From our archives, here is an article from 1978. See how well you can do:
Julian Asks “True or False?”
For some years, the author has been gathering odd examples of what might be called fables about our coinage. Upon investigation some of these have proven false, others true, and some defy resolution. In this short article are gathered together several such items so that the reader might test his knowledge against the force of tradition. In a few cases, however, the author has chosen facts—or what appear to be facts—from the Mint archives with a suitably challenging statement. The statements will appear first and the answers, with explanations, will follow.
- There was a large supply of liquor for the workers in the early Mint and for this reason, some of the coins and dies were badly made.
- It was the government stamp which circulated the copper cent and half cent and not the intrinsic value.
- The United States Assay Commission first met in 1792.
- There was no coinage of cents in 1815.
- There was no coinage of cents in 1823.
- The die blunders of the 1840s and early 1850s were the result of James B. Longacre (the chief engraver) being unskilled at his job.
- Uncirculated coins were sometimes substituted for Proof coins in the sets sent out for collectors by Mint authorities.
- Half cents were not coined after 1857 because of their unpopularity.
- The Saint-Gaudens’ design for the double eagle was sabotaged by the Mint engraving staff.
- The five-cent nickels of 1883 without the word CENTS were an error.
- The Indian Head cent was modeled after Longacre’s nine-year-old daughter.
- Cent coinage was halted in 1877 because the government was considering a cent made out of nickel or copper-nickel.
- Presentation sets and individual presentation coins were rather commonly given out at the early Mint.
- Coins are sold by private treaty.
- The 1861-S Paquet double eagles were mostly remelted at the Mint and thus never released to circulation.
- An “L” was stamped on coins at the Mint to indicate their being underweight.
- The 1811 half cents were partly melted at the Mint, accounting for their rarity.
- Early Proofs were struck for presentation to government officials and foreign heads of state.
- John Reich put his “fat mistress” on the half dollar of 1807-1836.
- High Relief Peace dollars were struck in 1922.
- The Philadelphia Mint struck quarter dollars for Puerto Rico.
- The five-cent nickel of 1866 was intended to be only a temporary coin.
Please note: Answers based upon information available in 1978.
- Hardly. There was some hard liquor, mostly rum, brought to the Mint during the years from 1792 to 1794, but after that only beer was delivered. As late as 1815 this was still being done. The alcoholic beverages were intended solely for men working in the assaying department.
- False. The early American copper circulated because it was of good copper and had a relatively heavy weight. At times, when the price of copper was low or there were too many pieces in circulation, the cents, and half cents often circulated at a strong discount. Even as late as the 1840s, merchants who received a large number of coppers had to take discounts ranging up to 5% to exchange such pieces for silver or gold coins. It was not until 1857, when the cent was given legal tender status, that the government stamp meant anything.
- False. The first meeting came on March 20, 1797, more than two years after the first coinage of the precious metals. The precise reason for the delay is not known.
- False. There was a coinage of cents in 1815, but they were probably dated 1816. After the War of 1812 ended in early 1815, Mint Director Robert Patterson lost no time in ordering a fresh supply of ready-made copper cent planchets from Matthew R. Boulton in England. These arrived in mid-December, 1815, and coinage commenced immediately. It is, of course, possible that dies of 1814 were used but 1816 is the more likely date.
- True, at least those meant for circulation. It is possible that a few Proof cents were actually struck in 1823, but even that is debatable. The 1823 business strikes were actually struck in 1824. The figure sometimes seen for the 1823 coinage, some 855,000 pieces, was fabricated by the Mint Director James Ross Snowden in the late 1850s for his work on American coinage.
- Probably false. Longacre was somewhat unskilled at engraving in the 1840s, but it is a near certainty that many—or perhaps most—of the blundered dies were the product of Chief Coiner Franklin Peale’s department. Peale had control of most of the working punches during this period and his workmen produced a large proportion of the working dies. It was not until mid-1854 that Longacre was able to regain the prerogatives of his own department. The firing of Peale by President Pierce in December 1854, completed the exchange of power.
