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HomeUS Coins1925-S California Diamond Jubilee Half Dollar : A Collector's Guide

1925-S California Diamond Jubilee Half Dollar : A Collector’s Guide

1925-S California Jubilee Half Dollar. Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek.
1925-S California Jubilee Half Dollar. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

The 1925-S California Diamond Jubilee commemorative half dollar is a silver commemorative half-dollar coin issued during the classic commemorative period of 1892 through 1954. The coin marks California’s 75th year of statehood by honoring the state’s gold rush history and state animal. It is a popular collector coin that remains affordable despite being nearly 100 years old.

History Celebrated on the 1925-S California Diamond Jubilee Half Dollar

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 ended the Mexican War. Along with Texas and New Mexico, this newly rich territory of California was ceded to the United States. At the time, the area was largely populated by indigenous tribes, plus small numbers of people of Spanish or Mexican descent.

The discovery of gold in California in 1848 focused attention on that western territory as few other events ever could, and in short order, the news spread rapidly around the world. Hundreds of thousands of people caught “gold fever” and braved the rigors of voyages “around the Horn”, through the deadly jungles of Panama, and through hostile Indian territory.

So many came searching that California was admitted into the Union as a state in 1850, and by 1860, California’s population had grown to almost 380,000 people. It was the fastest-growing state in the country, with a population higher than seven other U.S. states and all of the American territories.

The Creation of a Popular Commemorative Half Dollar

Seventy-five years later, the San Francisco Citizen’s Committee, chaired by future mayor Angelo J. Rossi, decided to commemorate 75 years of statehood with a half dollar coin.

Commemoratives, however, were already becoming a sore point with United States Mint officials. The proposal might have died but for a similar measure undertaken on behalf of the Vermont Sesquicentennial that, fortunately, was endorsed by President Calvin Coolidge. The California coin became part of the Act of February 24, 1925, which not only included a coin for Vermont but also a coin commemorating the 100th anniversary of the founding of Fort Vancouver in the state of Washington.

The San Francisco Citizen’s Committee asked noted local artist and sculptor Jo Mora to design a coin that would capture the spirit of the state’s diamond jubilee. Born in Uruguay in 1876, Mora emigrated to California and became a popular artist because of his unique style and ability to work across multiple media.

Fashioning both the obverse and reverse of the coin, Mora sought to embody the essence of the state during the 1850s. He employed two symbolic motifs: a “Gold Rush” prospector and a grizzly bear. The design was rustic and artisanal. Initially, James Earle Fraser (designer of the Buffalo nickel), speaking for the Commission of Fine Arts (CFA), was critical of Mora’s design, writing:

I must say that I am not much impressed with the composition, or any of the indications contained in the drawing. It strikes me that the artist has not had proper experience to do a successful coin. The bear is entirely too short, and the whole thing inexerperienced and amateurish.

Commission member Louis Ayres agreed with Fraser’s assessment, and even pointed out that the placement of IN GOD WE TRUST made it look like the prospector was frying it in oil.

The San Francisco Citizen’s Committee was undeterred by the doubters at the CFA and pushed forward with the design anyway. To Chairman Rossi, Mora had delivered the design that best served their commemoration.

How the 1925-S California Diamond Jubilee Half Dollar Was Sold

The legislation authorizing the California Diamond Jubilee half dollar specified a maximum mintage of 300,000 coins, but only 150,200 coins were struck, with 200 pieces reserved for assay. Production began at the San Francisco Mint on August 12, 1925, and that first day saw 100 special pieces struck at the request of Committee Chairman Rossi. These pieces are not true Proofs but rather business strikes with a bright, chrome-like surface resulting from being struck with polished dies.

Groups in Los Angeles and San Francisco distributed the California halves for $1 apiece, but at the end of the promotion, 63,606 pieces remained unsold and were melted, leaving a net mintage of 86,394.

One actual Proof is rumored to exist, allegedly with a matte finish. If true, then it must have been struck at the Philadelphia Mint before the dies were shipped to the San Francisco facility.

The S-mintmark appearing on all of the coins made at the western mint is on the lower reverse beneath the D in DOLLAR.

