Silver Dollars & Trade Dollars of the United States - A Complete Encyclopedia

Chapter 3: Early Dollars, Historical Background
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The last step (before the edge was lettered) was to individually weigh each planchet; those which weighed more than 416 grains had a file applied to remove metal from one of the faces until the weight was correct. Those which were too light were rejected and later melted, to go through the process all over again.

Coinage of 1794 Dollars

On October 15 all was in readiness, and a ceremony was almost certainly held, celebrating the beginning of silver dollar coinage as well the regular coinage of precious metals in the Mint. Chief Coiner Voight delivered 1,758 silver dollars, all dated 1794. Voight also had on hand, but did not deliver, a considerable number (perhaps several hundred pieces) of coins that had not struck up well and would thus have brought discredit on the Mint had they been released. The excess pieces probably contained the remaining Rittenhouse silver plus some belonging to Charles Gilchrist.

Many of those pieces which were officially delivered by the chief coiner had a defect well known to modern day specialists in the dollar coinage of 1794-1795. The lower left part of the obverse, as well as the corresponding area of the reverse, was weakly struck because the die faces were slightly out of parallel (from the first strikes onward; the only known 1794 trial piece from regular dies in copper shows this weakness). The weakness was also due to the use of a press designed to strike coins 11:0 larger than a half dollar. There was simply no way to get the necessary strong blow required to bring up the dollar design in full. (These coins were struck by a screw-type press using manpower.) Scot had cut the dies in very shallow' relief for just this reason, but the problem still remained.

Of the 1,758 coins struck on that long-ago day, Jack Collins estimates that about 120 to 130 still exist, mostly in lower grades although a small number of superb, well-struck specimens exist in modern collections. (Jack Collins has identified 118 different specimens by photographs or unequivocal descriptions, as of December 1992. (Per telephone conversation with the author, December 18, 1992.) Any 1794 appearing at auction is a signal event and usually brings out the dedicated collectors who appreciate the beauty and history behind this famous coin. Rather than detract from the numismatic value, however, the weakness at the lower left is a mark of the problems faced by Rittenhouse and his fellow officers.

It has been speculated that it was standard policy at the early Mint to have a selection of coins on hand for sale to visitors at face value. English tourists in 1795, for example, are said to have been able to purchase various early U.S. coins, including dollars of 1794. It is known that at least by the late 1820s coins were furnished at face value to numismatists. Coins were sold to visitors until after 1900 although of course the kind of coins on hand depended upon the year in which the visitor asked to purchase souvenirs and the supply of available coins on hand. (When the Mint Cabinet was instituted in 1838, the curator had on hand copper cents of the preceding decade or two which were available for sale or exchange to interested collectors. Later, Proof coins were available at a premium. At the turn of the twentieth century, Mint visitors could buy business strikes for face value. It was reported that Indian cents and gold quarter eagles were popular in this regard.)

Dollar Coinage Suspended

Rittenhouse ordered dollar coinage to cease until a better press could be found. To this end he directed that, with outside help, Mint workmen construct a new and more powerful press, for "dollars and medals in particular." It would not be finished for some months and in the meantime depositors had to be paid in silver coin. It was necessary to proceed with all due speed in order to encourage others to bring silver for coinage. The director did report, however, on October 28 that "a large parcel" of dollar planchets was on hand waiting for the new press.

Half dime dies were prepared in 1794, at some unknown time, but were not used in that year. Instead, they were held over until February and March 1795. The director had decided in November 1794 that the half dollar, for the time being, was to be the most important coin and ordered that preparations be made for a major mintage of this denomination. Coining had just gotten underway in late November 1794 when the rolling mills (which flattened the ingots) broke down. It required considerable time and trouble to repair the damage.

While the Mint was gearing up to renew silver coinage, public criticism of the Mint had grown to the point that there was a congressional investigation chaired by Representative Elias Boudinot of New Jersey. The congressmen were not told of the illegal standard although their final report made in February 1795 did suggest changing the standard to 900/1000 along with a corresponding decrease in the gross weight. The report cleared the Mint officers of incompetence, but did state that further work was necessary to bring the institution to a point where it could better serve the public.

Chapter 3: Early Dollars, Historical Background
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

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