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Coin Profile – 1892-1893 Columbian Exposition Half Dollar

As the first commemorative Half Dollar struck, the Columbian Exposition Half Dollar holds a special place in the long and historic commemorative series. From the first proof striking that sold for $10,000 in 1892,(The first specimen struck was bought for $10,000 by the firm that made Remington typewriters, as a publicity stunt) and to the final 1893 business strike, Columbian Halves were popularly collected at the time and in the hundred years since.

In August 1892 Congress specially authorized the coinage of five million Columbian Exposition Half Dollar for sale during the 1892 World’s Columbian Exposition to honor the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ “discovery” of the New World. This was the first of the great World’s Fairs to be honored with a commemorative coin. The first issue was dated 1892. The Exposition was scheduled to open in Chicago in October 1892, but did not open until May 1893, at which time additional coins bearing this new date were struck.

The obverse features the bust right of Christopher Columbus. The Columbian Exposition Half Dollar was originally supposed to be made by U.S.J. Dunbar. His design was based on a portrait painted by Lorenzo Lotto of Columbus in 1512. The U.S. Mint’s Chief Engraver at the time, Charles E. Barber, derailed any attempt by Dunbar from producing the coin, and instead took on the project, basing his depiction of Columbus allegedly on a bust made by artist Olin L. Warner.

Columbian Exposition Half Dollar

Barber clashed with Exposition officials over the reverse as well, favoring his own design of the Western Hemisphere covering the entire reverse. Exposition officials wanted a depiction of Columbus’ flag ship Santa Maria poised over two globes. Seeking to absolve himself of the argument, Barber delegated the task to his Assistant Engraver, George T. Morgan to design the reverse.

By the time a further quantity had been coined in 1893, public demand for the Columbian Exposition Half Dollar had lessened. An unknown quantity of half-dollars were used as collateral against loans made to the Exposition by banks. When the Exposition failed to repay the debits, the banks dumped the coins into circulation.

A mere 104 proofs are believed to have been struck of the 1892 Columbian Exposition Half Dollar, represented by the first 101 coins produced in addition to the 400th, 1492nd, and 1892nd pieces. Despite the significance of Columbian Exposition Half Dollar, proof strikings have been largely overlooked and were often mishandled by recipients, most likely dignitaries of the exposition and perhaps a few higher-ups in Washington D.C.

1892 Issue:The first half dollar was struck at the Philadelphia Mint in November 1892. A total of 950,000 coins were minted there, with an unknown number reserved for assay. It is believed that none were melted. They were distributed by the World’s Columbian Exposition and Chicago banks, which sold them for $1 each.

1893 Issue: The Philadelphia Mint began production of 1893-dated Columbian Commemorative Halves on January 3 of that year. A grand total of 4,052,105 pieces were produced (including 2,105 coins for assay purposes), but sales were nowhere near the levels hoped for by government officials. The Mint destroyed all of the unsold coins. That amounted to 2,501,700 coins which were melted.

We note that some of the examples that managed to avoid melting were placed into circulation. Even so, the 1893 Columbian is not a rare coin in the lower and middle Mint State grades. It is only above the Gem level that this issue assumes an aura of unquestionable rarity.

About the Exposition Itself:

Origins of the World’s Columbian Exposition can be seen in the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia event marked the first large-scale effort of this kind in the United States. As early as 1880, advocates argues that a special exposition should mark the 400th anniversary of Columbus sailing to the New World. By 1888, the movement gained enough momentum to begin being taken seriously by the public, and by government officials. Early on, St. Louis was a leader for the site location.

By 1889, public opinion and individual efforts had mobilized enough support to launch the new exposition. Contenders for the massive exposition site included St. Louis, Chicago, New York, and Washington, D. C. In an effort to woo the U. S. Congress to select their city, Chicago businesses raised $5,000,000 to pledge to the fair, and promised to double the amount if Chicago was selected. After eight ballots, Congress finally selected Chicago as the site, by a vote of 157 for Chicago, 107 for New York, 25 for St. Louis, and 18 for Washington, D.C. The fair was considered the greatest event of its kind in history.

Design: Obverse by Charles E. Barber; reverse by George T. Morgan; the designs taken from plaster models by Olin L. Warner.
Mintage: Quantity Authorized: 5,000,000
Quantity Distributed: 1892: 950,000; 1893: 1,550,405
Diameter: 30.6mm
Weight: 12.50gr.
Composition: .900 silver, .100 copper

Republished with permission from the Author – Lee Gast

Additional Resources :

Interesting Facts: The first specimen struck was bought for $10,000 by the firm that made Remington typewriters, as a publicity stunt. The 1892-1893 Columbian Exposition Half Dollar was the first U.S. legal tender coin to bear the portrait of a foreigner.


