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

Chapter 3: Early Dollars, Historical Background
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The Melter and Refiner

When the assayer had finished with the bullion, it was turned over to the melter and refiner, an office not provided for in the original Mint law of April 1792. The position was, in fact, not created until March 1795, but from the summer of 1794, David Ott served as melter and refiner pro tern. In 1795 Joseph Cloud received the permanent appointment.

The melter and refiner first melted the bullion, although this had sometimes been done by the assayer in order to get good mixture for his tests, and then he added base metal (copper) or silver to bring the bullion to the desired fineness, usually a small amount below the legal standard. Ingots were now made, about a foot in length and from one to three inches in width. The thickness varied, but was usually about one-half inch. The denomination of the coin intended to be made from the particular ingot determined the exact dimensions.

The Coiner

Silver ingots were turned over to the coiner, with the usual receipts being given by all parties concerned. These receipts were preserved for the quarterly accounting so that each officer would have protection against theft or dishonesty on the part of another.

The coiner placed the ingots between powerful rollers and gradually flattened them until the desired thickness was obtained. The ingots were frequently cleaned and annealed (heat-treated to soften the metal) between rollings. The rolling mills in the 1790s were subject to mechanical breakdowns on a fairly common basis, and it was for this reason, perhaps more than any other, that coinage was interrupted in those years.

When the ingots had been properly flattened, the strips were "equalized" (made the same width) in the drawing machine. The strips. of gold or silver were again heat-treated and cleaned and then planchets (blanks) were punched out in a special machine designed for just this purpose. The Mint had only one of these machines, capable of about 10,000 pieces per day, in ·1795, but more were obtained as' time went on.

The assayer had already made the ingots a bit on the low side for fineness. When molten silver or gold hardens there is a tendency for the richer solution to settle toward the center of the ingot; the punched-out blank would then have been too high in fineness had the melter and refiner not taken this precaution.

The planchets were weighed after being cut out to see if they were within the legal tolerances. If too light the blank was rejected, melted, and the whole process was started over again. Heavy blanks were filed down by adjusters, who worked in stuffy rooms with little ventilation; breezes would have disturbed the delicate scales required to determine exact weight. After 1862 only gold coins and silver dollars were adjusted by hand. The other denominations were simply remelted if they were too heavy or light. As a general rule, only women were employed as adjusters because of their higher perceived tolerance and ability for such work.

After being washed and heat-treated once more, the blanks were put through the edge-marking (Castaing) machine to have the edge impressed with the proper markings. Planchets were placed between two parallel bars, one fixed, one movable, each bearing half the edge device, a workman cranked the movable bar to impart the design. For the silver dollar this consisted of the wording HUNDRED CENTS ONE DOLLAR OR UNIT in capital letters with ornaments between words.

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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