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Unusual Coins: Copper $10 Eagle Pattern Minted in France

Heritage’s Sunday Internet Coin Auction (bidding ends on September 26) features one of the more intriguing patterns ever offered. Lot 26512 is an extremely rare copper Eagle pattern produced at the Paris Mint by engraver Louis Charles Bouvet (1802-1865). Only two copper pieces are known–both from the King Farouk Collection–although they differ slightly in thickness and edge markings. A third, unconfirmed copper example is said to be in the holdings of the British Museum (per Stack’s 9/1998 sale). An example in gold or gold-plated is also known (per American Numismatic Rarities’ 6/2006 sale).

Let us backtrack now, for a moment, to July 23, 1844. Mint Engraver Christian Gobrecht died suddenly on that date. Largely due to his political connections with John C. Calhoun as well as his skill as an engraver, Mint outsider James B. Longacre is hired to fill the position a couple of months later. Chief Coiner Franklin Peale and Mint Director Robert M. Patterson oppose the move and despise the man but are forced to accede to it. Despite his talent as an engraver, Longacre lacked skill as a die-cutter; the many reengraved, repunched, and blundered dates in U.S. coinage from 1844 to the early 1850s are evidence. Nonetheless, from 1844 to 1848, Longacre merely needed to add dates onto mechanically made dies; there were no new pattern or circulating coinage designs launched during that time.

An article by Doug Winter from The Numismatist of May 1982, titled “What Might Have Been: The Story of the Bouvet Eagle of 1849,” picks up the tale from there:

“When the Act of March 3, 1849 became law, the long period of inactivity at the Mint ended. This Act, which authorized the coinage of gold dollars and double eagles, meant that the Mint quickly had to design and produce new coins in these denominations. Mint Director Patterson had already decided that Longacre would never be able to perform this type of work, So he surreptitiously devised a plan that would get rid of Longacre once and for all. He would have Franklin Peale, on his scheduled trip to Europe in the summer of 1849, locate a suitable replacement for Longacre. In connection with his plan, Patterson used the design of the new gold dollar as a sort of litmus test for the fledgling Longacre. If Longacre failed, as Patterson confidently expected him to, he would petition for the removal of his Chief Engraver.”

No documentation of direct contact between Patterson and Bouvet survives, but Patterson is known to have contacted Charles Cushing Wright and other talented contemporary engravers about producing master dies for U.S. coinage.

The Winter article notes that the eagle design that Bouvet produced, at Peale’s request, was a failure:

“One thing that Peale failed to realize was that he had pressured Bouvet into executing his designs far too quickly. Although Bouvet was a legitimately fine engraver, his designs for the pattern eagle are sloppy. They show all the marks of an artist rushed by a bureaucrat. The eagle looks conspicuously malnourished while the portrait of Liberty is far too sedate. This coin was certainly not going to be the impetus behind Longacre’s removal from office.”

After a couple of false starts, Longacre managed to produce competent if undistinguished designs and dies for the new gold dollar and double eagle denominations. Longacre survived the opposition of Patterson, who died in office in 1851, and continued as chief engraver until his own death in 1869.

The present piece is the Pollock plate coin and the Judd plate coin through the seventh edition. It is easily recognized due to the small obverse rim bump at 3 o’clock, along with some stray contact marks on Liberty’s face and in the left obverse field. But those are mere quibbles compared to the marvelous historical appeal and impeccable provenance that attaches to this coin, a lineage that includes several of the most illustrious pattern collectors of all time. The piece is certified Token MS61 Brown by NGC, apparently a reference to its status as the only known U.S. pattern coin produced at the Paris Mint.

On the obverse the head of Liberty faces left, her hair somewhat pressed down on her head and resembling a skullcap. She wears a coronet inscribed LIBERTY. Her hair is bound into a double bun with a ribbon; a single rear lock cascades down onto the neck. Thirteen curious, eight-pointed stars ring the periphery. BOUVET F parallels the bust truncation.

On the reverse, a scrawny, spread-winged eagle occupies the center, shield on the breast, clutching the standard olive branches and arrows. A small laurel wreath appears above the eagle’s head. This piece is struck on a thicker planchet than the other Farouk example, and the edge of this piece is plain, while the other piece has CUIVRE (French for copper) and a pointing hand, the Paris Mint edge mark that was used from 1845-1860.

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