By Gerald Tebben
The Washington-Carver commemorative half dollar was created, in part, ““oppose the spread of Communism among Negroes in the interest of the national defense.” For collectors, it wasn’t a hit.
The United States Mint’s production facilities are gigantic factories with metal planchets and planchet-strip materials coming in by the truckload and finished products going out by armored car.
Every year the director of the Mint produces a report to the United States Congress.
The report, compiled on a fiscal-year basis, can run anywhere from a handful of pages—as it did in the Mint’s early days—to hundreds and hundreds, as it has on occasions when the director wanted to make a point about the state or direction of the economy.
Fat or thin, the annual report gives great insight into what was happening in the nation in the year it was produced.
Director Nellie Tayloe Ross’ report for the “fiscal year ended June 30, 1952,” is a fairly thin affair—running 127 pages.
Between the lines it tells the stories of continued prosperity following the Second World War, a growing acknowledgment of the dangers of inequality among the races and the demands of the Korean War.
The Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco Mints took in 6,215 tons of silver, copper, nickel tin and zinc that year and churned out 1.6 billion United States coins (unlike now, the Mint facilities then operated their own refineries and were capable of taking raw metals and processing them into planchets ready to strike as coinage).
That was an increase of nearly 400 million pieces from the year before. The Mint facilities achieved the feat with a staff of 1,020 people, up just 64 from the year before.
That U.S. coinage was composed of Lincoln cents, Jefferson 5-cent coins, Roosevelt dimes, Washington quarter dollars, Franklin half dollars and new Washington-Carver commemorative half dollars.
The report notes that early 1950s plant modernization and improved management practices were paying off.
Production costs for the cent were $1.10 per 1,000 coins, down 49 cents from 1946.
Mint reports aren’t known for their illustrations, but the 1952 report contains a full-page photo of the obverse and reverse of a 1952 Washington-Carver half dollar.
Other than necessary mentions in the graphs showing coinage production over the years, the report makes no further mention of the Washington-Carver coin.
Peripheral rainbow toning enhances both sides of this 1952-S Washington-Carver commemorative half dollar. (Photo: HeritageAuctions.com)
The coin, which shows noted black leaders Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver on the obverse and a map of the United States (just 48 states then) on the reverse, was a singularly ugly coin.
Profits from the sale of the coins were earmarked to “oppose the spread of Communism among Negroes in the interest of the national defense,” but the coin did not sell well.
In the 1950s New York coin dealers reported buying them at face value from the issuing commission and selling them to investors for 65 cents each.
The coins were issued at a time when African Americans—including veterans of World War II and Korea—were beginning the struggle for equal rights, a cause that many politicians, including U.S. Sen. James O. Eastland of Mississippi, viewed with alarm and often equated with communism.
While the Mint report makes no mention of the Korean conflict, it does note that 62,155 medals were produced for the Department of Defense and other federal agencies.
As the report was being written, the Korean conflict was taking a new direction. Gen. Mark Clark assumed command of U.N. forces in Korea on May 12.
Denied authorization to widen the war zone, he used counterattacks to bring pressure on the enemy.
While a new war was on, the Mint was still dealing with the emergency coinage of the last war—zinc-coated steel cents and copper-manganese-silver 5-cent coins.
A nearly full-page chart of coins “withdrawn from monetary use during the fiscal year 1952, included $32,994.10 worth of “copper-silver-manganese 5-cent pieces” and $142,730.48 in “zinc-coated steel 1-cent pieces.”
Almost two decades after President Franklin D. Roosevelt called in the nation’s gold, the Mints still took in $72,593.50 in gold coins that year, including $12 in Indian Head gold $3 coins.
Other obsolete coins—every denomination except the Seated Liberty 20-cent coin—also showed up that year, either purchased or transferred from Treasury or Federal Reserve vaults.
The Mints took in two Trade dollars, 252 half dimes, 247 silver 3-cent pieces, 80 copper-nickel 3-cent pieces, 404 copper-nickel cents from the Civil War era and two half cents.
Most of those coins were transferred to the Mint from the Treasury or Federal Reserve banks, but quite a few—including two gold $3 pieces and a lone silver 3-cent coin—were listed in the “purchased” column.
Those purchased coins might have been worn thin, dented or bent, but wouldn’t it be neat today to be able to buy them at face value?
Gerald Tebben, a longtime numismatist, is editor of the Central States Numismatic Society’s Centinel and a contributing writer to Coin World.
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