The Old Spanish Trail Commemorative nominally celebrates the 400th anniversary of the explorations of the Gulf States by the Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca expedition in 1535. The historical record paints a slightly different picture. Cabeza De Vaca was one of the chief officers of the ill fated Narváez expedition which landed near Tampa Florida in 1528. This group of hard luck treasure seekers (600 in total) quickly became lost and began losing members of the expedition. Eventually the group gave up their treasure seeking and began concentrating on survival. With less than half the party still surviving, they constructed rafts and set out on the gulf to find a Spanish settlement in Mexico. This leg of the expedition resulted in another ~80% casualties. The 40 survivors eventually washed ashore somewhere near Galveston Texas to start what eventually became an eight year random wander through Texas and Northern Mexico. The “Exploration” ended in 1537 when Cabeza de Vaca and three other survivors reached a Spanish settlement on the west coast of Northern Mexico. Cabeza de Vaca chronicled his experiences in a report for King Carlos I of Spain. It was published in 1542 after his return to Spain, under the title La Relación (The Report). Later perhaps more appropriately called Naufragios (Shipwrecks)!
The Commemorative Coin was the brain child or L.W. Hoffecker, a noted numismatist of the time, who eventually served as president of the American Numismatic Association from 1939-1941. After an earlier effort to sponsor a commemorative for the “Gadsden Purchase Commission” was vetoed by President Hoover in 1929, Hoffecker conceived of and lobbied for the Old Spanish trail commemorative. Having learned from his first failure, Hoffecker mounted a much more effective lobbying campaign including befriending various congressmen and even a short visit with President Roosevelt. The coin was eventually authorized on June 5, 1935 with a maximum mintage limit of 10,000 coins. Proceeds from the sale were earmarked for the “El Paso Museum Committee” though it is unclear if they ever received any cash! Hoffecker designed the coin and Edmund J. Senn, an El Paso Sculpture, prepared the models. The 10,000 pieces (plus 8 additional for assay) were struck in September of 1935 and successfully distributed for $2.00 apiece by Hoffecker.
The Obverse of the coin is dominated by the Head of a Texas Longhorn, an allegorical symbol for the explore, whose Name “Cabeza de Vaca” means “Head of a Cow” in Spanish. Inscriptions are grouped in arcs across the top and bottom of the coin. Across the top (from Outer rim coming in) “ UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” with words separated by dots, followed by “E PLURIBUS UNUM” in smaller block font just inside between the cows horns, and finally “LIBERTY” as the inner inscription. Across the bottom is “HALF DOLLAR” and just inside that is the explorers name “ALVAR NUÑEZ CABEZA DE VACA”.
The reverse of the coin is dominated by a map of the southern United States (Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida) and a blooming Yucca plant. It is unclear why Hoffecker chose the yucca other than for artistic balance, as it seems to have no real tie to the theme. The Map appears to show “the Old Spanish Trail” leading from St. Augustine, Florida to El Paso, Texas (labeled) by way of Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Mobile, New Orleans, Galveston, and San Antonio. Ignoring the fact that no such trail exists and that Cabeza De Vaca traveled by Raft from Tampa to Galveston across the gulf, not overland! Inscriptions include “OLD SPANISH TRAIL” arcing along the top rim, the dates “1535-1935” at the bottom, and “IN GOD WE TRUST” in the gulf between the trunk of the Yucca and Florida. Finally, the artists initials “L. W. H.” appear along the rim to the right of the dates.
General Market Notes
Text to follow