The low mintage and circumstances of the original distribution make the 1928 Hawaii Sesquicentennial Half Dollar one of the scarcest and most valuable of the early silver commemorative coins. The issue was produced to mark the 150th anniversary of Captain James Cook arriving at the Hawaiian Islands.
On the obverse of the coin is a portrait of Captain James Cook. Along the bottom edge of the design are representations of the eight largest islands. Inscriptions include “United States of America”, “In God We Trust”, “Capt. James Cook Discoverer of Hawaii”, and “Half Dollar”. The reverse of the coin portrays a native chief of Hawaii with his hand extended in welcome. Behind him are a coconut tree and grass huts in the distance along the Waikiki Beach. The reverse inscriptions include “E Pluribus Unum” and “1778-1923”.
Both the obverse and reverse were designed by Juliette May Fraser, a painter, muralist, and printmaker born in Honolulu, with modeling done by Chester Beach.
The Hawaiian Sesquicentennial Half Dollar was authorized with a maximum mintage of just 10,000 pieces, a mere fraction of the level typical for commemorative coins of this era. Distribution was performed by the Captain Cook Sesquicentennial Commission through the Bank of Hawaii at an issue price of $2 per coin. Despite the fact that the issue price was double the usual level, sales were swift and the issue sold out.
Originally, it was intended that half the mintage would be sold to Hawaiian residents and half to the mainland, but the majority of sales occurred to Hawaiians. A combination of the low mintage and distribution primarily to non-collectors helped this issue achieve an instant premium over the issue price. Today the coin is one of the most expensive within a complete set of early commemorative silver dollars.
The US Mint at Philadelphia struck 50 proof presentation pieces, which carried a sandblast finish. These are valued highly, particularly for surviving gem examples.
Hawaii Sesquicentennial Half Dollar Coin Specifications
Designer: Juliette May Fraser
Composition: 90% silver, 10% copper
Weight: 12.50 grams
Diameter: 30.6 mm
Authorization: Public Law 70-98
Maximum Authorized Mintage: 10,000
Hawaii Sesquicentennial Half Dollar Mintages
1928 (Sandblast Proof): 50