The Lafayette commemorative silver dollar was not only America’s first commemorative silver dollar, but the first coin to have a portrait of our first president on it. This also was the only silver dollar commemorative coin minted until 1983.
These coins dated 1900 were actually struck on December 14th, 1899, which was the 100th anniversary of George Washington’s death. This was technically in violation of the Mint Act of 1873 which required coinage to display the actual year of mintage as the date. 50,000 coins were minted in one day to be sold as fund raising souvenirs.
So, who was Lafayette, and why were they commemorating him with a silver dollar?
Marquis de Lafayette was born in 1757 to French nobility. He went to college, and then joined the French Army in 1771. In 1777 he became interested in the American Revolution, so he came over to offer his services.
Congress gave him a commission of Major General in the new Continental Army. He soon became good friends with George Washington, and influenced the French to join the Americans in an alliance against the British.
Lafayette’s involvement in the American Revolution swung the war effort in the American’s favor. This led to the British surrender in 1781.
The year 1900 was the year for the Paris Exposition, a monumental event for the time. All of France was celebrating and the US decided to join the party. The US planned on donating a large statue of General Lafayette on his horse, sculpted by Paul Bartlett.
This coin was minted to help raise funds for this impressive statue. The cost was estimated at $100,000. Therefore 50,000 coins were produced to be sold at $2 apiece to defray the cost.
The Mint’s own Charles Barber designed this silver dollar with the pair of heads of Washington and Lafayette on the obverse and Bartlett’s early sketch of the statue on the reverse.
School children contributed their pennies to help meet the statue’s cost. In honor of their efforts, an inscription was added to the reverse which states “ERECTED BY THE YOUTH OF THE UNITED STATES IN HONOR OF GEN. LAFAYETTE”.
The monument was unveiled on July 4th, 1900 in Paris for the Exposition.
Of the 50,000 Lafayette silver dollars produced, only around 36,000 were actually sold. The other 14,000 coins stayed in bank vaults until they were melted sometime before 1945.
Lafayette commemorative silver dollars are mostly found in circulated condition, as the American public didn’t see them as particularly special at the time. AU+ examples are plentiful, but truly mint state specimens are really rare American coins.
Unfortunately, these coins are typically poorly struck, with dull luster and many bag marks. The 1900 Lafayette silver dollar is one of the rarest commemorative coins in MS-65 and higher condition.
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Article Source: 1900 Lafayette, America’s First Commemorative Silver Dollar
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