by R.W. Juilian
Regular Mintage Resumed
In March 1804, President Thomas Jefferson stopped the coinage of silver dollars because too many of these coins were being exported to foreign countries-and staying there. Director Samuel Moore made an abortive attempt in 1831 to resume coinage, but this failed when it became clear that the same problem was still in effect. At length, in 1835, the first real steps were taken toward a resumption of dollar coinage.
Under Director of the Mint Robert M. Patterson (in office 1835-1851), Mint presses coined Gobrecht design dollars with flying eagle reverses for circulation in calendar years 1836, 1837, and 1839. These were made in limited amounts to test public demand for full-scale resumption of coinage. Early in 1840 Patterson made the decision to begin regular mintage. Those struck in the 1830s had been at the whim of the director, but now the coinage would be at the behest of the depositor who brought silver bullion to the Mint and asked for dollars.
Before the resumption of regular dollar coinage in July 1840, Patterson undertook a thorough review of the design and its effects on those with artistic tastes. A similar review had taken place in 1838 when the quarter dollar was first issued with the Liberty Seated design, and at that time the graceful flying eagle reverse was dropped in favor of the old (1807) Reich reverse design, but without the motto "E Pluribus Unum." Patterson thought that the motto did not belong on the coinage unless the actual Great Seal of the United States was being used.
When the time came to make the decision on the reverse of the dollar, those who believed in identical reverses for the upper-value silver coins won the day. Patterson probably wanted his flying eagle to remain but was presumably overruled by the Treasury. Thus the 1807 eagle with shield reverse design appeared on the dollar from 1840 to 1873, and on halves and quarters through 1891.
Enter Robert Ball Hughes
There were also discussions with people in the coining department to see how easily the design of the dollars of 1836-1839 came up in the coining press and if the artwork might not be unsuitable for mass coinage. Chief Coiner Franklin Peale, who had succeeded Adam Eckfeldt in February 1839, was of the opinion that the relief was too high to be brought up in the existing coinage presses.
Patterson then hired Philadelphia artist Robert Ball Hughes to prepare plaster models of the Liberty Seated design, at the same time ordering several minor changes: lower relief, larger head, smaller rock, more and heavier drapery. (Robert Ball Hughes, born in England, emigrated to New York City, where he became a sculptor of note. In 1840 he moved to Philadelphia, where in that year he lived at 66 South Street. Ball was paid $75 for models he made for the Mint.) Hughes may have initiated some of these on his own, but as the orders were oral, no record remains to determine which person was responsible for a given change.
What is not clear in this chain of events is why Gobrecht himself did not execute the changes ordered by the director. It cannot be that he disagreed; that sort of opinion would have been a closely guarded secret in 1840 and the work would have been done, regardless of his views. It does appear likely, however, that Hughes did the kind of work he was qualified for and Gobrecht was not. It is necessary to review, at this point, how dies were made in the 1830s.