Though there is some debate among historians, Texans themselves generally cite 1836 as the year of Texas’ independence. In the early 1930s, large celebrations were planned throughout Texas to mark the centennial of this date.
In this era, many commemorative coins were issued as a means to raise funds: the coins would be sold for a premium over their face value, with the balance designated for a specific project. In this instance, Congress authorized the coinage of commemorative half dollars on behalf of the American Legion Texas Centennial Committee. The goal of the Texas Centennial half-dollar was to raise funds for the construction of a memorial museum at the University of Texas in Austin.
Italian-born sculptor Pompeo Coppini was selected to design the coin. Coppini’s modern obverse design features a large five-pointed Texas star and an eagle clutching an oak branch. The reverse of the Texas Centennial half-dollar is ornate by contrast and is one of the most complex of any US commemorative design. A figure of winged Victory, kneeling, clutches a laurel branch; her left hand protectively embraces a depiction of the Alamo. Underneath each of her wings are portraits of Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin, two of the founding fathers of Texas. A variety of inscriptions include “The Texas Independence Centennial” and “Remember the Alamo.”
The complexity of this design is universally noted in the numismatic community, but that notoriety has not always translated into praise. Many early reviewers of the design suggested it was “overcrowded and indistinct,” and “a jumble” more suited to a large mural than the relatively small surface of a fifty cent piece. This is a logical observation, given that Coppini ordinarily designed patriotic monuments and sculptures; in fact, this half dollar was the only coin or medal he ever designed. Other reviews have been kinder, citing the Texas Centennial half-dollar as a “classic triumph of how much can be successfully crowded on a coin.”
The coins were first struck in late 1934 and primarily distributed and sold through banks in Texas. Perhaps to maximize the profit potential of the new half dollar, Texas Centennial half dollars were struck at three different mints: Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco. The original sale price of $1 was later increased to $1.50 (or $4.50 for the set).
Congress originally authorized “no more than one and a half million pieces,” but in the end just over 300,000 were actually produced. The 1934 coins did not sell as well as anticipated, and many of the 200,000 produced in that year were returned to the Mint to be melted. Mintages for the succeeding four years of production (1935-1938) were dramatically lower. Overall, more than half of the coins produced were returned to the Mint and melted.