Obverse. Photo © PCGS CoinFacts
  • 1/2 Dollar 1926-1939, KM# 159, United States of America (USA), Oregon Trail Memorial
  • 1/2 Dollar 1926-1939, KM# 159, United States of America (USA), Oregon Trail Memorial, Philadelphia Mint (no mintmark)
  • 1/2 Dollar 1926-1939, KM# 159, United States of America (USA), Oregon Trail Memorial, San Francisco Mint (S)
  • 1/2 Dollar 1926-1939, KM# 159, United States of America (USA), Oregon Trail Memorial, Denver Mint (D)
Description

The Oregon Trail Memorial half dollar was a fifty-cent piece struck intermittently by the United States Bureau of the Mint between 1926 and 1939. The coin commemorates those who traveled the Oregon Trail and settled the Pacific Coast of the United States in the mid-19th century.

Ohio-born Ezra Meeker had traveled the Trail with his family in 1852 and spent the final two decades of his long life before his death in 1928 publicizing the Oregon Trail, that it should not be forgotten. In 1926, at age 95, he appeared before a Senate committee, requesting that the government issue a commemorative coin that could be sold to raise money for markers to show where the Trail had been.

Despite having one of the most beautiful design in the series, the Oregon Trail Half Dollar is usually cited as the best example of the abuses which began to take place within commemorative coin programs. Between the years 1926 and 1939, the coins were minted with eight different dates at three different mint facilities for varying prices, in an attempt to make as much money as possible.

Obverse

Depicts a covered Conestoga wagon drawn by two oxen moving west, towards the setting sun. The inscription “In God We Trust” appears above with “Oregon Trail Memorial” and the date below. The designers’ initials appear behind the wagon; five stars appear below the vehicle.

Officially, the US Mint states this as the obverse of the coin, although the designers of the coin and many collectors consider this the reverse of the coin.

The Conestoga wagon is a heavy covered wagon that was used extensively during the late eighteenth century, and the nineteenth century, in the eastern United States and Canada. The term Conestoga wagon refers specifically to this type of vehicle; it is not a generic term for "covered wagon". It was named after the Conestoga River or Conestoga Township in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and thought to have been introduced by Mennonite German settlers.

Engraver: James Earle Fraser

IN GOD WE TRUST
JEF
LGF
OREGON TRAIL MEMORIAL
1926

Reverse

Depicts a Native American, standing erect with outstretched arm in a gesture of peace. The Native American wears a headdress, has a blanket and bow, and is superimposed on a map of the United States, with a line of Conestoga wagons heading west. The design is carried to the rim of the coin; Hudson Bay is visible in the upper right.

The Frasers' design for the half dollar has been widely admired. Numismatic historian Don Taxay called the coin "the most beautiful as well as the most truly 'American' U.S. coin. It testifies to the fact that authentic genius, even when trammeled by the necessities of a modern, mechanical mint, can transform our coinage into a work of art."

Engraver: Laura Gardin Fraser

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
HALF DOLLAR

Edge

1/2 Dollar

Oregon Trail Memorial

KM# 159
Characteristics
Type Commemorative Issue (Circulating)
Material Silver
Fineness 0.900
Weight 12.5 g
Diameter 30.6 mm
Thickness -
Shape round
Alignment Coin
Mints
Denver Mint (D)
Philadelphia Mint (no mintmark)
San Francisco Mint (S)

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