Monday, September 28, 2009

Coin Monday: A 'Fair' Coin

Sept. 28, 2009
Written by John Dale

The Texas State Fair started on Friday, Sept. 25, and from my office window, I can just make out the Ferris wheel in Fair Park. It’s a little bit surprising, now that I think about it… somewhere in the area of that Ferris Wheel, a vendor is serving deep-fried butter (That’s deep-fried butter, not batter. The latter can be found just about everywhere!). Texas may be well known for its outlandish fried food, but every state fair has its quirks. One such quirk of interest to numismatists belongs to the Missouri State Fair, which had an intriguing souvenir on offer in 1921: commemorative half dollars celebrating the centennial of Missouri’s statehood.

In the years following the successful Illinois commemorative halves of 1918, several other states got in on the statehood centennial celebration bandwagon: Maine in 1920, Missouri in 1921, Alabama also in 1921 (notably, these were two years late to the party), Arkansas in 1935 (and every year through 1939), and Iowa in 1946. There are also a number of near-misses; Texas, for example, chose to celebrate the centennial of its independence from Mexico instead.

Going back to Missouri, the commemorative halves honoring its statehood centennial make specific reference to the Missouri State Fair… once you know where to look. On the reverse, below the feet of the two figures, is an exergue with the incused word SEDALIA. The meaning would have been abundantly clear to any fairgoer, since the fair was (and still is) held in Sedalia, MO. The coins don’t say STATE FAIR anywhere on them, but they might as well have!

One variety of Missouri half was sold at the fair, but there’s a second variant which features the numerals "2" and "4" flanking a star. Ostensibly, this symbolized Missouri adding a 24th star to the U.S. flag; in practice, that star should’ve been a dollar sign, because all it really meant was the creation of an artificial variety to fleece coin collectors. While collectors generally handled their coins with care, the “plain” Missouri halves mainly sold to folks who didn’t have the foggiest idea how to tend to their new souvenirs. Such half dollars were often cleaned in a misguided attempt to keep them shiny, and many of them slid around in pockets.

Still, a half dollar is a durable souvenir, much more likely to survive a day of fair-going than a silly hat or a cheap plastic sword. Speaking of which, I hear there’s a Pirates of the Caribbean-themed diving show this year…

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-John Dale Beety

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