Chapter 7: Gobrecht Dollars, Historical Background Table of Contents

With official encouragement, Patterson now directed Gobrecht to begin work on a steel die to illustrate the design. The fusible alloy (lead with some tin and antimony) strikes from the brass die of early January had been passed around to a number of people in the Philadelphia area for comments and criticisms beyond those made by the president and Treasury Department. Several suggestions were incorporated into the first steel die, also only an obverse. The reverse could not be started because artist Titian Peale had yet to satisfy Patterson with a drawing that met the director's expectations.

Pattern Gold Dollars
Treasury Secretary Levi Woodbury had long been interested in the coinage of a gold dollar by the United States, a passion not shared by Director Patterson. In fact the director did everything he could think of to dissuade the Treasury from even considering such an idea. One of his principal arguments was that only second-rate countries issued gold coins of such small size. Woodbury remained convinced that he was correct and persuaded the president to let him have patterns struck to illustrate the idea. In January 1836 Patterson reluctantly ordered Gobrecht to drop his work on the revised silver dollar obverse die for the time being and concentrate on the gold dollar.

The pattern gold dollars were struck in March 1836 (their design, liberty cap and rays, reminiscent of a Mexican motif), but little more was heard on this subject for some years. When government officials revived the gold dollar, project in, 1844, Patterson ordered restrikes from the 1836 dies; these have dies aligned "medal turn," unlike the originals.

At the same time as the gold dollar dies were being executed, Gobrecht and Franklin Peale (the melter and refiner) collaborated on the production of a pair of medal dies to celebrate the scheduled introduction of steam coinage at the Philadelphia Mint on Washington's birthday anniversary, February 22, 1836. The dies were ready in time but the ceremony was delayed for mechanical reasons and not actually held until March 23. Gobrecht altered the" date side die from FEB. 22 to MAR. 23. Cent planchets served as blanks. Quite a few of the medals were struck for visitors and official purposes. Few bore the date FEB. 22; most had the altered date. Later copies sold by the Mint have the date MAR. 23 with no trace of alteration.

Silver Dollar Work Resumes
Once the gold dollar and steam coinage medal dies were out of the way, Gobrecht was able to resume work on the second obverse of the new silver dollar. By the first week of April 1836 this die had been completed and hardened for use. On April 9 the director sent some uniface strikes to the Treasury Department in Washington, D.C.

The new obverse die was a considerable improvement over the first, and those who saw specimens struck from it recognized this with ease. The president was complimentary as were the Philadelphia artisans and others who were asked their candid opinions on the subject. Patterson had good reason to be pleased.

With the April 9 letter to the Treasury, Patterson also included the best of some 30 drawings that had been done by Titian Peale in an effort to meet the director's exacting demands. The latest, and best, featured "a bird, recently killed" which had been placed in the proper 'position for the artist. (In Mint lore, the eagle in question is said to have been drawn from life from "Peter," a pet which lived at the Mint for six years and was free to come and go as he pleased, until he met his death one day by perching on a rotating flywheel. Peter, stuffed and mounted, is exhibited in a plastic case in the lobby of the Philadelphia Mint. In his present form, Peter bears scant resemblance to the eagle on the 1836 silver dollar.)  It had been Patterson's requirement that the bird be flying "onward and upward" as this symbolized the United States itself and the unbounded optimism her citizens had about the future.

Originally the bird was to have had a scroll in its claws with the words "E Pluribus Unum," but Patterson soon scrapped this idea as he did not think the motto belonged on the coinage. As far as the director was concerned, the motto was nothing more than a restatement of "United States of America" and could be dispensed with unless the actual Great Seal was being used on the reverse of the coinage, as was done from 1796 through 1807. (The so-called Heraldic Eagle reverse first appeared on the 1796 quarter eagle. 1795-dated half eagles with this reverse were struck later, c. 1798.)

Midway through the sketches being prepared by Peale, Patterson decided that the usual olive branches and arrows, symbolizing peace and war, should go in the talons of the eagle, but this idea was also dropped. The eagle was in flight and was not to carry anything. It was with this last thought in mind that the best drawing was sent to Washington. At this point the director had a sudden inspiration which did not get a good audience in the capital. President Jackson had just won a major diplomatic victory against the French government over some claims dating from the undeclared naval war of 1799-1800, and a large indemnity was in the process of being paid. Patterson suggested coining the golden windfall with the new designs then under consideration for the silver dollar, but Treasury Secretary Levi Woodbury threw cold water on the idea and it was not brought up again.

 

Chapter 7: Gobrecht Dollars, Historical Background Table of Contents