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An introduction to Gobrecht Silver Dollars 1836-1837

By: Dennis Hengeveld – Republished with Permission from the Author

1836 Original J-60 Gobracht DollarGobrecht Dollars. They have fascinated both collectors and researchers since they were minted, first in 1836, and for the last somewhere in the 1870’s as re-strikes. And collectors love them. On the obverse, the coin design shows Miss Liberty, seated on a rock and with here right hand holding a shield. Sometimes there are stars around Miss Liberty, sometimes not. On the reverse, there is an eagle, flying onward in different positions, sometimes up and sometimes level. Here also, sometimes there are stars around the eagle, sometimes not.

The above text sounds a bit confusing, but that is also the case with the Gobrecht dollars. The originals are already confusing when you want to find out when they were minted, and how much. Because only very few were minted (always less than 1000 if you take die alignments in account) die cracks and the like are very rare, and you have to find other ways to find it out. Then there are the second originals, sometimes already designated as re-strikes. And after that the real re-strikes were made trough the early 1870’s.

Reverse of a Gobrecht DollarThe designer, Christian Gobrecht was of German ancestry, and was born in Pennsylvania in 1785, and early in his life he showed an interest and talent for artistic and engraving work. He perfected his talent when he worked for a clockmaker at the usual tender age by putting his engraving skills in ornamental designs put on watches. In 1811, he moved to Philadelphia, and after that he soon began to work for a bank-note firm. As early as 1816 his name was well known in engraving circles and he seems to have begun his die engraving work about this time, although there are no signed medals until the mid-1820s. When the mint’s engraver Robert Scot died in November 1823, Gobrecht was already well enough known to become a temporary replacement. Unfortunately for him, he was turned down in favour of William Kneass, who had better connections (which was very important at that time). The chief engraver received a salary of $1200 per annum (year) and Gobrecht thought even this amount was barely acceptable. Despite losing the top prize and turning down the assistantship, Gobrecht maintained a connection with the Mint in several ways. Not only did he make letter and figure punches for the engraving department, in 1825 he executed some fine Liberty heads (which again for him) unfortunately were not used on the coinage.

In mid June 1835, Gobrecht was hired has the second engraver of the mint. He was needed for this because during the 1834-1835 winter, Congress was debating that there were three more mints (Charlotte, Dahlonega and New Orleans) needed. In March 1835 the legislators decreed, and the president accepted it. Gobrecht would receive $1500 annually, and the first engraver William Kneass would receive an increase to the same amount.

In late August 1835 the director (Dr. Robert Maskell Patterson at that time) wrote the Treasury for emergency authority to hire Gobrecht because first engraver Kneass suffered a severe stroke, which incapacitated him for some months and after that he was never able to do detailed engraving work again and this the permission was granted in short order. (more…)