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  1. Hello what is the todays market worth of a 1892 perfect condition…
    My Great Grandmother past away a few year s ago..from time to time we go through tons of stuff and sell at gargage sales,we came across a box at the very bottom of a very old chest ( around 175 – 200 yrs old )and found a box filled with dated coins.. thankyou for your help and do you buy and trade coins thanks again joseph

  2. I have the same question as j. florence. I have 1892 half dollar and am wondering its worth.It also seems to be in very good condition.I have inherited many coins and dont know what to do.
    I have many european coins and paper that date pre 1900. I have many english and german 1935-50. please advise if possible.df

  3. Hi Joseph,
    My first comment is do not clean the coins or touch the front or back of the coins. Always pick them up by the rims.

    I would be willing to take a look at the coins and give you my opinion on them. I might be willing to purchase some of them.

    Shoot me an email, with images if possible, and I’ll be in touch.


    Lee Gast

  4. Hello I’m wanting some information on this(1893 Columbian 1/2 dollar) coin it appears to be a proof coin under 10x magnification that there is a matted finish on all images.

  5. I also own one of these coins that I received from an auction lot that I won, I was wondering the value, I can send pics if need be

  6. I have only one 1892 Col. Ex. coins. is it of value? Doesn’t seem to have any wear.
    I also have an India Rupee 1907, also no wear

  7. Hi, interested in finding out the current market price for

    1983 columbian half A3-64c
    and a
    1982 columbian half MS-64
    AND I also have a
    1 oz silver World Columbian Expo Chicago Coin minted in 1892 uncirc

    Amy help would be appreciated…

  8. Interested in market price, coins are in very good condition

    1 – 1982 Columbian Half Dollard – World Expo

    3 – 1983 Columbian Half Dollar – World Expo

    • These coins would have to be uncirculated to have much of a premium over their face value. Many of the 1892/1893 World’s Columbian Exposition halves circulated like regular coins and could be found in change until silver stopped being used for coins in the mid 1960s.

  9. I purchase a1892 & a1893 above mentioned coins each for under $18.00. They are in good condition & I was wondering on their individual value? Thank you

  10. Values in mint state vary tremendously. Serious collectors enjoy and will pay premiums for eye appeal, toning, luster, etc. What may appear good condition to some may appear different to others. Coind have weak and strong strokes impacting speculated grading. These coins in MS 66 can fetch over $500 to over $790 easily. MS67 puts the coin’show value in a different price bracket. Circulated coins are under $50 and mostly $20

    • So true! In fact there is a beautiful MS 66 on ebay now asking $900 or best offer. Regardless, this is prob the nicest toned ms66 I have seen in quite sometime. I was looking to put an offer in and will track and share results.

  11. I have a worn 1892 worlds Columbian Exposition half dollar. This one has a cross at his throat. Never seen one like that. Anyone???

  12. I have specialized in CLASSIC COMMEMS for some time. I greatly appreciate these types of HISTORICAL INFORMATION topics for ALL of the different Classic Commems. I am sure that the more MODERN commems have interesting histories, too, but the CLASSICS have more design beauty, in my opinion, so their HISTORY seems more interesting to me. Thank you for this and other similar articles.

  13. My grandfather left me 2 safe deposit boxes of coins . The boxs are the largest size you can get in banks here in Illinois .15″ x15″ x2′ is a guess . To heavy to pull out so I can only look at what’s on top . I can see o box marked mercury iMessage ,unc or better dates and says 41 lbs also 2 coins in plastic graded by some company , one a silver dollar marked 1885cc ms 66 , another a half dollar 1954s ms 65 . These appeared to be thrown on top just before I got them because I can see trays down in the box with many more of these graded type coins . I remember back in the 1960s him showing me 3 new penny’s that he paid a lot of money for , I remember the letters but not the dates Svdb. Any ideas ,I remember he was proud of them and I wasn’t to tell grandma as I think he spent like 500$ on the 3 penny’s. It time to sell and I m trying to figure out best way to sell,or should I just keep them for my grandkids Costs me 82 $ to store them each year

  14. That is great and is something that you might want to have looked at and auctioned by someplace like Heritage Auctions on the graded ones and have PCGS or NGC grade your other coins so they can be auctioned cuz then you could probably make a nice sum of money for your grandkids.

  15. I have a 1893 one in amazing condition in a clear coin keeper to keep it safe. Is it worth anything please email me thank you?

  16. This coin was left to me in my grandmothers collection. However, mine has an embossed numeral 3 over Columbus’ face. Do you know anything about this?

  17. I am close to 1k Columbus Expo half dollars in my collection. I like this coin.
    If yours is ‘slick’ but still recognizable, I’ll pay the melt price plus 1st class postage. You will need to package so that USPS machines don’t steal it.


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