1918 Illinois Centennial Half Dollar
Weight: 12.5 grams
Designer: George T. Morgan / John R. Sinnock
Illinois began as part of the Northwest Territory. It was later part of the Indiana Territory before becoming the Illinois territory in 1809. Its name is derived from the French pronunciation of Iliniwek, the name of a group of some of the local Native American tribes. Illinois was granted statehood in 1818. 100 years later, as the Illinois Centennial Committee was planning celebrations, they proposed the idea of a commemorative coin for the state’s 100th anniversary. They would use these proceeds to fund the celebrations they were planning. Congress approved up to 100,000 half dollars by Act of June 1, 1918, the proceeds to be used for helping finance county centennial celebrations throughout the state. This was the first time a state centennial commemorative was produced, but it paved the way for many others to follow.
George T. Morgan, who had recently been promoted to Chief Engraver after Barber’s passing, designed the obverse, and J.R. Sinnock, his assistant, designed the reverse. The obverse shows a portrait of Abraham Lincoln modeled after the statue being made for the centennial by Andrew O’Connor. Although Lincoln was not originally from Illinois, it is the state with which he is most often associated. The reverse shows the Illinois State Seal, which features an eagle standing on a Union shield and holding a banner in his mouth. The banner is inscribed with the state’s motto: UNION, NATIONAL SOVEREIGNTY, STATE.
The full approved mintage of 100,000 half dollars, along with 58 for assay, were struck at the Philadelphia Mint in 1918. Many were sold by the Commission for $1 apiece, but a large number were held in a vault. They were later released into circulation at face value during the 30s. As such, many of the coins available today are at least likely circulated. The coin is available in mint state, usually MS60 through MS63. Some satin proofs are known and a small number were made in off-metals, including white gold, copper, and nickel.
From the beardless (pre-1860) bust of Lincoln, one might guess the focus to be on some anniversary from the martyred President's life; however, the legend clearly indicated instead statewide and local (county) centennial celebrations. Relevance of the defiant eagle is impossible to establish; it may have been copied, loosely, from Morgan's pattern dollar design of 1882, found with the "Second Schoolgirl" or "Shield Earring" head. However, the motto STATE SOVEREIGNTY NATIONAL UNION is that of Illinois; the eagle turns away from the rising sun, toward to the west, as did the people who migrated there from the East Coast in search of vast tracts of farmland. Note also that the olive branch for peace is prominent, but there are no arrows for war: their presence on a coin designed during the concluding months of World War I might have been considered just a bit raw.
Morgan's bust of Lincoln is his translation of a photograph of Andrew O'Conner's heroic statue of Lincoln, unveiled in Springfield in August 1918, as part of the centennial ceremonies. It is also beyond any conceivable challenge Morgan's masterpiece. An unintentional accessory at least to forcing revision of lettering and placement of mottoes was Treasury Secretary W.G. McAdoo, who (through his mouthpiece Mary O'Reilly, Acting Director of the Mint), in June 1918, disapproved the original models and insisted on the arrangement as adopted on the coins, except that he wished the Illinois motto replaced by E PLURIBUS UNUM.
If you are interesting in acquiring a 1918 Illinois Centennial Half Dollar for your collection in any grade, contact us at 281.548.1515 or E-Mail us for pricing, coin conditions, and additional information.