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All Posts Tagged With: "Numismatic History"

Finding Numismatic History in Unlikely Places

By Dan Duncan – Pinnacle-Rarities

Ezra Meeker – Champion of the Oregon Trail

Over the summer months our numismatic travels took us to great historical cities like Boston and Philadelphia. And this week we travel to Baltimore, another city rich in early Americana. Of course, across the nation there are local historical sites and, more specifically, sites of numismatic interest. Over the last 200 plus years, our mints have aided the extraction from a number of precious metal lodes. Now many of the once thriving businesses are gone, with a few remaining as mint and mining museums or historical landmarks.

Each place chronicles a rich history founded in capturing natural resources and refining them into tangible representations of our history. Living in the Northwest, we are thousands of miles from any of these sites. While some old mines exist in the state, the real history of Washington State lies in the old growth forests. The “American” history of the region is for all intent and purpose quite young. But, sometimes you don’t have to look far to find a piece of numismatic lore right in your own back yard.

Recently we took the family to a large state fair located in the city of Puyallup (pyoo-al-uh p). One of the town’s principal founders was a pioneer who travelled to the Oregon Territory in the mid-nineteenth century. He eventually settled in the foothills of Mt. Rainier. This man was Ezra Meeker. His contributions to the northwest are many, but he is best remembered nationally for his extensive work on having the Oregon Trail marked.

According to the Meeker Mansion website, “Ezra Meeker became the self-appointed champion of the Oregon Trail in 1906, when at the age of 76, accompanied by two oxen, a wagon, a driver and a dog, he made his way from his front yard to Washington D.C., by way of New York City.”

Meeker first took the Oregon Trail as a young man in 1852. A true pioneer, Ezra was lured by the promise of the new territories. Finally settling in a valley below Mt. Rainier, Meeker cleared his own land and eventually became an internationally successful hops farmer. His travels included a stint in Europe and a couple forays into the Alaskan territories.

Meeker was obviously impacted by his early trip out west. He had a connection to the Oregon Trail. He recognized it as a part of American history and felt it should be cherished and preserved. In his mid-seventies, he harnessed his oxen and retraced his steps from some 50 odd years ago in a Conestoga wagon. He deemed this trip the Oregon Trail Monument Expedition Trip. During this trip he promoted the trail awareness, lectured, handed out pamphlets and eventually gained a lot of publicity. Meeker met with Teddy Roosevelt, who agreed in principle to in some way recognize the Oregon Trail, but the bill died in Congress.

After returning to his home, Meeker wrote an acclaimed book on the subject entitled The Lost Trail, Meeker again braved the 2,000 mile trail with an ox drawn wagon in 1910. He was again to promote its preservation, but this time he intended to map the route. He was in favor of a transcontinental railroad along a similiar course, which he also intended to lobby for. Despite completing the trail, and the map, his second trip was somewhat of a failure. When he arrived out East he was contacted by the Senate and told not to come to D.C. After some other tribulations, he found his way back to Washington State. He continued to campaign, worked on a movie, lectured and published another book – Ox Team Days. Eventually he’s instrumental in the formation of the Oregon Trail Memorial Association. Through that organization he petitioned Congress getting final approval for the Oregon Trail Commemorative in 1926. The proceeds from the distrubution were used to mark the trail. (more…)

Unique Plain Edge 1907 $10 pattern – believed the only Saint-Gaudens coin actually seen by the artist – at Boston ANA auction

Historic pattern struck just before the artist’s death for his approval

The only known Plain Edge 1907 ten dollar coin with Wire Rim, designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens – and likely the only example of his coinage that he ever saw – is among the most historically important pieces in Heritage’s upcoming U.S. Coin auction. It will be offered on Aug. 11, as part of the Official Auction of the American Numismatic Association’s World’s Fair of Money in Boston, MA.

“At the turn of the 20th century, Augustus Saint-Gaudens was one of America’s most prominent artists,” said Greg Rohan, President of Heritage. “In 1905, during Theodore Roosevelt’s second term, Roosevelt convinced Saint-Gaudens to redesign the two largest American gold coins: the ten dollar, or eagle, and the twenty dollar, or double eagle. The results made Saint-Gaudens one of the most famous American coinage artists and secured his lasting fame.”

The coinage designs would be the artist’s final masterpieces. In July 1907, when Saint-Gaudens was going through the last stage of his terminal cancer, two early examples of the ten dollar coin were struck. The edges of these two coins were plain; later Wire Rim 1907 ten dollar coins have an edge design of 46 stars.

