A coin with a very strange history, this coin was originally conceived by members of the film industry in California that were looking to finance “The first Annual American Historical Revue and Motion Picture Industry Exposition”. The Idea of using coins to help finance such events was well established by this time (1892-93 Columbia Exposition, 1918 Illinois Centennial, 1920 Maine Centennial, 1921 Missouri Centennial & the 1921 Alabama Centennial), the committee just needed to find a theme that had some relevance. The sesquicentennial of the Boston Tea Party in 1773 was proposed, but promoters could not come up with a convincing tie to the California Film Industry. They finally settled on the 100th anniversary of the Monroe Doctrine; A policy conceived by then Secretary of State John Quincy Adams and announced by President Monroe in 1823. According to the Monroe Doctrine, the United Stated declared that it would not tolerate any interference in the western hemisphere by European Powers and in exchange the US pledged to stay out of European politics.
On December 18, 1922 Walter F. Lineberger, Congressional Representative from California, introduced legislation for the “Monroe Doctrine Centennial Commemorative Half Dollar”. The draft legislation tried to make itself relevant to California by stating that the 1823 declaration had prevented France, England, and Russia from attempting to obtain California from Mexico. The argument was a stretch, but on January 24, 1923, Congress went ahead and authorized the issue of no more than 300,000 coins to be struck at the San Francisco Branch Mint. Chester Beach was selected to prepare the models for the issue.
The obverse shows the conjoined bust of James Monroe behind that of John Quincy Adams. Below the bust the names “Monroe” and “Adams” are joined by two chain links. “Half Dollar” is directly below the names, while “United States of America” arcs across the top, “In God We Trust” is to the left just in front of and below Monroe’s Chin and the date 1923 and the “S” mintmark are on the right Just below Adams’ shoulder line.
The reverse design was much more controversial, bearing a striking resemblance to a medal struck in 1899 by Ralph Beck. Mr. Beach defended himself by saying he had never seen Mr. Beck’s work, but given the resemblance between the two designs many did not believe him. The design has a very Art Deco feel and used two nude and contorted female figures to represent North and South America. The North American figure has her back to the Pacific Ocean and is reaching with her right hand to South America. She holds a branch in her left hand. The South American figure is facing the other direction with her back to the Atlantic Ocean and her arms drawn in close to her body. The two continents are surrounded by lines that seem to indicate ocean currents, but that were never adequately explained. The dates 1823 & 1923 flank a scroll with a quill laying on it sitting in the Pacific Ocean to the west of South America. “Monroe Doctrine Centennial” arcs across the top and “Los Angles” (for no apparent reason) across the bottom. The designers initials "CB" appear in a monogram at about 4 O’clock.
General Market Notes
This is one of the weakest struck commemorative coins and with such a large mintage, many found their way into circulation!