perhaps 60% of these were the plain variety, with the other 40% being the “2★4” variety.
Regardless of the actual mintages, the mint seems to have produced this commemorative rather carelessly, resulting in the fact that the Missouri Centennial Half Dollar is one of the toughest early commemorative half dollars to find in gem condition. On the other hand it appears that collectors acquired a reasonable number of pieces resulting in most pieces to be in the lower uncirculated grades. Daniel Boone would get his true commemorative half dollar over a decade later with the bicentennial of Boone’s death. The two commemorative half dollars are remarkably alike, with another bust of Boone on the obverse (this time without the coonskin cap) and a view of him engaged in a conversation with a Native American on the reverse.