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

Chapter 3: Early Dollars, Historical Background
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The Mint director was given an early look at the sketches because the engraver, Robert Scot, would have had to examine them also to see if they were suitable for coinage. DeSaussure and Engraver Robert Scot gave their nods of approval, probably for more than one drawing, and the several sketches sent to the president and secretary of state for the final choice. Soon the decision was made and one of Stuart's drawings accepted as the new Liberty head.

John Eckstein

Once the drawings had been approved, probably toward the middle of August, they were sent to John Eckstein, who was called by one of his fellow artists a "thorough-going drudge" in his field. Eckstein, who was paid $30 on September 9 for his work, executed a pair of plaster models, not of the whole coin, but just the Liberty head and reverse eagle wreath combination.

Until relatively modern times it was an accepted practice for artists to prepare plaster models of designs for coins or medals as a guide to cutting the dies. At the present time plaster or other composition models are made as the first step and then used to prepare the dies via a reducing machine. Some engravers in the past prepared their own plasters while others, such as assistant engraver Anthony C. Paquet, in the 1850s and 1860s, had them done by specialists in the field.

Robert Scot

At any rate the plaster models were delivered to Engraver Robert Scot for the necessary die work. (John Smith Gardner, an assistant engraver, had been at the Mint since November 1794 and during September would have worked on regular coinage dies while Scot prepared the new dollar hubs. Scot, however, would also have been involved in the regular dies as it is unlikely that he would have worked continuously on the new design without a break. The change was not that urgent.)

In preparing the new dies, Scot used the same technique employed for the Flowing Hair dies of 1794-1795. He first carefully cut a head punch for Liberty, as it was by far the most important part of the design, and then worked on the reverse hub for the eagle. The steel hubs were finished rather quickly, as it is believed that coinage of the Draped Bust dollar began about the end of September 1795.

Because Scot is thought to have worked slowly on most occasions, questions have been raised as to whether he did both hubs (Liberty head and eagle) that were necessary for the new dies. It is quite possible that John Smith Gardner did the reverse hub (the eagle) while Scot did the other. This would have still left Scot with the most important part of the work and the credit as well.

Coinage Begins

Whatever the precise way in which the hubs were done, they were soon completed and used to create new working dies for the dollar coinage. There would have been a test, to make certain that all was well, and then Director DeSaussure would have ordered formal coinage to begin. Considering the time needed to prepare hubs from Eckstein's models, the most likely date for such an order was October 1, which would mean that 78,238 Draped Bust dollars were struck in the remaining days of 1795. However, this is mere supposition and the number may well be above or below that, depending upon the exact date that Draped Bust coinage commenced. Some estimates are under 50,000 pieces.

For the reader who wishes to choose his own figure, the following list of deliveries for silver dollars in late 1795 will prove helpful:

September 12-4,260
September 24-4,000
October 3-15,000
October 7-6,000
October 10-14,500

October 17-23,368
October 24-19,370

The last-named delivery was the final entry for dollars during the year. (Joseph Richardson is perhaps better known to numismatists as one of the men who hand-engraved the large oval Indian Peace medals during the Washington administration. Some of these are hallmarked, proving his work.)

By the mid-September, Director DeSaussure decided that he had heard enough criticism to last him forever and informed the president that his resignation was being submitted. It was not to take effect until the end of October, thus allowing the government a reasonable amount of time to find a replacement. The Mint had not even begun to strike the new Draped Bust dollars when the director sent in his letter of resignation. President Washington must have now wondered to himself if the Mint would ever be a going affair.

In his parting letter to the president, dated October 27, DeSaussure reviewed the problems facing the Mint as well as those matters which he thought had been accomplished. He discussed the illegal 900/1000 silver, coinage standard, almost certainly the first time that the president (and thus the secretary of state as well) had been informed of the matter.

It cannot have been an easy time for anyone at that point; the cat was out of the bag and something would have to be done-and soon. DeSaussure suggested that Congress be approached to change the standard to conform with practice but the administration realized that this would create additional problems, including lengthy explanations of why Congress had not been informed of the whole business in 1794.

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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