Classic Coins - Oregon Trail
Memorial Half Dollar
The Oregon Trail Half Dollar Classic Commemorative Coin honors the heroism of the pioneer families
who traveled the trail into the mostly unknown west to found new colonies on the frontier.
Characteristics - size, weight, metal content, value range
Obverse - picture, description, artist
Reverse - picture, description, artist
Commentary - coin notes, mintage information, historical comments, fun
On May 17, 1926, the 69th Congress approved an act which became Public Law 69-235.
"An Act To authorize the coinage of 50-cent pieces in commemoration of the heroism of the fathers
and mothers who traversed the Oregon Trail to the Far West with great hardship, daring, and loss of life,
which not only resulted in adding new States to the Union but earned a well-deserved and imperishable fame
for the pioneers; to honor the twenty thousand dead that lie buried in unknown graves along two thousand miles
of that great highway of history; to rescue the various points along the old trail from oblivion; and to
commemorate by suitable monuments, memorial or otherwise, the tragic events associated with that
emigration- erecting them either along the trail itself or elsewhere, in localities appropriate for the
purpose, including the city of Washington."
The law began, "That in commemoration of the Oregon Trail and in memory of the pioneers of the far West there
shall be coined at the mints of the United States silver 50-cents pieces to the number of not more than six
million; such 50-cent pieces to be of the standard Troy weight, composition, diameter, device, and design as
shall be fixed by the Director of the Mint, with the approval of the Secretary of the Treasury, which said 50-cent
pieces shall be legal tender in any payment to the amount of their face value.
"SEC. 2. That the coins herein authorized shall be issued only upon the request of the executive committee of
the Oregon Trail Memorial Association, Incorporated, a corporation organized under the laws of the State of New
York; and upon payment by such executive committee, for and on behalf of the Oregon Trail Memorial Association,
Incorporated, of the par value of such coins, it shall be permissible for the said Oregon Trail Memorial
Association, Incorporated, to obtain such coins upon said payment, all at one time or at separate times, and in
separate amounts, as it may determine."
The law concluded with the Proviso: "That the United States shall not be subject to the expense of making the
necessary dies and other preparations for this coinage."
Characteristics - Oregon Trail Memorial
Metal Composition: 90% Silver, 10% Copper
Diameter - millimeters: 30.6
Diameter - inches: 1.2
Weight - grams: 12.5
Weight - troy ounce: 0.401884332
Silver content weight - troy ounce: 0.3617
Mint Locations: Philadelphia, Denver, San Francisco
Years Minted: 1926, 1928, 1933, 1934, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939
In 1926, the Philadelphia and San Francisco mints struck the coins.
In 1928, the Philadelphia mint produced the coins.
In 1933 and 1934, the Denver mint made the Oregon Trail commemorative half dollar — the first commemorative
coin produced at the Denver mint.
In 1936, only the Philadelphia and San Francisco mints struck the coins.
In 1937, the production returned to only the Denver mint.
For 1938 and 1939, all three mint locations produced the coins.
The coin's silver content alone makes it more valuable than its face value of $0.50.
But, the coin's age, its condition and its desirability make it even more valuable as a collectible.
The coin's estimated value ranges from $115 (low grade - XF) to $375 (high grade - MS-66).
The wide variety of years for the Oregon Trail Memorial Half Dollar make this coin less expensive, but
special characteristics on particular coins can command a price outside the estimated value range.
Obverse - Oregon Trail Memorial Half
The obverse or front of the coin shows a Conestoga wagon drawn by oxen over the brow of a hill. The wagon heads
toward the sun setting in the west.
The coinage inscriptions say, In God We Trust and Oregon Trail Memorial.
Artist: Laura Gardin Fraser
Reverse - Oregon Trail Memorial Half
The reverse or back of the coin features a full-length image of an Indian with headdress, blanket, and bow. He
stands in front of a map of the United States with his left hand raised toward the east. In the background, the map
indicates the Oregon Trail.
The coinage inscriptions read United States of America and Half Dollar.
Artist: James Earle Fraser, Laura Gardin Fraser
Commentary - Oregon Trail Memorial Half
Though the stated mintage limit was "no more than six million," records show roughly 203,200 of the coins were
distributed during the time span of 1926 through 1939.
The coin pictured above resides in an NGC holder and is graded as an MS-65. (NGC, Numismatic Guaranty
Corporation, provides coin grading and certification services.)
Versions of the coin also exist in higher grades such as an MS-66 grade.
Due to being the first commemorative coin struck in Denver, most grades of the 1933D Oregon Trail Memorial enjoy
a higher value in the market when compared to other years and mint locations.
The Oregon Trail spans 2000 miles, or thereabouts, from Independence, Missouri through (what is now)
the states of Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho and ending in Oregon.
Started by fur trappers and traders in the early 1800s, the trail supported the first overland migrant wagon
train in 1836.
From the 1830s into the 1860s, 400,000 people used the Oregon Trail to travel to points west.
Use of the trail declined in the late 1860s when the first westward railroad was completed.
Today, Interstate 80 follows much of the same pathway as the Oregon Trail.
The national park service provides more information about the Oregon Trail along with maps of the
Oregon Trail and its offshoots. (Links open in a new window.)
Visit our GACS Numismatic Shoppe Oregon Trail Memorial for a variety
of useful items decorated with images of the classic commemorative silver half dollar coin.