“The two Plain Edge coins were patterns, made to see how the coins looked,” said Rohan. “They were the coinage equivalent of an artist’s proof. After the two Plain Edge coins were struck at the Philadelphia Mint, they were split up.”

One was sent to Treasury Secretary George B. Cortelyou, who forwarded it to the President, while the other was sent to Saint-Gaudens at his studio in New Hampshire. This was the only time Saint-Gaudens would see his work in coin form. He died on August 3, 1907, before further work could be done on either denomination.

Archived letters show that the coin Roosevelt saw was eventually sent back to the Mint, while the Saint-Gaudens coin disappears from the record. This coin’s history is largely unknown, and it is impossible to say with certainty whether it was sent to Roosevelt or Saint-Gaudens, but it is a coin of tremendous importance regardless of the answer. Either it was sent to President Roosevelt, whose dedication to coinage redesign had been vital to the whole project; or it went to Saint-Gaudens, the artist who had spent more than two years bringing the President’s ambition to life. (more…)

The World’s Most Valuable Coin: Cardinal Foundation buys First 1794 Silver Dollar for $7.85 Million

The Neil/Carter/Contursi specimen 1794 Flowing Hair silver dollar has been sold for $7,850,000, setting a new record as the world’s most valuable rare coin. Graded PCGS Specimen-66, it is the finest known 1794 dollar and believed by several prominent experts to be the first silver dollar ever struck by the United States Mint.

It was sold by Steven L. Contursi, President of Rare Coin Wholesalers of Irvine, California, to the nonprofit Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation (CCEF) in Sunnyvale, California. Collector and numismatic researcher Martin Logies represented the foundation of which he is a director and its numismatic curator. The private sale was brokered by Greg Roberts, President and Chief Executive Officer of Spectrum Group International of Irvine, California.

“This is a national treasure, and I’ve proudly been its custodian since 2003,” said Contursi. “I never wanted to simply hide it in a vault because this coin is to our economy and international trade what the Declaration of Independence was to our country’s freedom: a significant piece of history and a national treasure.”

Contursi used his investment to publicly display the coin in a dozen cities around the country and at the American Numismatic Association’s headquarters museum. He had a custom-made, four foot tall wooden exhibit case constructed so it could easily be viewed, and he estimates that tens of thousands of people saw the coin in person the past six years.

“CCEF will seek to be a worthy successor custodian for such an important U.S. historical treasure,” said Logies. “I think it only fitting that the new world’s record coin price be accorded to the world’s finest 1794 dollar.”

Of all the rarities I have seen or heard of, there is no doubt in my mind that this is the single most important of all, the very first silver dollar.

Roberts, who brokered the sale, stated: “The Spectrum Group of companies were honored to be involved in the historic transaction that culminated in the transfer of this piece of American art into deserving hands.”

Previous owners included Col. E.H.R. Green, W.W. Neil and Amon Carter Senior and Junior. The 1984 Stack’s auction lot description in the Carter Collection sale stated, “It is perfectly conceivable that this coin was the very first 1794 Silver Dollar struck!” (more…)

Special ANA Educational Seminar on Augustus Saint-Gaudens Scheduled August 15-18 in New Hampshire

The educational event “Augustus Saint-Gaudens: The Renaissance of American Coinage” is being held August 15-18 at the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, Cornish, New Hampshire. The seminar is the American Numismatic Association’s inaugural “Destination Education” program, and offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study the life and work of Saint-Gaudens in the beautiful New Hampshire setting where he created his work and made his home.

No artist embodied the optimism of the American Renaissance movement more than sculptor and numismatic designer Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907). Students will spend three nights at the historic Juniper Hill Inn and attend four 3-hour sessions scheduled over two days to study his work and influence on American art and coinage.

“Augustus Saint-Gaudens: The Renaissance of American Coinage” is being held in conjunction with the American Numismatic Association’s 2010 World’s Fair of Money® in Boston. The cost is $1,595 per person and $2,390 per couple (one queen bed). The price is all-inclusive: tuition, gourmet meals, lodging and transportation are included.

This event is for members of the ANA or the American Numismatic Society. To register or for more information, call 719-482-9850 or visit www.worldsfairofmoney.com.

Some of the world’s top Saint-Gaudens scholars will be featured:

Dr. Henry J. Duffy, Curator, Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site

A Tour and Overview of the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site and Museum

Dr. Duffy will lead a museum tour of the site and present a lecture covering the historic Saint-Gaudens site, the artist’s life and his importance to American art history. Over 100 of Saint-Gaudens’ works can be seen in the galleries. (more…)

The Second US Mint at San Francisco: Part One

This is the first article in the series.