- Very unlikely, although this has appeared in print from time to time. It is more probable that a carelessly struck piece was included by accident. There was so little profit on these early Proofs to the Mint that such a substitution would have been almost meaningless.
- True, but they were actually unpopular far before 1857. There exist, in the archives, a number of letters from collectors of the 1850s indicating that they had not seen a half cent in circulation for many years. One person even wrote that he had never seen one in use.
- On the whole, no. Saint-Gaudens did not understand, or did not care about, the need for coinage designs in very low relief so that the pieces would strike up properly under ordinary coining conditions. It is true, however, that the Mint engraving staff could have been more cooperative in the whole matter.
- Absolutely not. Patterns of the same design had first appeared in 1881 and the three-cent nickel coin, introduced in 1865, did not have the word “CENT” either.
- Just a fable, unfortunately. At least one writer has stated that Longacre used the head of a classical statue for his inspiration. In addition, the heads on several of Longacre’s coins are the same: Double eagle, three-cent nickel, and the gold dollar.
- False. Cent coinage was halted in early 1877, as nickel five-cent coinage had been stopped in 1876, because the sub-treasuries of the country were clogged with the coins and the Mint law of 1873 specified that the Secretary of the Treasury had the right to interdict coinage under these circumstances. Coinage for both denominations resumed in 1878.
- Very unlikely. Given that the average daily wage in this country prior to 1850 was well under two dollars, the gift of a gold coin or even silver was a major gift. Superb pieces (i.e. not Proofs) of the early years come, usually, from one of two sources. First, a person could simply go to the Mint and ask for a nice specimen of a particular denomination; this could have been obtained for face value since very few persons bothered the Mint in those days. On occasion, a collector could even obtain Proofs for face value. The second avenue to obtain fine coins was to go to the nearest bank and search through a bag of new coinage until he found a select specimen. As a matter of fact, many collectors use the second method even today.
- Apparently true, but the proper meaning for treaty is something that is done between states (nations) and not individuals. This use of the term is confined by the Constitution which prohibits Americans from having treaties with foreign nations. The private treaty is just a fancy way of saying private sale and ought to be relegated to the dustbin. It makes about as much sense as looks Uncirculated or MS-70 that have been seen in some dealer’s ads. If coins can be sold by private treaty, then perhaps someone can explain what a sale by public treaty might involve.
- No. Mint records show that all were released to private depositors. If of undue rarity for their mintage, it must be for some other reason besides that.
- Absolutely not. Assistant Treasurers of the U.S. at St. Louis and Chicago were stamping some gold and silver coins with an “L” in the 1890s but this was strictly an unofficial act on their parts. It may be stated categorically that the U.S. Mint never counterstamped any coin that it released for circulation.
- No. Records show that all were released. The answer to the rarity of the 1811 is simply that part of the 63,000 pieces coined in 1811 were dated 1810.
- Only partly true. There were some special sets of coins prepared as presents for foreigners, but this was a fairly rare happening. Most of the Proof coins struck since 1817 in this country were for our own collectors. Such pieces were made at the whim of the chief coiner and are not known for all denominations and years prior to the start of regular Proof coinage in early 1860.
- Quite possibly true. The curator of the Mint Collection, W.E. DuBois, made this charge as early as the 1860s and must have heard it from persons—such as Adam Eckfeldt—who were at the Mint in 1807.
- True. In fact, not only were the known Proofs struck early in 1922 for high-ranking collectors, but there was also a hitherto unknown coinage of the regular issue Peace dollars in high relief at the same time. The latter, however, were all melted and not released.
- Oddly enough, this is true. On June 20, 1902, the coiner’s silver ledger recorded the striking of $241.75 (967 pieces) worth of “quarter dollar Porta Rican.” If one subtracts the Proof coinage of 1902 from the regular Mint figure for the quarter dollar, then one arrives at the odd amount of 967 pieces over an even number. It is unknown at present just what this means.
- True. It was intended to replace the five-cent nickel coins with the silver half dimes as soon as it was possible, but the Mint law of 1873 did away with the silver half dime instead.