Chapter 7: Gobrecht Dollars, Historical Background Table of Contents

Reasons for a Dollar Coinage
On April 14, having had his idea of a newly designed gold coinage virtually ignored, Patterson wrote that he wanted to begin the new coinage with the silver dollar. The director noted that many of the half dollars struck by the Mint were lost to the public as coins because they stayed in banks as reserves for bank notes. He agreed that silver dollars, coined for this same purpose, would not only free up the half dollars for public use, but would save the Mint much work. It took basically the same amount of labor to produce a dollar as a coin half that weight.

Patterson's argument for a dollar coinage, which is what everybody in Washington thought he intended all along, met with a receptive audience and was quickly approved by the president and the Treasury. Unstated, but in everybody's mind, was the undeniable fact that a large silver coin is very impressive when the artwork is of the highest calibre. Not only would Americans be impressed with such coinage, but so would the rest of the world, especially the Europeans.

Although the director had indicated on April 9 that the enclosed drawing for the reverse was very close to what he wanted, still Peale was required to keep working until perfection itself was attained. By June Peale had reached that magic point, or very close to it, and Gobrecht was instructed to begin work on the master reverse die.

Just before the order was given to engrave the reverse, Gobrecht finished the third obverse die, which was the second one in steel. Improvements had again been made in the figure of Liberty. In particular her neck had been lengthened for a more graceful look while other less obvious changes had been put into the work at Patterson's direction. The director was now satisfied that the figure of a seated Liberty was as close as Gobrecht and Sully could come to his ideal.

Toward the end of August 1836 Patterson was able to send Woodbury a tin strike from the unfinished reverse die. (Soft metal was always used in such cases because the die was in an unhardened state, and it could not take a strong blow as parts of the design could be damaged.) President Jackson soon approved the soft-metal die impression. Official Washington saw with great clarity that the team of Peale and Gobrecht had created something very special. It was Patterson's drive and determination, however, that made it all possible.

In late September 1836, Patterson directed Chief Coiner Adam Eckfeldt to sink the necessary working dies. It was further noted that the largest screw press was to be used for the coinage of silver dollars until such time as the new steam press could be made ready for the largest coins. It was also the intention to use a reeded edge if possible, but otherwise the coin would have a plain edge.

Two Problems
By sometime in November all was in readiness for the first coinage of dollars for circulation since 1804. Two events happened, however, which delayed the mintage for a few weeks. One was serious, the other a mechanical problem. The first of these was the design on the finished dies as executed by Eckfeldt, probably in early November 1836. Patterson had ordered that Gobrecht's name appear between the date and figure in classical fashion: C. GOBRECHT F[ecit] = C[hristian] Gobrecht made [it].

A few specimens (the traditional figure stated is 18 pieces) were struck from the newly-completed dies and distributed in Philadelphia as a sort of advance copy of the new coin. Unfortunately several people took offense at so bold a display of the artist's name, and it is said that the whole matter was aired in a local paper. In one case a writer reportedly denounced the "conceited German" for putting his name on a coin.

The director ordered that a fresh obverse be made in which Gobrecht's name had the same form but placed on the base of the figure so that it could be read, but only if one looked carefully. Perhaps it was the boldness of the name which offended rather than just the name, because no more was heard of the complaints over it. In 1838, when a new obverse design (with stars) was created, the name was dropped.

Apparently, the second problem was a mechanical one. In November 1836 the first steam coinage of half dollars took place, but the coiner halted production after only a few thousand had been made.(These were the small-diameter-Capped Bust half dollars with reeded edge, in contrast to the larger diameter Capped Bust halves with lettered edge made up to that point.) (The present estimate of 1,200 coined could just as easily be 2,200 or 3,200.) This problem effectively stopped any consideration 'Of steam coinage for the dollars. What the press could not do for a half dollar certainly could not be done for a larger coin.

Chapter 7: Gobrecht Dollars, Historical Background Table of Contents