The original legislation for this coin which was to commemorate both the Sesquicentennial of the Independence of the Republic of Vermont and the Battle of Bennington called for both a silver Half Dollar and a Gold Dollar! By the time the bill finally passed on February 24th 1925 it had been amended three times; first to drop the gold dollar, then to add the California Jubilee Half Dollar and finally to add the Ft. Vancouver issue.
The total number of Vermont Coins authorized was only 40,000 which were all stuck (along with 34 additional Pieces for Assay) at the Philadelphia mint in January and February of 1927. These coins were turned over to the “Bennington Battle Monument and Historical Association of Bennington” to be distributed through local banks. The association was eventually able to sell a little over 28,000 of the coins and the remaining 11,892 were returned to the mint to be melted.
The design process for this coin was a contentious one. Originally, Sherry Fry a New York Sculpture was selected to execute the design. Her initial proposal was for a portrait of Ira Allen (younger brother to the more famous Ethan Allen of Green Mountain boys fame) on the obverse and a representation of the Bennington Monument Obelisk on the reverse. This proposal was rejected and Fry was fired. The commission to compete the design was turned over to Charles Keck, who had previously designed the Gold Dollar for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition.
Keck’s proposal was to maintain the portrait of Allen on the obverse (albeit based on different sources for Allen’s features) and to use a representation of the Catamount Tavern, a favorite meeting spot for the Green Mountain Boys during the American Revolution. A Catamount is the common name for the Canada Lynx, a large cat native to the Vermont area. The tavern drew its name from a stuffed catamount that was mounted on a raise pole in front of the building.
The Commission of Fine Arts objected to the Tavern design and suggested that Keck create a design that depicted the accoutrements and trophies of war (flags, swords, rifles, drums and the like). Keck created such a design, but evidentially was not very supportive of it, because he also created another design with what was purported to be a “Catamount” in reference to the cat that gave the tavern its name. Eventually, Keck’s alternate design was selected.
The obverse of the coin is dominated by the bust of Ira Allen in Whig and period dress (high collar and ruffled cravat). While Ira Allen is all but unknown outside of Vermont, there was still much controversy over the fact that the portrait bears little to no resemblance to any other image of Allen. The inscription ”UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” arcs along the top rim of the coin, though it is slightly out of balance as the left side begins slightly lower (9 0’clock) than the right (which ends between 2 & 3 O’clock). Below the bust is the phrase “FOUNDER OF VERMONT” in the same font style. The name “IRA ALLEN” is above this inscription in a much smaller font.
Without the characteristic tufted ears of a lynx, the large cat on the back looks more like a cougar or puma than a "Catamount". Across the top arc two lines of text; the first says “BATTLE OF BENNINGTON”, again unbalanced, perhaps to make room for the cats head. The phrase starts at 10 O’clock and ends at 3 O’clock. Below this line, in a slightly smaller font “IN GOD WE TRUST” is centered. Below that in a horizontal line not an arc are the Sesquicentennial dates “1777-1927”. The anniversary date of the battle of Bennington “AUG. 16” is inscribed in two lines below the cats head & neck. The inscription “HALF DOLLAR”, and above that “E PLURIBUS UNUM” arc in two lines of text, centered across the bottom edge. Finally, the designer's initials “CK” are at ground level to the right just inside the cats left rear paw.