The Mint Novodels
by Q. David Bowers
The 1801-2-3-4 Novodels
The so-called Proof "restrike" silver dollars of 1801, 1802, and 1803, and the famous 1804 dollar were never part of the silver dollar mintages of the 1794-1804 era. Rather, they were created at the Mint decades later for numismatic purposes and for presentation, as R.W. Julian has stated.
As each is struck from dies made much later than the dates on the coins, and as no comparable originals were ever produced, they fall into the category of novodels. I prefer this term to, for example, "antedated fantasy" (Newman and Bressett referring to the 1804 dollar), piece de caprice (Don Taxay and others), etc., although these terms are also applicable in certain instances.
Over the years, the term restrike has been applied to the Proof dollars dated 1801, 1802, and 1803. However, restrike implies that originals were made, usually from the same dies, and in the instance of the 1801-2-3 Proofs, there never were original counterparts. These Proofs are believed to have been made in the 1870s, using a close collar and beaded border process not used at the Mint during the 1801-1804 era, and were struck from dies made not earlier than the 1830s.
Characteristics of the Dies
At this point it is useful to consider the characteristics of the dies from which each of the preceding six issues were made.
Two Reverse Dies
There were two different reverse dies (designated as Reverse X and Reverse Y, per the Newman-Bressett, The Fantastic 1804 Dollar, p.35) used to make the novodels dated 1801-2-3-4, each of the Heraldic Eagle style as first employed in the silver dollar series in 1798 and originally continued in use for silver dollars at the Mint through the end of coinage dated 1803. The dies used to make the novodels were made later, no earlier than the late 1820s (when new technology was first used at the Mint), and certainly no later than 1834, as it is a fact that Reverse X, slightly cracked, was employed in autumn 1834.
I am virtually certain that Reverse X and Reverse Y were made at the Mint at the same time by the same person.
First a description of each:
Reverse X: The reverse is a Mint copy of the Heraldic Eagle reverse type used to coin silver dollars of the dates 1798-1803, but is not precisely identical to any die of that era. It was made by using a Heraldic Eagle punch, and with additional punches adding details including the letters of UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, stars above the cagle, one arrow (added to 12 already in the punch), and the stems and berries.
Specific descriptions of the punches used to create the die follow:
1. The central hub punch, with the Heraldic Eagle motif, included these features; eagle, shield, ribbon in beak, lettering E PLURIBUS UNUM on ribbon (with defect connecting E and P), eight clouds above eagle, leg with claw holding olive branch (without berries), and leg with claw holding 12 arrows. This identical punch, but with the defect connecting E and P in a slightly earlier state, was used to make certain dies originally employed shortly after the turn of the nineteenth century, including the one used to strike the following silver dollar varieties: 1801 BB-212 (intermediate state); 1802 BB-231 (early state), BB-23,2 (early state), and BB-241 (slightly advanced intermediate state); and 1803 BB-253 (if it exists), BB-254 (slightly advanced intermediate state), and BB-255 (terminal state).
2. Individual letter punches (A, C, D, E, F, I, M, N, O, R, S, T, and U) for UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, an early font of the style used c. 1798-1803 at the Mint, distinguished by having a lopsided T (right arm heavier than left), small top space in A, etc.
3. Star punch, small and with six points. Used for punching the 13 stars above the eagle, in an arc pattern arranged 6-5-2 (this pattern is seen on both Reverse X and Reverse V).
4. Berry punch, for adding five berries to the olive branch.
5. Berry stem punch, for adding a tiny stem to each berry.
6. Tiny arrowhead(?) punch, made up separately, longer, narrower, and more tapered than the stock arrowheads on the Heraldic Eagle punch. Used for adding the missing 13th arrowhead to the arrow cluster.
As each of the aforementioned punches was applied separately' to the working die, the positional relationships among the elements vary. Thus, Reverse X has positional differences in comparison to Reverse Y.