The Pilgrim Tercentenary half dollar or Pilgrim half dollar was a commemorative fifty-cent coin struck by the United States Bureau of the Mint in 1920 & 1921 to mark the 300th anniversary of the arrival of the Pilgrims in North America. It was designed by Cyrus E. Dallin.
When the legislation for the coin was initially proposed By Massachusetts’ Congressman Joseph Walsh to the Committee on Coinage, Weights and Measures, there were concerns that several different coin designs being produced around the same time would help counterfeiters. These other designs being considered included the Alabama Centennial Half Dollar, and the Maine Centennial Half Dollar.
However, Walsh insisted that the design be accepted since Congress had previously authorized a commission to work with state and local governments on festivities for celebrating the 300th anniversary of the arrival of the Pilgrims. This established commission had already issued commemorative stamps. So, in Walsh’s eyes, it only made sense for a coin to also be created for the event as well. After some controversy on how many coins should be minted, the committee finally settled on 300,000 coins over the course of 2 years. 200,000 would be minted in 1920, and 100,000 in 1921
The coin was not without some detractors. Legendary sculptor James Earle Fraser criticized the lettering for being too crude. Fraser was also upset that there was no time to fix the problem as the coins were put on a deadline for release in conjunction with the anniversary. In order to prevent this problem in the future, Fraser wrote a letter suggesting that at least 3 months be given for any corrections that might arise. The letter was ultimately ignored, and the design was approved. Ultimately, The crudeness of the letters that Fraser warned about ended up not being an issue due to the relatively small size of the coins.
The obverse of the coin features Governor William Bradford. He is wearing a hat and carries a Bible under his arm. He is depicted in a state of meditation. Since there are no actual examples of what Bradford looked like, the image used on the coin was fabricated by the sculptor. The coin also depicts the required text that one would typically find on a U.S. coin. The 1920 version of the coin does not show the date on the obverse side, whereas the 1921 version does.
The reverse depicts the Mayflower with full sail on the water. Historians and numismatists like to point out that the depiction uses a flying jib, a type of sail not used at the time of the Mayflower voyage.
Today, these coins could fetch a considerable amount of money depending on the condition. A Guidebook of United States Coins lists the 1920 at between $85 and $650 and the 1921 at between $170 and $850. A 1920 in an exceptional condition sold at auction for $7,344 in 2014.