Q. David Bowers
by Q. David Bowers
Collecting Gobrecht Dollars
With only two exceptions-the 1836 with name on base, plain edge, and starry reverse field; and the 1839 with reeded edge and starless reverse field-all Gobrecht silver dollars dated from 1836 to 1839 are patterns. However, many collectors have included them among the regular series in their cabinets, much as the pattern 1856 Flying Eagle cent is desired by collectors of small cents, and the pattern $4 gold stellas of 1879 and 1880 are included in many holdings of regular gold coins.
The 1836 Gobrecht Dollar
From the standpoint of Gobrecht dollars issued for circulation, the 1836 with C. GOBRECHT F. on the base, with plain edge, and with starry reverse field (Judd-60), is a prime candidate for inclusion in any collection of regular silver dollars. As R.W. Julian has related, 1,000 of these were delivered on December 31, 1836, and are distinguished by having the dies aligned coin-wise; that is, the obverse and reverse are aligned 1800 apart. The authorized weight is 416 grains, and known specimens are within a close tolerance of that figure. 600 of these were deposited in the Bank of the United States (Philadelphia) and passed into circulation. Probably, many of the remaining 400 went into circulation as well.
A further delivery of 600 1836-dated specimens from the same dies was made on March 31, 1837, by which time the Coinage Act of January 18, 1837 was effective. The legal weight of these additional 600 coins was 412.5 grains, but it is virtually certain that some 416-grain planchets prepared earlier were used (cf. James C. Gray's correspondence quoted under "1836 Gobrecht, Name on Base" section below). To differentiate between this "second original" striking and the "first original" issue of December 31, 1836, the dies were aligned with the obverse and reverse in nearly the same direction, with the eagle flying horizontally (alignment IV). (R.W.Julian takes exception to this paragraph and feels that the use of 416-grain planchets is extremely unlikely, except for a possible one or two heavy planchets used in error. Moreover, "to have aligned the dies horizontally would have been out of the question given Patterson's adamant statements regarding 'onward and upward' in his official correspondence .... " Letter to the author, July 25, 1992. Further: "The legal variation for the coinage of 1837 was 1.5 grains, meaning that dollars struck in 1837 could legally vary in weight from 411 to 414 grains. It was normal practice to mix 'heavies' and 'lights' for an exact weight of the finished delivery, but it is not clear if this was done for small coinages. The question is muddled by the known habit of the Mint in striking Proof coins for collectors (and others) outside the regular mintage deliveries; whether this was done for the Gobrechts will never be known with certainty, but a 416- grain planchet might have been used in such circumstances as it would not be subject to legal reporting. Proof silver and gold coins struck prior to 1860 (except for the Gobrecht regular issues of 1836-1839) used bullion which was later replaced and no permanent record kept. On the other hand, some of the planchets used for the restrikes were rejected planchets from the regular silver dollar coinage and would thus be outside normal tolerance." Letter to the author, August 7, 1992. )
The 1836-dated dollars have the word LIBERTY embossed on the shield, in contrast to the Liberty Seated dollars of 1840-1873 on which the word is incuse. The 1836 dollars were struck with Proof finish, as were the circulation strikes of 1839 Gobrecht dollars, the only instances, to my knowledge, of the United States Mint producing Proof coins specifically for circulation. (However, on numerous occasions during the late 19th century unsold Proof coins of various denominations made for collectors were placed into circulation at face value.)
As the word LIBERTY is raised on Gobrecht dollars of the 1836-1839 years, the letters wore away quickly once the coins were placed into circulation:
Thus, grading standards for these are different from the guidelines employed to grade later (1840-1873) Liberty Seated dollars.
The collecting of 1836-dated Gobrecht dollars is complicated by the existence of restrikes, of which there are numerous specimens on the numismatic market, and which have not been studied in great detail. Although R.W. Julian and Walter H. Breen, to mention only two researchers, have published much fine material concerning the pieces, no exacting study of die states in relation to die alignments had ever been made prior to James C. Gray's article, "Gobrecht Dollars," in The Gobrecht Journal; November 1986. Expanding on this, Gray has made contributions to the present book; to which have been added the thoughts of Andrew W. Pollock III, the present author, and (particularly in reference to 183.9 dollars), Larry Briggs. A problem arises in that conventional wisdom has it that the 1836-dated issue of December 31, 1836 is of die alignment I (see below), while the pieces delivered on March 31, 1837 are of alignment II. However, alignment II is so rare, and alignment IV so plentiful, that it is apparent that earlier research needs modification; indeed, the final information given in this book incorporates such changes.
A review of significant literature concerning die alignments follows; (See entry under the 1880 Morgan dollar, Additional Information, for Steigerwalt's complete text, which covered all dollar types from 1794 to 1880.)
1954: Walter H. Breen. Secret History of Gobrecht Coinages. Cracked reverse die, repolished die theory; restrikes are identifiable by the presence of a cracked reverse die and/or repolished dies and wire rims.
1959 (and later editions through 1977): J. Hewitt Judd, M.D., with the assistance of Abe Kosoff and Walter H. Breen. Patterns, Experimental and Trial Pieces. Cracked die theory reiterated.
1977: Walter H. Breen. Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of U.S.and Colonial Proof Coins. Eagle flight/die alignment theory; eagle flies upward on original coins.
1982: R.W. Julian. "Most Gobrecht Dollars Not Patterns." Article in Coin World, November 24, 1982.
Eagle flight/die alignment theory following Breen, 1977.
1983 to date: Yeoman, R.S. and Kenneth E.
Bressett, A Guide Book of u.s.Coins. Eagle flight/die alignment theory based on the 1982 Coin World article, also following Breen, 1977.
1986: James C. Gray. "Gobrecht Dollars." Article in The Gobrecht Journal, November 1986. Revisionist theory: circulation issues of March 1837 and December 1839 were struck in die alignment IV; strengthened and refined with later research by James C. Gray, Andrew W. Pollock III, Larry Briggs and Q. David Bowers. This citation forms the foundation for the revisionist information given in the present book.
Also see "New Concept" under 1836 Gobrecht dollar, name on base, below.