The Boone Bicentennial Half Dollar was originally intended to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birthday of Frontiersman and Trailblazer Daniel Boone in 1734. The original legislation authorized 600,000 coins to be minted in 1934 and the profits from the sale to be distributed to the “Daniel Boone Bicentennial Commission” and the “Pioneer National Monument Association” in Lexington Kentucky. Initial minting in 1934 amounted to only 10,000 pieces from the Philadelphia mint, all of which were sold late in the year.
In early 1935, a second minting of the coins was ordered with coins being made at all three mints. Initially, 10,000 from Philadelphia and 5,000 each from Denver and San Francisco were delivered. In Mid year 1935 C. Frank Dunn, the secretary of the Boone Bicentennial Commission, used his connections in Congress to get new legislation approved stating in part:
“That, insomuch as the annual change in coinage date required by law has caused the removal of the commemorative date of 1934 from the design originally approved and in use for the coinage of the 50-cent pieces commemorating the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Daniel Boone… it is herby authorized to supplement said design so that the reverse of said 50-cent pieces will show the figures “1934” immediately above the words “PIONEER YEAR”. "
With the passage of this legislation on August 26 1935, an additional 10,000 Philadelphia and 2,000 each Denver and San Francisco pieces were minted. Collectors were initially annoyed by the re-issue of a second commemorative of the same date, and then further frustrated when their orders were returned unfilled by the Centennial Commission (headed by Dunn) who claimed that all of the 2,000 branch mint pieces were sold in pre-order sales. These frustrated collectors turned to the secondary market to find that the pieces were available, but at many times their initially advertised price. Tempers reached a fever pitch when rumors circulated that the commission had only distributed roughly 25% of the branch mint issues and held the remaining 1500 or so coins to be released to dealers and speculators after the price had risen many fold.
Production of the coins continued at all three mints through 1936 and into 1937 when Dunn announced that the set would end, only to go ahead and place orders for the coins in 1938. As always the market place had the final say, frustrated collectors shunned the late 1937 and 1938 issues and much of the mintages for those years were returned to the mint to be melted.
The coin design was executed by Augustus Lukeman, the sculpture who gained world renown for taking over and completing the massive sculpture on Georgia’s Stone Mountain when the original Artist, Gutzon Borglum moved on to his Opus piece on Mount Rushmore. Lukeman’s design was at odds with the Bicentennial Commission, represented by Dunn, but eventually Lukeman prevailed with minor compromises. After the models were compete, they were sent to the Medallic Arts Company of New York to be reduced to master hubs.
The obverse of the design shows a bust purported to be Boone, though no contemporary images of the frontiersman existed to base the design on. The inscription “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” arcs across the top rim and “HALF DOLLAR” across the bottom.
The reverse design is far more complicated. The two Primary Figures, a frontiersman (Boone) and an Indian Chief (Shawnee Chief Black Fish) stand in front of a background that shows a stockade on the left and the rising sun on the right. The Frontiersman dressed in buckskins with a fringed coat, holds a Kentucky Long Rifle in his left hand and a scroll (Peace Treaty?) in his right. The Chief faces the frontiersmen wearing buckskin breeches and carrying a tomahawk in his left hand. To the left of the couple is the inscription “DANIEL BOONE BICENTENNIAL” and to the right “PIONEER YEAR”, which was replaced with “1934 PIONEER YEAR” in late 1935 and on all subsequent issues. The issue date (1934 or later to 1938) is at the bottom with “IN GOD WE TRUST” arcing across the top and “E PLURIBUS UNUM” below it. In both inscriptions, the words are separated by dots. Finally on all branch mint issues the mint mark is to the Right of the Chiefs left heel above and to the right of the date.
General Market Notes
The keys to the series are the 1935-D & 1935-S issues. The semi-keys are the 1938, 1938-D, & 1938-S issues.