Characteristics of the 1925-S California Diamond Jubilee Half Dollar

1925-S California halves have various finishes, ranging from semi-Prooflike to chrome-like to satiny. A limited number of early strikes may even feature somewhat frosted or cameo devices.

CAC-approved 1925-S California Diamond Jubilee Half Dollar graded MS68 by PCGS.
CAC-approved 1925-S California Diamond Jubilee Half Dollar graded MS68 by PCGS.

Only a small percentage of this issue is affected by weak strikes, and those will often show a flatness on the bear’s snout and possess a bright, chrome-like finish. In other cases, weakness will be seen in the inscriptions LIBERTY, JUBILEE, and HALF DOLLAR. However, this is not the norm. More frequently encountered are coins suffering from abrasions and detracting marks on the higher, more visible points.

The relatively high relief of the design makes this issue especially prone to even the slightest friction, particularly on the bear’s shoulder and leg and the miner’s back, shoulder, and shirtsleeve. These areas will also be the first to show signs of “doctoring”.

What Is the 1925-S California Diamond Jubilee Half Dollar Worth?

Because these coins were widely distributed to the non-collecting public, the majority of surviving specimens are in XF to AU. Despite costing more than 50¢ to purchase, many 1925-S California half dollars were either spent or carried as pocket pieces, while others were damaged from being haphazardly cleaned. These coins are less desirable to collectors than unimpaired Mint State examples but will trade for prices up to $125 or slightly more.

Low-grade uncirculated pieces are always available for about $200, but the coin’s value increases with each grade. Expect to pay $350-$400 for an MS64 example. $600 for a Gem MS65, and so on. In the top grades of MS68 or MS68+, expect prices to climb to $20,000 or more. Coins at this level are rarely offered for direct sale and usually appear only in major U.S. coin auctions. The record price for a 1925-S California half dollar at auction is $30,375 in September 2022.

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Market Data and Noteworthy Specimens

Top PopulationPCGS MS68+ (3, 3/2024), NGC MS68+ (2, 3/2024), and CACG MS68 (3:0 stickered:graded, 3/2024).

