Q. David Bowers
Proofs are known of all Philadelphia Mint dollar dates from 1840 through 1873. In the period 1858-1862, and possibly later as well, George and Theodore Eckfeldt (called the "Midnight Minters" by Walter H. Breen) made restrikes of earlier dates, notably 1851, 1852, and 1853, and probably other dates. (Correspondence concerning the Eckfeldts and their probable activities is per a letter to the author from Walter H. Breen, February 12,1992) For 1851 either they used a spare original obverse (a die not used earlier for coinage) or they made a new die. For 1852, they combined an original obverse with several different reverses. All these restrikes were Proofs in silver or copper. The 1851 restrikes have the date about centered between the base of Miss Liberty and the border denticles.
An interesting situation exists concerning 1853 Proof dollars. As early as 1860, George F. Jones wrote that no original Proof dollars were struck in 1853. This was rather frustrating, for a number of collectors desired to have complete sets of Proof dollars from 1840 onward. Accordingly, the traditional view held by numismatists for many years is that a number of Proof 1853 dollars were prepared at the Mint circa 1862. It has been repeated in numismatic literature that only 12 Proof 1853 pieces were made. I do not quarrel with this figure, for over the years 1853 Proof dollars have appeared on the market at infrequent intervals.
If, indeed, just 12 Proof 1853 restrikes were made, this figure might have constituted what Mint insiders considered to be the extent of the market for Proof coins of the early 1850s. Of course, this is just speculation, but if the Mint insiders had envisioned a wider market, wouldn't they have struck more pieces? Nor is it clear whether Mint Director James Ross Snowden or the "Midnight Minters"-or both=made the 1856 Flying Eagle cent restrikes. The multiplicity of. specimens, all on normal planchets, does suggest that Snowden was in charge of these; and; significantly, no 1856 Flying Eagle cent dies were among those seized in 1859 or 1860. (George Eckfeldt was the foreman of dies in the coining room. His son Theodore was the Mint's night watchman, The third conspirator (who accompanied Theodore on peddling trips to coin dealers as far away as Woodward's in Roxbury, Massachusetts) has not been identified. Theodore Eckfeldt sold half cent restrikes through Ebenezer Locke Mason, Jr.'s coin shop, in a building owned by MontroviIIe Wilson Dickeson, M.D. (author of The American Numismatical Manual; 1859), near the corner of North 2nd and Buttonwood streets, Philadelphia.)
In a technical sense the term restrike refers to coins struck from original dies, but at a date later than that indicated on the coin. In the same technical vein, a coin such as the 1853 restrike might be better designated, as Walter H. Breen has suggested; a novodel, a term long standard in Russian numismatics for pieces made by an official mint in later years from backdated dies, which would be correct if, indeed, no original 1853 Proofs exist. Of course, even though most dollars struck from the 1853 Proof dies were not original to the date Indicated," these restrikes or novodels were made at the Mint and are highly desirable and collectible today.
During the years from 1840 through 1857, 1853 possibly excepted, Proof dollars were minted annually for inclusion in year, sets containing copper and silver denominations. The recipients of such sets were government officials, visiting dignitaries, and others who were given them as gifts, and numismatists who purchased them from the Mint. Typical production for the period probably involved about two to four dozen sets each year. Extra Proof dollars may have been made, for today they come on the market more often than do, say, Proof quarter dollars of the same era. As an example, I have sold a half dozen Proof 1854 Liberty Seated dollars for every Proof 1854 quarter dollar passing through my hands.
As Proof was considered to be a better grade than Uncirculated, numismatists of the time desired Proof coins for their date sets. Today, Proof is considered not to be a grade, but to be a different finish, rather than a better finish, and the rarity of certain Uncirculated pieces in comparison to Proofs has been recognized.
The fact that Proofs were available of Liberty Seated dollar issues from 1840 onward resulted in little or no interest in Uncirculated pieces at the time, with the result that they were neglected. This accounts for the rarity of Mint State coins today.
During the year 1858 silver Proof sets were sold to the public for the first time. For many years coin catalogues and reference books claimed that just80 were struck, based on the figure the Chapman brothers heard-or claimed they heard-from a Mint official, .most probably Patterson DuBois. Mint records are silent on the subject. It also happened at Philadelphia that no 1858 business strike dollars Were made, so the only 1858 silver dollars in existence are Proofs, either sold by the Mint as part of sets or sold singly.
How many Proof 1858 dollars were actually struck has been a matter of debate in recent decades, but it is now generally thought that somewhere between 250 and 400 were made. Estimates have ranged as high as 600 to 700 and as low as .75.
Continuing the date chronology; Proof Liberty Seated silver dollars dated 1859 through 1873 survive today in approximate proportion to the numbers originally struck, less examples which, were melted. The larger a coin is, the more susceptible it is to the vagaries of life. The large surfaces of the Liberty Seated dollar made it particularly vulnerable to receiving nicks, scratches, and other marks of, mishandling, not to overlook cleaning. Relatively few if any of the later dates exist today in true Proof-64 or finer grade.