Chapter 3: Early Dollars, Historical Background Table of Contents

For 1802 the situation was even more depressing for silver than in 1801, with only about 42,000 dollars delivered by the coiner. Boudinot continued to twist hankers' arms to get them to take the smaller silver coins they simply did not want. Their main customers wanted dollars, which Boudinot did not wish to strike any more than necessary.

Interestingly, the dies for dollars show a distinct improvement in quality with differences mostly very minor for 1800 through 1803. An overdate, 1802/ 1, appears on several different obverse dies, the last such event in the silver dollar series until 1880!

During 1801 came one of those semi-comic interludes which livened up Mint affairs for a few days. An inventor named Leslie had developed a variation of the old European roller die system (in which coins are struck by being squeezed between cylindrical dies rotated on their axes) and announced to the government that he had solved the problems of the Mint. Even President Jefferson, who seems not to have understood why the Mint did not strike more silver and gold coins, thought the invention a good one and sent him to the Mint for a practical trial.

What Leslie got, instead of a practical test, was a mock trial where the assembled officers very pointedly told him that his invention was useless, which was a fair statement. Leslie claimed that his method would speed up production, which was not true because the striking of the coins was only a small part of the overall operation to produce coinage. The inventor was told to bring in bullion, not dies, the next time he wanted to improve the institution.

There was a second affair which was not quite so funny. Benjamin Rush, signer of the Declaration of Independence and famous physician of Philadelphia, became treasurer of the Mint in 1797 after the yellow fever death of his predecessor, Nicholas Way. Rush and Director Boudinot had a mutual relative that died and whose original will left a considerable sum of money to Boudinot's side of the family. There was an all-night death-bed session with physician Rush, however, in which the will was changed to Rush's favor.

By 1800 the two men were barely speaking and Rush even went to the trouble of making formal charges against Boudinot, including theft of Mint property. The "property" in question was horse dung, which Boudinot had arranged to have hauled from the Mint for nothing. The result of the charges was an unpleasant inquiry, but nothing came of the hearings.

In 1805 Boudinot resigned and Rush applied for the post but was told by President Thomas Jefferson that another man, Robert Patterson, had already been chosen. The irony of this was that Rush had been offered the director's post in 1795 (after the resignation of David Rittenhouse) and had declined it at the time because of his lucrative medical practice. To add insult to injury, Rush loaned Boudinot some chemical textbooks to study when the latter became director in October of the same year!

After 1801 the silver dollar started on a roller coaster ride that lasted until suspension of coinage at the end of March 1804. Fewer than 42,000 silver dollars were struck in all of 1802 because of severe problems with the declining bullion deposits.

Beginning in 1803 there was some improvement in the amount of silver being brought to the Mint, but in the fall Boudinot attempted to stop the coinage of dollars and replace them with half dollars. No dollars were delivered from June 30 through December 12, although it is true that yellow fever interfered with production for several weeks. (1803 was the last year in which this disease forced the closing of the Philadelphia Mint.) The only silver coinage in this period consisted of half dollars, which Boudinot wanted the depositors to take instead of dollars, and a small quantity of dimes consisting of 1,660 pieces delivered in the third quarter of 1803.

Apparently there was enough pressure brought to bear on Director Boudinot that dollar coinage resumed in December 1803 and continued at a strong pace until March 27, 1804, when the last of the Draped Bust dollars was delivered. All of those struck in 1804 bore 1803 or earlier dates. (The 1804 and "1805" dollars, as well as the Proofs of 1801-1803, are covered in chapters 5 and 6.)

 

Chapter 3: Early Dollars, Historical Background Table of Contents