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The Hidden Symbolism in the Arkansas Commemorative Half Dollar

At first glance, the Arkansas Centennial looks like a beautiful, patriotic coin design, featuring a Native American and Lady Liberty on the Obverse with a striking Eagle design on the reverse. However, what most see as an innocent, patriotic design, has deeper, lesser-known meanings hidden throughout the reverse design of the coin.

The coins’ designer, Edward Burr, from Little Rock, was raised around the constant southern sentiments suggesting that the South and the Confederacy would rise again… And so, he wove that symbolism into the coins’ design.

The symbolism woven through the reverse to most would seem to represent Patriotic America, featuring the Eagle, 13 Stars and more. Behind the eagle, appears a diamond shaped design representing the Arkansas State flag. We can also see a rising sun with features 13 Rays: 7 longer, above the diamond and 6 shorter. These are said to represent the 7 original seceding states and the 6 that joined the Confederacy later. On the diamond we see the 13 stars, which contrary to popular belief do not represent the 13 Colonies, but rather the top part of the complete Arkansas flag of 25 stars, representing their position as the 25th state to enter the union. The fact that only 13 of those 25 stars are visible, suggests that they represent the 13 States to secede from the Union and form the Confederacy. Inside that diamond we can see four more stars, the lower three said to represent three flags that flew over the territory before it became a state (Spain, France & the US). The largest and highest positioned star in the diamond may represent the long-held idea at the time that the “South will Rise Again”

These ideals from the time, much stemming from the Democrat party of the day, were either overlooked or approved by the Federal Commission of Fine Arts and produced through the US Mint.

Ironically, the design that represented the political space in Arkansas at the time was not popular and barely sold in the State of Arkansas. Eventually, large portions of the mintages were purchased and distributed by the famous B. Max Mehl and Stack’s of New York who marketed and sold them in Date/Mintmark sets.

If you are interested in learning more about the colorful history of the Arkansas Commemorative Half Dollars (And it’s cousin, the Robinson Commemorative Half Dollar that features the same reverse design) the book Silver & Gold Commemorative Coins by Anthony Swiatek and Walter Breen is the definitive source of information about the US Classic Commemorative series and is a worthwhile read.


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