Chapter 25: Pattern Silver and Trade Dollars Table of Contents


Pattern Silver and Trade Dollars

by Q. David Bowers and Andrew W. Pollock III


The term pattern covers a multitude of coins and, in popular parlance, a multitude of sins. Over the years, in fact since James Ross Snowden first wrote about them in 1860, patterns have been divided into categories. Today we recognize these:

• Patterns: These pieces were struck to test new designs, or the application of new metals, or new edges, or new inscriptions, or one or another characteristic. Patterns were intended to be precursors of an issue to be adopted for general circulation. Typically, several varieties of a pattern might be made, and one would be chosen as the final design.

• Trial pieces: Trial pieces were struck from regular dies in metals other than those intended under the coinage laws. For example, a silver dollar or a trade dollar struck in copper, aluminum, or white metal, would be referred to as a trial piece. In actuality, most such pieces dated after the 1830s were simply curiosities made for sale to collectors. There was no need, for example, to test 1885 Proof Morgan dollar dies by making impressions in aluminum.

• Experimental pieces: These overlap with pattern pieces and were intended to test widely differing concepts from those in general use. There are relatively few of these in the dollar and trade dollar series except that the use of the goloid metal alloy 1878-1880 can be included in this category.

• Fancy pieces: Sometimes called a piece de ca-price, novodel, or by some other name, such a coin is one not needed for any true pattern, trial, or experimental purposes, but made specifically to create a rarity. These occur in numerous forms, including restrikes from earlier-dated dies (Proof 1851 dollars struck in copper), off-metal strikes from current dies (Proof 1868 dollars in aluminum), illogical mulings and die combinations (an 1876-dated pattern trade dollar die combined with an anachronistic Liberty Seated dollar reverse die of the 1840-1866 style), and more. Indeed, this particular category includes some of the most famous, most rare, and most de-sired of all 19th-century Mint issues. To be sure, they have a checkered history, but there is something in the American psyche that likes naughtiness-witness the obsession of mass media with the personal lives of movie stars and political candidates, of historians with bordellos and red light districts, and movie makers with gangsters. In a way, to be naughty is to be interesting, or so it seems.

Past Studies

The field of pattern coins is a vast one, and has been delineated by several individuals, beginning with brief mention by James Ross Snowden in his book, A Description of Ancient and Modern Coins in the Cabinet Collection of the Mint of the United States, published by J.B. Lippincott & Co. in 1860. Snowden devoted nine specific pages, including three embossed color plates, to the subject. In the silver dollar series, the Gobrecht issues of 1838 and 1839 were singled out for mention. Then followed a listing published from 1885 to 1887 by Philadelphia druggist R. Coulton Davis. Titled "Pattern and Experimental Issues of the United States Mint," the work appeared serially in The Coin Collector's Journal.

However, the first extensive, exhaustive work was that of Edgar H. Adams and William H. Woodin, United States Patterns, Trial and Experimental Pieces published by the American Numismatic Society in 1913. In actuality, the book was written by Edgar H. Adams, America's pre-eminent numismatic scholar of the day, using pieces owned by William H. Woodin, a well-known private collector of the time. Woodin, a wealthy industrialist, went on to become secretary of the Treasury for a short time under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, until poor health forced his resignation. Woodin bought extensively from Captain John W. Haseltine, Stephen K. Nagy, and other dealers of the day. Much of his material carne, from the Mint, "laundered" by Haseltine and Nagy.

The Adams-Woodin reference stood the test of time and was used until 1959 when the, somewhat similarly titled, United States Pattern, Experimental and Trial Pieces, by Dr. J. Hewitt Judd, appeared, to be printed in six later editions, the most recent of which is the 1982 7th edition bearing the name of Abe Kosoff on the cover.

Abe Kosoff, a well-known dealer and writer, was interested in patterns and possessed at one time large quantities of these, many owned in partnership with Sol Kaplan of Cincinnati. Most of the pattern coins sold in the Palace Collection (King Farouk) in Egypt in 1954 were purchased by the Kosoff-Kaplan partnership. Kosoff made a specialty of patterns, and enlisted]. Hewitt Judd, M.D., art Omaha, Nebraska collector of patterns and other coins, to revise the Adams-Woodin book. Dr. Judd wrote letters and engaged in other inquiries. When his book appeared in 1959, it was unchanged in format from the Adams-Woodin book, the main difference being that now copious historical notes were added, mostly through the courtesy of Walter H. Breen, who did extensive research in the National Archives,

More recently, Andrew W. Pollock III, of Bowers and Merena Galleries, Inc., has been compiling historical and numismatic data on patterns. It is anticipated that when his manuscript is published it will become the standard in the field. For the first time, carefully-studied rarity ratings will be assigned to patterns. Previously, wild guesses were made, and sometimes the same rating would be given to various pieces within a given set or year, even though in actuality the rarities were quite different.

The Adams-Woodin, Judd-Kosoff, and Pollock works should be referred to for an in-depth discussion of patterns, legislation affecting them, and other data. The present chapter constitutes an over-view of those in the dollar and trade dollar series.

1794 Patterns

Judd-18 (Adams-Woodin 13). Trial piece for a 1794 Flowing Hair silver dollar, struck in copper. The obverse die has no stars to the left or the right and, hence, is different from that finally adopted. The reverse die is the same used for regular circulating toil1age. Andrew W. Pollock III was the first to point out that, contrary to the information in the Judd reference, the obverse is not an "uncompleted die before the stars were added," but represents an entirely different obverse die, never used for regular coinage. Just one specimen is known.

J-19 (AW 14). Trial piece in copper of the regular 1794 silver dollar dies, with stars on the obverse. One is known, formerly owned by Virgil M. Brand, and a few years ago donated to the Smithsonian Institution by an Eastern rare coin firm.

Both of these 1794 pattern varieties, each of which is unique, is a pattern in the strictest sense. The first was undoubtedly made to test the appearance of the motifs, while the second may have been produced to test the dies.


Chapter 25: Pattern Silver and Trade Dollars Table of Contents