George Washington Carver - Booker T. Washington Commemorative Half Dollar
MINTAGE YEARS: 1951-1954
DESIGNER: Isaac Scott Hathaway
DIAMETER: 30.61 millimeters
WEIGHT: 12.5 grams
THICKNESS: 2.15 millimeters
MINT: Philadelphia, Denver, San Francisco
COMPOSITION: 90% Silver, 10% Copper
FINISH: Business Strike
CONNECTION: Booker T. Washington was one of the leading figures in the charge to educate freed slaves during the reconstruction era. Being a free slave himself, he believed that the key to African Americans’ future success was through learning practical skills. But Booker T. Washington’s ceaseless, pioneering efforts helped to ease white America into a greater acceptance of their fellow Americans.
George Washington Carver too was inexorably linked with slavery (his parents were former slaves,) and like Washington, did not let that fact keep him down. He graduated with a B.S. from the Iowa State College of Agriculture in 1894. He used this degree to great effect, discovering numerous uses for peanuts, soybeans, and sweet potatoes; crops that were once considered worthless. His research helped many farmers in the South deal with problems such as soil depletion and the boll weevil, which destroyed the cotton industry.
The bill authorizing the coins was pushed by the George Washington Carver National Monument Foundation, and eventually passed on September 21, 1951, authorizing the mintage of a maximum 3,415,631 coins. This odd maximum mintage number took into consideration the remaining 1,581,631 Booker T. Washington Half Dollars that could be melted and struck as Washington-Carver coins, with the remainder being based on the 1,834,000 unused quantity earlier authorized for the Booker T. Washington Half Dollar. Like the Booker T. Washington Half Dollar, the design for this coin was created by sculptor Isaac Scott Hathaway.
One of the reasons behind the Carver-Washington half dollar may have possibly been to oppose the spread of Communism among African Americans. One of Hathaway's early designs for the coin featured a three quarter profile portrait of Booker T. Washington behind the profile portrait of George Washington Carver on the obverse, while the reverse featured the American Legion seal with inscriptions such as "United Against the Spread of Communism."
Three-coin sets of the new Washington-Carver coins with mintages of roughly 8,000-12,000 pieces were produced every year from 1951 through 1954, with additional large quantities struck of the 1951(P), 1952(P), 1953-S and 1954-S coins for sale as singles. As the program expired in 1954 it drew few mourners. American coin collectors were bored with commemorative coins in general and with the serial ones in particular. The Booker T. Washington and Washington-Carver Halves were among the least desired at that time, and many thousands were returned to the Mint for melting, while thousands more were sold to speculators at just pennies above face value by the banks holding them as collateral.