Obverse and reverse face of the 90% Silver Booker T. Washington Commemorative Coin from 1946-51 in circulated condition.90% Silver George Washington Carver Commemorative Half Dollar (1951-54) in circulated condition

The next-to-last of what are known as the Early Commemoratives, the Booker T. Washington silver half dollar was produced from 1946 to 1951. Along with the Iowa Centennial half dollar, it was the first post-WWII commemorative coin made and was sold at a premium to raise funds for the Booker T. Washington Birthplace Memorial Commission. 

How the Coin Came to Be

In 1946, with the war over, the U.S. was able to focus on domestic issues, and civil rights for black Americans was prominent among them. President Roosevelt had earlier banned racial discrimination in defense industry hiring as part of the war effort, and President Truman appointed a commission to study discrimination in the military, eventually leading to his military desegregation order of 1948. It was in this context that Congress authorized the Booker T. Washington commemorative coin. 

Isaac Scott Hathaway: First African-American U.S. Coin Designer

Charles Keck, an artist who had designed several earlier commemorative coins, was hired to design the BTW coin, but Isaac Scott Hathaway, a black artist and founder of the ceramics department at the Tuskegee Institute, prepared models free of charge that were based on a life mask of Washington. His design was accepted over that of Keck, making him the first African-American to design a U.S. coin. 

Booker T. Washington Silver Half Dollar Coin Design

The coin’s face features a three-quarters bust of Washington with his name, “Half Dollar,” and the motto “E Pluribus Unum” along with “United States of America” and the minting date. The reverse contains images of a log cabin and the Hall of Fame at New York University, where Washington’s accomplishments are memorialized, along with multiple inscriptions including “Booker T. Washington Birthplace Memorial,” “From Slave Cabin to Hall of Fame,” and “Franklin County VA” along with“Liberty” and “In God We Trust.” The mint mark for San Francisco and Denver coins appears at the bottom, below the cabin and the word “Liberty.” 

Coin Issues and Mints

Unlike the Iowa Centennial coin, of which only 100,000 coins were authorized, over one million of the BTW half were made over a six-year period, most in its first issue of 1946. Except for a 62,000-coin run at San Francisco in 1950 and a 200,000-coin run at the Philadelphia mint in 1951, subsequent years saw only 6,000-8,000 coins produced at each of the three then-operating mints. Even so, a large number were eventually melted due to poor sales.

Made with the same 90% silver-10% copper amalgam common to U.S. silver coins at the time, the BTW half was widely criticized for its busy design and careless minting practices that resulted in abrasions or contact marks on the higher areas of some of the coins. Even so, it remains a highly collectible coin for its historic significance. 

Collect the Booker T. Washington Silver Commemorative Half Dollar

The Great American Coin Company® is pleased to offer the Booker T. Washington silver commemorative half dollar to our customers. This is an important coin for collectors and historians alike, and is especially significant for students of American social history. Our Booker T. Washington half dollars are genuine U.S. mint 90% silver coins in circulated condition with random dates from 1946-1951. They offer a rare opportunity to add historical context to any coin collection and make great gifts that remind recipients of an important chapter in our country’s evolution.

Booker T. Washington 90% silver half dollars are just part of a wide selection of collectible U.S. coins and paper money as well as currency from around the world offered byThe Great American Coin Company. Our inventory of these important coins is limited, so act now while they’re still available.

We keep adding unique collectibles as they become available, so be sure to visit us frequently. And while you’re there, be sure to visit our blog for interesting and timely articles about currency and precious metals.

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Great American Coin Company