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1936 Cleveland Centennial Half Dollar : A Collector’s Guide

1936 Cleveland Centennial Half Dollar. Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek.
1936 Cleveland Centennial Half Dollar. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek Notes …..

The 1936 Cleveland Centennial Half Dollar is a commemorative half dollar issued in conjunction with the Great Lakes Exposition, with the stated purpose to honor the 100th anniversary of the founding of the city. In truth, the coin was the second of two commemorative half dollars shepherded through Congress on behalf of coin collector and commemorative half dollar distributor Thomas Gatch Melish.

Legislation authorizing the production of the Cleveland Half Dollar was introduced to the United States Senate on March 26 as Senate Bill 4335 and passed on March 27. On April 16, Democratic Congressman Robert Crosser (OH21) introduced the House version (H.R. 11771). The House bill passed on April 23 and was signed into law by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on May 5. The legislation authorized the striking of 50,000 half dollars.

This was the second Ohio commemorative that Melish was able to get passed in 1936; the first was a commemorative half dollar recognizing his hometown Cincinnati’s contributions to American music.

The design of the Cleveland Half Dollar was based on sketches by Brenda Putnam, an American sculptor who studied under Bela Lyon Pratt and James Earle Fraser. Putnam’s sketches depicted a rightward-facing likeness of General Moses Cleaveland, the Connecticut-born surveyor whose company established the site for the city in 1796. For the reverse, Putnam drew a top-down map of the Great Lakes with surveyors’ tools superimposed. Silhouettes of skyscrapers represent the area’s major cities, with Cleveland’s star being the largest. For the coin design, the skyscraper icons were switched out with stars.

The models were created by the Medallic Art Company of New York and shipped to the United States Mint in June or July.

The Great Lakes Exposition, also known as the 1936 World’s Fair, was inscribed at the top of the coin’s reverse. The expo was held from June 27 to October 5. Distribution of the coin began on August 1, with many of the coins being sold at the event. Others were distributed through the mail and Ohio banks.


To pass public scrutiny, Thomas Melish established the Cleveland Centennial Commemorative Coin Association and named himself treasurer. Through this fiction, Melish marketed the commemorative half dollar in one-coin and two-coin configurations with the coins mounted in a black cardboard holder.

The first 201 coins struck were packaged in notarized holders signed by Melish. Notarized examples from this group were doled out to VIPs and Melish’s friends. Some examples were even counterstamped.

Two 1936 Cleveland Half Dollars in original black cardboard holders with Melish's mailing envelope. Image: Stack's Bowers.
Two 1936 Cleveland Half Dollars in original black cardboard holders with Melish’s mailing envelope. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

The Philadelphia Mint struck 25,015 Cleveland Half Dollars in July 1936 and another 25,015 in February 1937 (all coins bear the 1936 date and are indistinguishable from one another).  Melish began to distribute the coins in August 1936. The Cleveland Half Dollar was one of a minority of commemorative coins in the series that completely sold out of its authorized mintage.

1936 Cleveland Half Dollar Featured on CoinWeek: Cool Coins! Episode #5


Patrick Heller of Liberty Coin Service shared an example graded PCGS MS63 (#9235822) on Cool Coins! Episode #5.

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Market Data and Noteworthy Specimens

In the December 1947 issue of The Numismatist, dealer Earl C. School of Detroit, Michigan placed a want ad for commemorative half dollars, where he posted a buy price of $1.05 for a brilliant uncirculated 1936 Cleveland Centennial Half Dollar. In that same issue, fellow Detroit dealer R. Bart Holmes offered examples for sale for $1.50, while dealer Henry Grunthal of New York wanted $1.75 for his.

In a December 1974 Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine ad, dealers Frank and Laurene Karen of Silver Spring, Maryland, offered brilliant uncirculated examples of the Cleveland Half Dollar for $55 each.

In a two-page ad published in the October 1976 issue of The Numismatist, dealer Joel Rettew offered GEM BU examples of the 1936 Cleveland Centennial Half Dollar for $42 each.

Top Population:  PCGS MS68 (4, 7/2024), NGC MS68+ (1, 7/2024), and CAC MS68 (1:0 stickered:graded 7/2024).

  • PCGS MS68 #45596485: “The Gregg Bingham Collection of Silver Commemoratives,” GreatCollections, June 12, 2022, Lot 1157973 – View. Gold, Orange, and Magenta toning on both sides. 
  • PCGS MS68 CAC #37788758: As NGC MS68+* CAC. Stack’s Bowers, October 25, 2018, Lot 2219 – $30,000 Reserve Not Met. Top pop, pop one when offered; As PCGS MS68 CAC #37788758. Stack’s Bowers, August 15, 2019, Lot 5399 – $40,000 Reserve Not Met; Stack’s Bowers, March 25, 2021, Lot 4189 – $43,200. Vivid orange toning on the obverse and reverse with magenta accents on the obverse and a vivid magenta ring around the reverse. 
  • NGC MS68 #3812142-005: Heritage Auctions, June 5, 2015, Lot 5546 – $3,995.
  • NGC MS68* #3167019-022: Heritage Auctions, January 9, 2015, Lot 6365 – $3,995.
  • NGC MS68 #1624518-005: “The Cary and Cheryl Porter Collection,” Heritage Auctions, May 10, 2007, Lot 2508 – $7,475.
  • NGC MS68: Richard Jewell Collection; “The New York Connoisseur’s Collection,” American Numismatic Rarities, March 14, 2006, Lot 1865 – $9,200. Orange and gold obverse toning.
  • PCGS MS67+ CAC #28955725: Legend Rare Coin Auctions, April 27, 2023, Lot 434 – $3,290.
  • PCGS MS67+ #45402541: As PCGS MS67+ #25608209. Legend Rare Coin Auctions, May 19, 2016, Lot 459 – Passed; Stack’s Bowers, November 4, 2016, Lot 4556 – $2,200 Reserve Not Met. As PCGS MS67+ #45402541. Legend Rare Coin Auctions, July 28, 2022, Lot 14 – $3,407.50.
  • PCGS MS67+ CAC #43182928: Heritage Auctions, October 7, 2021, Lot 3425 – $9,300. Russet and green toning on the obverse. Vivid Orange toning not he reverse.
  • NGC MS67+ #5843901-002: “The Fort Lee Collection,” Stack’s Bowers, August 25, 2021, Lot 9775 – $1,020.
  • NGC MS67+ CAC #4468334-001: Legend Rare Coin Auctions, November 15, 2018, Lot 400 – $1,233.75.
  • PCGS MS67+ CAC #83499741: Heritage Auctions, April 5, 2017, Lot 16529 – $5,405.
  • PCGS MS67+ CAC #27942184: “Young Collection,” GreatCollections, October 6, 2013, Lot 134306 – View; Stack’s Bowers, April 1, 2016, Lot 16367 – $2,115.
  • PCGS MS67+ #31988606: Stack’s Bowers, July 2015, Lot 6223 – $1,997.50.
  • PCGS MS67+ CAC #25332603: Legend Rare Coin Auctions, June 25, 2015, Lot 450 – $4,700.

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Coin Specifications

Country: United States of America
Year of Issue: 1936
Denomination: Half Dollar (50 Cents USD)
Mintmark: None (Philadelphia)
Net Distribution: 50,000
Alloy: .900 silver, .100 copper
Weight: 12.5 g
Diameter: 30.6 mm
Edge: Reeded
OBV Designer: Brenda Putnam
REV Designer: Brenda Putnam
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

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