The “New Mint” – The “Granite Lady.”

The early history of Alta California included the establishment of a series of Missions by the Franciscan Monks, accompanied by Spanish soldiers from Mexico and, from the north, the fur trappers, including those from Russia. The population, at fi rst, was sparse. On September 16, 1848, there were only about 15,000 people in Alta California. However, this changed rapidly with the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill near Coloma by John Marshall on January 24, 1848. Soon, the “gold rush” began, led by the miners known as the “49ers.” Within two years, California was admitted to the Union as the 31st state in 1850.Workers inside the SF Mint

A desperate need for financial institutions soon followed. Some twenty private mints of various sizes and efficiency were established. On September 16, 1848, a newspaper, “The Californian” printed a resolution reciting this great need and asking for action.

The “action” was soon forthcoming. President Fillmore, in his first Message to Congress, December 2, 1850, recommended that a U.S. branch mint be established in California to meet the need there. The California State Legislature, meeting in Sacramento on April 9, 1852, approved a resolution asking that a mint be established in San Francisco. Congress authorized a U.S. branch mint in California and passed the Act of July 3, 1852 noting the facility would be located in San Francisco.

The minting of coins soon got underway. The new mint was located in a small, sixty square foot building located on Commercial St. However, it soon became apparent the facility was inadequate, even with modifications. The mint’s director remarked: “It is almost impossible to conceive how so much work can be well done, and so much business transacted safely in so small a space.”

The problem grew worse. With the discovery of the vast amount of silver from Nevada’s Comstock Lode, the huge influx of silver sealed the fate of the small facility on Commercial St. The plans to either find a new building or look for a new site and construct a facility commenced. On December 6, 1866 the “Daily Alta California” reported a recommendation to the Secretary of the Treasury by a person named Miller that “the Vara lot located at the corner of Mission and Fifth Sts., owned by Eugene Kelly, be purchased to house the new building.”

In his annual report for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1866, James Pollock, Director of the Mint, wrote: “I cannot too earnestly urge upon the Government the importance of erecting a new Mint building at San Francisco. The present building is not only wholly unfitted for the large and increasing business of the Branch Mint, but unsafe, and unworthy of the great mineral wealth of the Pacifi c States.”

A special telegraphic message to the “Daily Alta California” on Feb. 5, 1867, reported the purchase of this lot on Feb. 4th for $100,000 in coin. The plans were for a building 220 feet long by 166 feet wide, to cost $600,000. (more…)

1834-1844: A Decade of Great Change for U.S. Gold Coinage

The decade between 1834 and 1844 was the beginning of the modern era at the United States mint. The second half of this decade was especially interesting. A number of experiments and acts of legislation provided some of most attractive and popular issues in the history of American coinage.Classic Head Quarter Eagles

A combination of factors occurred in the early to mid 1830’s that led to these design changes and the introduction of new mints and new denominations. Large quantities of gold were discovered in North Georgia and western North Carolina in the early 1830’s. This led to the establishment, in 1834, of branch mints in Charlotte, New Orleans and Dahlonega. These mints opened in 1838 and by the end of the 1830’s, all three were producing gold coins.

First Steam Powered Coining Press Introduced in 1836An important technological advance was the introduction of the steam press in 1836. Coins were now able to be struck using a close collar which allowed for a thicker edge and a more precise diameter and sophisticated designs. It also meant that the quaint, “folk art” designs of John Reich were to be replaced with more modern, technologically savvy renderings.

Christian Gobrecht was named the new Mint Engraver in 1835, after the exodus of John Reich. Gobrecht was a talented artisan whose skill enabled the Mint to modernize its gold coinage. Beginning in 1838, he attempted to create a uniform Liberty Head design for all three of the current gold denominations. This design would remain, with minor changes, until 1907.

One of the first assignments that Gobrecht was given was to design a new gold dollar. A small number of experimental pieces were produced in gold (Judd-67) as well as in a gold alloy, silver and copper. Despite an attractive design, this experiment did not produce any immediate results and the gold dollar denomination was shelved until 1849.

As more and more gold was discovered in the south, the importance of the yellow metal in coinage increased. Conversely, large discoveries of silver in Mexico and South America meant that the price of gold bullion rose. The Classic Head quarter eagle was introduced in 1834 and it featured a design by William Kneass and John Reich. The weight of these quarter eagles was reduced to 258 grains (from 270) and the diameter was lessened from nineteen millimeters to 17.5. Most importantly, mintage figures rose dramatically. Between 1829 and 1834 around 25,000 quarter eagles were struck. In 1834 alone, over 112,000 of the new Classic Head pieces were produced.

