Vermont/Battle of Bennington Sesquicentennial Half Dollar
To tourists, the state of Vermont
is known primarily for its rich maple syrup and great wintertime skiing.
To urban Northeasterners it is the source for many of their dairy
products. To numismatists,
however, Vermont is famed for its two great contributions to American coinage,
its charming copper cents of 1785-88, so rich in varieties and historical
lore, and the Battle of Bennington/Vermont Sesquicentennial half dollar of
The citizens of Vermont have
always been fighters, fighting for their rights, their principles and, most of
all, their cherished independence. Donít
forget that Vermont alone, of all the New England colonies, chose to proclaim
itself an independent republic when breaking with Great Britain.
This situation lasted for some fourteen years, beginning in 1777 and
lasting until Vermont ultimately acceded to joining the Union in 1791 as,
coincidentally, the fourteenth state.
Vermont was a relatively unknown
and unsettled land until the middle of the 18th century.
The French had made sporadic inroads for more than a hundred years, but
most preferred to pass through this land in search of more promising pastures.
English soldiers and settlers gradually came to predominate in the
remote country, but it wasnít until 1741 that the British Crown finally
appointed a royal governor for New Hampshire, including most of what would
ultimately become Vermont. The
new governorís name was Benning Wentworth, after whom the town of Bennington
In the 1760s, a boundary dispute
between New Hampshire and New York posed the threat of armed conflict.
Among those most ready to repulse the invaders from New York were a
pair of brothers, both fierce supporters of New Hampshireís claims to the
land, much of which they and their friends occupied.
The Allen Brothers, impulsive, fire-breathing Ethan (1739-89) and his
younger, more reasonable sibling Ira (1751-1814), were key players in
Vermontís ultimate independence. It
was the more aggressive Ethan, however, who quickly formed a militia which
called themselves the Green Mountain Boys (Vermont is French for green
Before war could break out
between the colonies of New Hampshire and New York, the Battles of Lexington
and Concord gave all concerned a common and far greater cause for which to
fight ó the independence of Britainís American colonies.
Contrarians as always, the Vermonters could not come to terms with the
Continental Congress in Philadelphia and chose instead to proclaim their land
an independent republic. Thus was
born the Republic of Vermont on January 15, 1777, in large part the creation
of younger brother Ira Allen. Yet,
it was Ethanís Green Mountain Boys who took their case to the battlefield on
August 16, 1777. Under the
command of Captain John Stark and Colonel Seth Warner, the Vermonters defeated
a force of Hessian mercenaries in a battle that has been termed ďthe turning
point of the Revolution.Ē The
victory was complete, and the British would no longer contest Vermontís
independence. A 300-foot tall monument now marks the site of this historic
As the 150th anniversary of this
struggle approached, the Vermont Sesquicentennial Commission sought a
commemorative coin to mark the event in 1927.
Unlike many such groups that had waited until the last minute to apply
for their coins or had even gotten them back-dated after a celebration was
over, the folks from Vermont appealed to their representatives in Washington
as early as 1924. After much
wrangling and deal-cutting, the
Vermont half dollar was approved February 24, 1925 in a bill that also
authorized the Fort Vancouver Centennial half dollar and the California
Diamond Jubilee half dollar. The
fact that President of the United States Calvin Coolidge was from Vermont
certainly must have weighed in its favor.
The original models for the
Vermont half dollar by sculptor Sherry Fry portrayed Ira Allen and the
Bennington Monument obelisk. These
were disapproved by the Commission of Fine Artsí sculptor member, James
Earle Fraser, of Buffalo nickel fame (Fraser was notorious for rejecting most
designs that came his way). After
a year of frustration during which countless letters were exchanged between
the two bodies, the Vermont Sesquicentennial Commission engaged Charles Keck
(creator of the 1915 Panama-Pacific gold dollar) to prepare new models.
Of several furnished by the artist, his obverse of Ira Allen and his
reverse depicting a striding catamount (mountain lion) were approved by the
Commission of Fine Arts on April 29, 1926.
Curiously, the catamount was a figurative substitute for a
previously-rejected model by Keck displaying historic Fayís Tavern, known
also as ďThe Catamount Tavern.Ē Although
an attractive element, the cat really has no connection to the coinís theme.
Honoring the 150th anniversary of
Vermontís independence from Britain and the Battle of Bennington, the
Vermont Sesquicentennial half dollar portrays on its obverse a right-facing
bust of Ira Allen, his name and the inscription FOUNDER OF VERMONT placed
below. Above his portrait is the
legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. The
reverse is dominated by a profile view of a catamount poised atop a mountain
crag. In front is the date of the
battle AUG. 16 and above the dual dates of commemoration 1777-1927. The words BATTLE OF BENNINGTON and the value HALF DOLLAR are
arranged around its periphery. Crowded
within the little remaining space are the statutory inscriptions IN GOD WE
TRUST and E PLURIBUS UNUM. The
artistís initials CK appear between the catís left hind leg and the tip of
The coins were approved early
enough that great hopes were held for their sale. Since the Sesquicentennial Commission desired that these
coins be sold primarily to Vermonters, a mintage of just 40,000 pieces was
authorized. These were coined at
the Philadelphia Mint, along with an additional 34 coins reserved for assay.
Even with such a low mintage, some 11,892 pieces were ultimately
returned as unsold and destroyed, leaving a net mintage for this issue of
28,108. Obviously, the
speculative market in commemoratives was still some years away.
As most of this issue was sold to
non-numismatists, the coins were rather carelessly handled over the years.
Many will show light wear or signs of unskilled cleaning.
Aggravating this condition, some Vermont half dollars are not fully
struck in the area of Ira Allenís hair at the upper-central obverse.
One matte proof coin was made to order for Chief Sculptor-Engraver John
R. Sinnock, a connoisseur of such pieces; its details are sharp and complete.
A small minority of the coins seen will show a diagonal die break on
Allenís forehead above his eyebrow. Part
of the original mintage was distributed in custom cardstock holders inscribed
with the name of one of several distributing banks.
These documentary items are of considerable value in their own right,
with or without the coins they contained.
In the lower grades of mint
state, Vermont halves may be found with little difficulty.
Even in MS-64 and MS-65, a fair number are available, most with
excellent, frosty luster. Top-grade
examples in MS-66 and above are quite scarce, the high relief of this design
inviting nicks and abrasions. Points
to check for wear include Ira Allenís cheek and the hair at his temple; on
the reverse, examine the uppermost part of the catís foreleg and its hip.
The greatest rarity of this
commemorative issue is the fact that not one word of scandal, corruption or
greed was uttered against it. The
coins were distributed equitably at one dollar apiece, sold primarily to
residents of Vermont. The funds
raised were set aside for the honorable purpose of studying Vermontís
history. Collectors thus had no
angry words for this program. Now
thatís something to commemorate!
Diameter: 30.6 millimeters
Weight: 12.5 grams
Composition: .900 silver, .100
Net Weight: .36169 ounce pure