  • NGC MS68+* #4829524-002: Heritage Auctions, January 31, 2019, Lot 3977 – $8,400. Swirling rainbow toning with multiple bands of red and green.
  • PCGS MS68 #46448206: As NGC MS68. Heritage Auctions, July 27, 2002, Lot 5059 – $8,337.50; “The Cary & Cheryl Porter Collection,” Heritage Auctions, May 10, 2007, Lot 2500 – $5,750. As NGC MS68 #164149-001. Heritage Auctions, October 16, 2020, Lot 3634 – $7,200. As PCGS MS68 #42108177.”The Neon Lights Collection,” GreatCollections, September 18, 2022, Lot 1229508 – View. As MS68 #46448206. Stack’s Bowers, March 21, 2023, Lot 3293 – $10,200. A galaxy of rust, blue, and magenta toning. Dark toning concentrated around the date.
  • PCGS MS68 #45371460: GreatCollections, September 25, 2022, Lot 1146226 – View. Toned. Record Price (GreatCollections does not allow us to show price). 
  • PCGS MS68 #43563258: “The Gregg Bingham Collection of Silver Commemoratives,” GreatCollections, June 19, 2022, Lot 1157894 – View. Rainbow toning. Greg Bingham on insert.
  • NGC MS68 #372971-004: Heritage Auctions, December 6, 2019, Lot 4474 – $4,080. Rainbow rim toning on the obverse and reverse.
  • NGC MS68 #4877791-002: Heritage Auctions, July 12, 2019, Lot 3963 – $3,960; GreatCollections, May 3, 2020, Lot 826187 – View.
  • NGC MS68 #3811940-004: Heritage Auctions, April 24, 2015, Lot 6636 – $4,230; Heritage Auctions, August 14, 2015, Lot 6632 – $3,995. Splotchy reddish brown toning with rainbow iridescence in obverse exergue area.
  • NGC MS68* #3051444-019: Heritage Auctions, February 5, 2010, Lot 784 – $10,925; Heritage Auctions, January 4, 2012, Lot 3393 – $16,100.
  • PCGS MS68 #6545169: “The Louis Bassano Collection of U.S. Commemoratives,” Heritage Auctions, July 21, 2009, Lot 1426 – $17,250; “The Empire Collection,” Heritage Auctions, January 7, 2015, Lot 4442 – $12,925. Coin is predominantly brilliant with light rust toning.
  • PCGS MS68 #06636088: Heritage Auctions, January 7, 2004, Lot 2237 – $18,400. As PCGS MS68 #21627178. “The JFS Collection, Part Two,” Heritage Auctions, August 18, 2004, Lot 4247 – $13,800. JFS Collection on insert. As PCGS MS68 #21765004. “The Bruce Scher Collection,” Heritage Auctions, February 24, 2005, Lot 4148 – $14.950. Bruce Scher on insert; “The Richard Jewell Collection,” American Numismatic Rarities, March 14, 2006, Lot 1848 – $18,400; As PCGS MS68 #06636088. Heritage Auctions, January 10, 2013, Lot 5974 – $15,275. The obverse right and left rim and field areas have gold and apricot central toning with blue and purple accents. Bruce Scher on insert.
  • NGC MS68: Heritage Auctions, January 6, 2001, Lot 9084 – $4,657,50. Gold and magenta toning on the obverse.
  • PCGS MS67+ CAC #48443694: Stack’s Bowers, March 28, 2024, Lot 7727 – View. Dark rim toning on both sides.
  • PCGS MS67+ CAC #46366251: Stack’s Bowers, March 24, 2023, Lot 7168 – $4,560.
  • PCGS MS67+ CAC #43458463: Heritage Auctions, November 4, 2021, Lot 91160 – $4,680.
  • PCGS MS67+ CAC #41786246: Heritage Auctions, June 18, 2021, Lot 3743 – $4,080; GreatColletions, August 8, 2021, Lot 1030756 – View. Rust-colored toning throughout. Spotted toning on reverse.
  • NGC MS67+ CAC #5742512-002: Heritage Auctions, April 24, 2021, Lot 4815 – $4,080.
  • PCGS MS67+ CAC #25649243: “The Cedar Crest Collection, Part I,” Heritage Auctions, April 26, 2019, Lot 4465 – $4,800.
  • PCGS MS67+ CAC #81867692: Stack’s Bowers, June 23, 2017, Lot 11542 – $6,756.25. Dark goldenrod and steel toning.
  • PCGS MS67+ CAC #25307487: “The Rolling Thunder 50 Piece Commemorative Collection,” Heritage Auctions, September 18, 2015, Lot 5374 – $4,465; Heritage Auctions, January 6, 2016, Lot 3355 – $4,935.
  • PCGS MS67+ CAC #31696461: Heritage Auctions, June 5, 2015, Lot 5541 – $3,995. Green and red toning in the exergue area.

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Design

Obverse:

The obverse motif focuses on a kneeling gold prospector. Above the pan is the motto IN GOD WE TRUST. Wrapping around the top of the design is the word LIBERTY. The ground that the prospector kneels on forms an exergue. The exergue contains the words CALIFORNIA’S · DIAMOND · JUBILEE ·, and the date 1925.

Reverse:

On the reverse, artist Jo Mora depicts a California bear walking towards the left. E · PLURIBUS · UNUM wraps around above. The ground that the bear walks on forms an exergue. The exergue contains the words · UNITED · STATES · OF · AMERICA · and HALF DOLLAR.

Edge:

The edge of the 1925-S California Diamond Jubilee commemorative half dollar is reeded.

Coin Specifications

Country: United States of America
Year Of Issue: 1925
Denomination: Half Dollar (USD)
Mint Mark: S (San Francisco)
Net Distribution: 86,594
Alloy: .900 silver, .100 copper
Weight: 12.5 g
Diameter: 30.6 mm
Edge: Reeded
OBV Designer: Jo Mora
REV Designer: Jo Mora
Quality: Business Strike

 

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CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of CoinWeek.com.

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