Dr. Sol Taylor

Non-Americans on U.S. Commemorative Coins

Isabella Quarter, Lafayette Dollar
Queen Isabella of Spain (above) and the Marquis de Lafayette of France (below, behind George Washington) are among the several non-Americans who have been featured on U.S. commemorative coins.
By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
Saturday, September 6, 2008

tarting in 1892, the first non-American to appear on a U.S. commemorative was Christopher Columbus. Although no contemporary portrait of Columbus is known, an imagined bust was created for this coin to commemorate his 1492 voyage to the Western Hemisphere and the opening of the Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
    For the same event, a commemorative quarter featuring Queen Isabella was issued for the Board of Lady Managers at the exposition. They were issued in 1893 at $1 each and they were sold out.
    In 1900, a commemorative silver dollar was issued to create a monument for the Marquis de Lafayette who came to the aid of George Washington in his struggle with the British forces in the American Revolution.
    In 1915, a set of coins was issued honoring the opening of the Panama Canal. The large $50 gold coins featured the head of the mythical Greek goddess Minerva. While not a person, the figure was that of a non-American icon.
    The 1924 commemorative half dollar honoring the Huguenot Walloon Tercentenary featured the busts of two men, Admiral Coligny and William the Silent.
    The 1928 Hawaiian Sesquicentennial half dollar featured the bust of Captain James Cook. He arrived at the islands in 1778 and was murdered there by the natives. The reverse features a full figure of a native Hawaiian chief.
    The 1935 Hudson Sesquicentennial half dollar honored explorer Henry Hudson, although the obverse features his ship, the Half Moon, but not his portrait.
    The 1936 Long Island commemorative half dollar features a stylized bust of a Dutch settler and an Indian. It commemorates the settling of immigrants at Jamaica Bay on what is now Brooklyn, which is a part of Long Island. One area of Brooklyn is known as New Utrecht today.
    The 1937 Roanoke Island commemorative half dollar features the bust of Sir Walter Raleigh. The reverse shows a full figure of Elinor Dare and her baby Virginia, the first European child born in the Colonies.
    In 1992, a set of three commemorative coins was issued honoring the 500th anniversary of the first voyage of Columbus to America: a half dollar, a silver dollar and a $5 gold coin. Columbus actually discovered various islands in the Caribbean on this and later voyages and never set foot in the continental United States.
    In 2000, a commemorative silver dollar was issued honoring Leif Erikson and his explorations to the New World in the year 1000. His helmeted bust appears on the obverse and a replica of his ship on the reverse.
    The 2007 Jamestown 400th anniversary silver dollar featured a pair of English naval officers and a native American. The reverse shows three of the vessels in the Jamestown fleet. A smaller-version $5 gold commemorative was also issued for the same event.
    A few other commemoratives featured non-American events such as the Delaware Tercentenary in 1936 which honored the Swedes who first settled in Delaware. The 1936 New Rochelle (N.Y.) 250th Anniversary commemorative half dollar honored the founding of New Rochelle by French Huguenots in 1688.