Q. David Bowers:
The following narrative, with minor editing, is from my "Silver Dollars & Trade Dollars of the United States: A Complete Encyclopedia" (Wolfeboro, NH: Bowers and Merena Galleries, Inc., 1993).
The motto: This is the first year of regular silver and gold coinage with the motto IN GOD WE TRUST, appearing on nickel five-cent pieces, quarter dollars, half dollars, silver dollars, half eagles, eagles, and double eagles, preceded by the bronze two-cent piece in 1864. The earliest patterns with a religious motto were the 1861-1862 half dollars (silver and copper) and copper $10 with GOD OUR TRUST on a scroll or in the field, followed in 1863 by the Washington two-cent piece with GOD AND OUR COUNTRY and the shield-design two-cent with GOD OUR TRUST (this was most likely made sometime after 1864). The adopted motto, IN GOD WE TRUST, first appeared on the transitional pattern two-cent piece of 18630 (J-316 to Judd-318). The 1863-4-5 quarters, half dollars, and dollars with IN GOD WE TRUST followed in, apparently, 1867-1868. Two-cent pieces with the motto appeared in circulation in 1864 and represented the first general use of the inscription.
Distribution: It is probable that many dollars of this date were exported. It is possible that some domestic holders of dollars kept them stateside, and that they found their way back to the Treasury after 1873 (at which time the melt-down value and bullion value achieved equity).
Circulated grades: The 1866 is rare in all circulation strike forms. None was circulated domestically at the time of issue (nor were any other Liberty Seated dollars of this era). Popular with numismatists as the first year with motto on the reverse.
Mint State grades: The 1866 dollar is rare in Mint State, although it is somewhat more available than many issues of the preceding quarter century. Until engaging in this study I never thought of the 1866 dollar as being all that elusive, but examination of the numbers certainly shows it is!
1.Low Date: Breen-5476. Obverse: Low date, closer to the denticles than to the rock base of Miss Liberty.
Dies prepared: Obverse: Unknown; Reverse: Unknown
Circulation strike mintage: 48,900; Delivery figures by day: January 30: 6,700; May 8: 15,900; June 21: 6,600; July 30: 13,900; August 24: 5,800.
Estimated quantity melted: Unknown
Characteristics of striking: Many are weakly struck, especially at stars 8 and 9.
Known hoards of Mint State coins: None
This is the first year that the motto IN GOD WE TRUST appeared on the Liberty Seated silver dollar.
The Motto IN GOD WE TRUST
James Pollock's Annual Report of the Director of the Mint, 1866, contains the following paragraph: "MOTTO COINS:
The motto, 'In God We Trust,' authorized by Act of Congress of March 3, 1865, has been placed upon all the gold and silver coins of the United States susceptible of such addition since the commencement of the current year. 'Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord."
The motto IN GOD WE TRUST on circulating coinage first appeared in 1864 on the two-cent piece. The Act of March 3, 1865 provided that it would be lawful for the director of the Mint, with the approval of the secretary of the Treasury, to place IN GOD WE TRUST on silver and gold coins.
The motto had its origin in a letter from M.R. Watkinson, minister of the gospel, in Ridleyville, Pennsylvania, who wrote on November 13, 1861 to Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase:
"One fact touching our currency has hitherto been seriously overlooked. I mean the recognition of the Almighty God in some form in our coins.
"You are probably a Christian. What if our Republic were now shattered beyond reconstruction? Would not the antiquaries of succeeding centuries rightly reason from our past that we were a heathen nation? What I propose is that instead of the goddess of Liberty we shall have next inside the 13 stars a ring inscribed with the words 'perpetual union;' within this ring the all-seeing eye, crowned with a halo; beneath this eye the American flag, bearing in its field stars equal to the number of the States united; in the folds of the bars the words 'God, liberty, law.'
"This would make a beautiful coin, to which no possible citizens could object. This would relieve us from the ignominy of heathenism. From my heart I have felt our national shame in disowning God as not the least of our present national disasters.
"To you first I address a subject that must be agitated. "M.R. WATKINSON,
"Minister of the Gospel."
Chase responded by sending the following letter to the director of the Mint on November 20, 1861:
"DEAR SIR: No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense. The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins.
"You will cause a device to be prepared without unnecessary delay with a motto expressing in the fewest and tersest words possible this national recognition.
"[To] JAMES POLLOCK, Esq., "Director of the Mint, Philadelphia, Pa."
Mint Director Pollock found that the Act of January 18, 1837 prescribed the mottoes and devices on coinage, and nothing could be added without specific legislation. In December 1863, Pollock submitted bronze pattern cents, two cent, and three-cent pieces, the two-cent piece in two versions, Washington's bust with GOD AND OUR COUNTRY, and a shield design with GOD OUR TRUST. Secretary Chase wrote to the director of the Mint on December 1863, as follows:
"I approve your mottoes, only suggesting that on that with the Washington obverse [the pattern two-cent piece is referred to here] the motto should begin with the word 'Our,' so as to read: 'Our God and our country.' And on that with the shield, it should be changed to read: 'In God we trust."
Secretary Chase preferred the adopted wording IN GOD WE TRUST as nearest to the motto of his alma mater, Brown University, IN DEO SPERAMUS (In God we hope).
Following Chase's recommendations, the bill which became the Act of April 22, 1864 authorized the bronze cent and two-cent coins, the latter bearing the new motto. It did not reach the silver (25Â¢ to $1) and gold denominations ($5 to $20) until 1866, conforming to the Act of March 3, 1865. Quarter eagles first showed the motto in 1908, cents in 1909, and dimes in 1916.
"Pattern" Coins With Motto
So-called "pattern" Proof dollars dated 1863, 1864, and 1865 with the motto IN GOD WE TRUST exist in silver as well as copper and aluminum. Designated as patterns by R. Coulton Davis (1880), Adams-Woodin (1913), and Judd (1959), these pieces were in fact made about 1867-1868, most likely for Mint Director H.R. Linderman and his cronies.
Evidence includes the existence of an 1865 With-Motto dollar clearly overstruck on an 1866(!) dollar (Fairfield sale, Lot 27), and the fact that the reverse dies used on the 1863-1865 With-Motto dollars are the same as used to strike Proofs in 1866, 1867, and 1868.
San Francisco Coinage Contemplated
Two obverse and six reverse dies were shipped to San Francisco, but no 1866-S coinage occurred; indeed, no dollar coinage was effected at that institution until 1870-S.