If we look back upon the history of many United States coins, one will find a
variety of controversies which evolved over their creation or production .
Either one group of people or another were offended, felt left out or just felt
the need to criticize because a coin didn't fulfill a need within the social
fabric of society. One of the most controversial of any of the United
States coins produced was the Commemorative Half Dollar celebrating the
Huguenot-Walloon Tercentenary, issued in 1924. In other words, it is the
commemorative coin issued to mark the 300th anniversary of the settling of New
Netherlands (New York) by the Dutch protestants, who followed the teachings of
John Calvin, under the sponsorship of the Dutch West India Company, in 1624.
Was the coin nothing more then religious propaganda? Did the coin violated
the First Amendment of the United States Constitution guaranteeing the
separation of church and state? Was the coin fraudulently pushed through
Congress just to help finance the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in
America? These are questions that will be debated for years to come,
and the reason this commemorative coin will be cherished by collectors.
The Huguenots were French Protestants who followed the teachings of John
Calvin. The Walloons were the same group of people who immigrated to the
south of Belgium to escape persecution from the French Catholics, and the
persecution of the Spanish Catholics who ruled Holland at that time. These
Calvinists sought the freedom to practice there religion in the New World, as
did many groups did throughout Europe. The newly formed Dutch West India
Company saw this as an opportunity to establish colonies in the region called
New Netherlands, and convinced 30 families (110 people) to sail to the New World
on the ship, Nieuw Nederlandt, and inhabit two settlements. The
first was in New Amsterdam (New York City), and the second at Fort Orange
(Albany, NY). This is the group of settlers, as the story tells us, who
bought Manhattan Island from the Native American Indians for a chest full of
trinkets worth about 24 Lyon Dollars.
The Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America saw the 300th
anniversary of the landing of the Huguenots-Walloons in America as an
opportunity have a fundraiser. The celebration would be hosted in New York
City. They created an organization to plan and oversee this fundraiser,
and called it the Huguenot-Walloon New Netherland Commission. The
Reverend Dr. John Bear Stoudt was appointed Chairman. Reverend Dr. Stoudt
was a coin collector and an amateur artist as well. He saw this
Chairmanship as an opportunity to have a commemorative coin made to add
creditability and increase the revenue of the fundraiser. Congress was
lobbied, House Representative Albert H. Vestal, of the House Coinage Committee,
approved the coin, and on February 26, 1923, the Huguenot-Walloon bill was
passed. Congressman Vestal advised the commission and Rev. Dr. Stoudt that
an outside artist was not available to design their commemorative coin, and it
was agreed that the Mint's Chief Engraver, George T. Morgan would be entrusted
with the coin's creation. The model of the coin was created by Morgan
based on the ideas and drawings of Rev. Dr. Stoudt.
The obverse of the coins is very interesting in that it portrays two men who
had absolutely nothing to do with the landing of the Calvinist in the New World.
The coin portrays the images of Admiral Gaspard de Coligny and Willem I (William
the Silent), Prince of Orange. Both were said to be Huguenot martyrs, and
both died decades before 1624. Admiral de Coligny was killed in the St.
Bartholomew's Day massacre, in 1572. It has been said he is no more or
less a martyr then those many nameless souls who died at the hand of the Romans
in the early days of Christianity. Willem I became ruler of the Dutch with
a vow to rid his people of Spanish rule and Spanish taxes. He joined the
Calvinist Church in 1573, and was assassinated in 1584. Historians seem to
agree that the assassination was to further Spanish rule in the Netherlands, and
not because of religious beliefs. It seems the only real connection
between these to men (other then religious beliefs) was that the daughter of
Willem I, Louise, was the wife of Admiral de Coligny.
The reverse of the commemorative coin depicts a three-masted ship. The
ship is a representation of the Nieuw Nederlandt who carried the 30
families to the settlements in New Netherlands.
The Huguenot-Walloon Tercentenary Half Dollar was to be the last coin created
by George T. Morgan (known for his silver dollars 1878-1921) before his death.
When the models were submitted to the Federal Commission of Fine Arts for their
approval prior to production, they found the workmanship to be well below the
standards expected by the commission. James Earle Fraser (of the Buffalo
Nickel fame) was enlisted to work with Morgan to revise the models. One
would have expected this type of action to have caused a huge feud between the
two artists with sharp words exchanged and bruised egos, but that was not the
case. The two men worked quite well together until the job was completed.
The Federal Commissions of Fine Arts finally approved the models for
production by the U.S. Mint. Congress had approved 300,000 of these
commemorative half dollars for production. By the end of April in 1924,
142,080 Huguenot-Walloon Half Dollars were produced. The first coin struck
was presented to President Calvin Coolidge. The U.S. Mint kept 80 of the
coins for assay and released the balance for sale through various banks and
organizations. These coins were initially offered to the public for $1.00
each. Oddly, 55,000 coins were ultimately returned to the U.S. Mint in
Philadelphia as unsold and slated for destruction, but it has been reported that
these coins were released into circulation. The balance of the authorized
mintage was never produced. There seems to be some reported evidence that
there was one matte proof struck, but to this day that coin has not surfaced
onto the coin market.
Whether this coin violated every standard of U.S. governmental policy, or
didn't; and, whether its production was perpetrated through a fraud, or wasn't,
the Huguenot-Walloon Tercentenary Half Dollar is a part of our history and
provides collectors with a colorful story to accompany a desirable collectible.
To me, that is what makes collecting coins fun.