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

Chapter 3: Early Dollars, Historical Background
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The hubs for the dollar, being intended as a coin of prestige for the United States, were executed with great care by Scot, who also had to contend with his more ordinary duties of producing dies for the copper coinage. No doubt he was visited by Jefferson and Washington from time to time to see how the work was progressing. (The president's official residence was on High Street, only a few blocks from the Mint.)

It is likely that the hubs were finished by mid-September 1794. The Liberty head, being the most important, would have been completed first and inspected very carefully for flaws, especially by Director Rittenhouse. Scot then began work on the eagle punch.

The letter punches, used to put in the necessary wording on the obverse and reverse, were executed by Frederick Geiger, who had been hired in early 1794 by Rittenhouse to improve the quality of the letter fonts then being used. Geiger, an expert in cutting type for books and newspapers, had been an indentured servant and had been brought over from his native Germany in the 1780s by Benjamin Franklin Bache, grandson of Benjamin Franklin. (Geiger did not stay all that long at the Mint, leaving in search of greater wealth. He sought to invent a perpetual motion machine, but died while working on it.)

Copper Patterns Struck

Scot's first set of dollar dies had no stars on the obverse and but a single specimen, in copper, is now known to exist. It was long thought that this pattern was struck from the unfinished regular dies, but it is now realized that a completely different obverse die was involved. In retrospect, of course, the discovery makes sense as it is very rare that an unhardened die is used to strike anything but the softest of metals; otherwise the die is easily damaged.

The copper patterns, of which possibly a half dozen or so might have been made for official inspection, were carefully examined and found wanting in the balance scale of artistry, although they did conform to the 1792 Mint Act. One of the officials suggested putting stars on the obverse, as a form of replacement for the rejected chain design on the 1793 cent. Fifteen stars, to symbolize the number of states then admitted to the Union, were added to the obverse die. This may have been attempted on the first obverse but almost certainly failed as it is very difficult to make changes on hardened dies, especially those which have been used to strike coins or patterns.

Illegal Standard Adopted for Silver

A new dollar obverse was soon executed by Scot, probably in late September or early October. All that was now needed to strike the first silver dollars was a sufficient supply of planchets for the coining press.

The first deposit of silver was made by the Bank of Maryland on July 18, indicating that Rittenhouse had made known, in Mayor June 1794, to the banking community and merchant/importers that deposits of silver would be accepted for coinage. The first such deposit was composed of French coin, a considerable part of which was of billon (a mixture containing less than half silver). Assayer Albion Cox said that it was worth $80,414.30-1/2; well, he said it was worth that much, but actually it was worth more than that-and thereby hangs a tale ....

In the spring of 1794, when all was being put in readiness for the beginning of silver coinage,

Edwin Lamasure Painting

The illustration above is from a painting by Edwin Lamasure and is an artist's conception of what the first Philadelphia Mint looked like in the 1790s. The original is in the Congress Hall Collection. Frank H. Stewart, author of History of the First United States Mint, stated that it showed "the Mint buildings as a group and was made from measurements, photographs, and descriptions by various persons."

Stewart went on the say, in part: "I was compelled to give up the hope of ever finding an old print or sketch of them [the Mint buildings], and it occurred to me that it would be a job worthy of one of America's foremost artists. With that thought in mind, 1 made an arrangement through The Osborne Company [a leading printer of calendars and advertising art at the time; apparently they had this particular artist under contract] to have Edwin Lamasure paint the picture after 1 had obtained all of the data available. From the information at hand, a pen and ink sketch was made under my direction, and from that sketch, Lamasure, who has since deceased [Stewart wrote these words in 1924], painted the group of three buildings known as Ye Olde Mint. The Osborne Company made color plates which were duly copyrighted. Later I had Captain Frank H. Taylor of Philadelphia, make a revised sketch showing a Conestoga wagon.

"In the picture the yard bell, pump, watchdog, and other small details are depicted."

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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