Gobrecht’s experimentation with the Classic Head design began in 1835 when the head was made taller. In 1836, there are no less than three variations of the head: the original design of 1834, the taller head of 1835 (based on Kneass’ original design) and the head of 1837 (with the hair distant from the sixth star) which was actually executed by Gobrecht. (more…)

A Western Assayer of the Mark Twain Period – The Wiegand Silver Ingots

by Fred N. Holabird with permission from Monaco Rare Coins

Introduction

Conrad Wiegand was a boisterous man who was born in Philadelphia, worked for the US Mint, and came to the California Gold Rush in the early 1850’s. He went to work for the US Branch Mint in San Francisco at or near its inception in 1854.

Wiegand was small in stature, but big in ideas, and even stronger still in his opinions. He was a devoutly religious person who saw such injustice in the world that he undertook the publishing of his own newspaper—two of them, in fact. His other passion was the metals question, particularly his political stance generally held by most miners that money should be in the form of circulating hard specie—gold and silver coinage and ingots. Wiegand’s outspoken nature repeatedly got him into trouble, especially during his life on the Comstock. He was severely physically assaulted and beaten twice, which endeared him to the likes of Sam Clemens. As he advanced in age, his mental troubles worsened. Ultimately, his life ended in a hangman’s noose at the age of fifty in Virginia City.

A number of his precious metal ingots exist today as testimony of his work as a mainstream western assayer. These include nearly every phase of gold, silver and copper bullion in which Wiegand worked, as well as examples of items used to promote monetary specie.

Background

Conrad Wiegand shared with friends in Virginia City that he was born in Philadelphia in March, 1830. His father was John Wiegand, a one-time banker and later surgical instrument manufacturer. His brothers included a pharmacist (Thomas) and an inventor (George). The family lived in Philadelphia. Conrad, however, soon disappeared from the written historical record of Philadelphia and all American census data.

In an interview later in life, Wiegand said that he “entered the assay department of the Philadelphia Mint on $1 a day for wages.” Wiegand apparently trained for several years at the Philadelphia Mint, and mention was made that he worked in New York as well, probably for a private assaying firm.

Wiegand Appointed Assayer, Branch Mint, San Francisco, 1854

In 1854 he was appointed by President Pierce to the Branch Mint at San Francisco as Assayer. By his own admission, he returned to the east coast shortly after to run the New York New Boys Club, then left that job to study for the ministry. Unsuccessful with the Boys Club, he worked for a stint at the Brooklyn Naval Yard. President Abraham Lincoln subsequently appointed him as assayer to the Branch Mint in San Francisco once again. Working again in San Francisco, he soon published an opinionated pamphlet promoting the use of gold and silver as circulating specie.

As one of the original presidential appointees of President Pierce for the US Branch Mint at San Francisco when it opened in 1854, Wiegand held special status. Information on this early period is scant. By 1855 he held the position with the Branch Mint as Assayer, though this may be near the time that he returned to New York for a short while. While working there, his naturally boisterous and vociferous nature came to the forefront almost immediately, particularly when the Vigilance Committee was formed and action later taken. Wiegand gave a public speech, reported October 12, 1856 on the moral aspects of the Casey matter. He also published at least one article under the pseudonym William Carroll. (more…)

The Three Major Eras Of Modern Proof Sets

Certified 1936 US Mint Proof SetHaving criticized the generic term “The Mint” several times in the past few years for actions which were sometimes the fault of the Treasury Department or Congress or others, I thought it might be a good time for me to compliment the United States Mint proper for one of its generally successful numismatic programs, the Proof set.

Although many of the commemorative coin and medal programs dumped in the lap of the U. S. Mint by a greedy and/or indifferent Congress since 1936 have proven to be less than wonderful, whether in marketing or design or purpose, the regular design Proof sets offered as superior examples of the coiner’s art have generally been considered to be a credit to the Mints that have struck them. Though some of the post-1967 sets have declined in value since they were originally sold, this is generally not the fault of the Mint, but rather the fault of speculators who overbuy an issue in the hopes it will prove scarce and then dump it on the market if it does not.

The first of the three modern eras of Proof sets began in 1936, after a 20-year lapse allegedly caused by concern over the impending entry of the U.S. into World War I (which did not occur until April of 1917), but more likely brought on by collector dislike of the Matte Proof finishes used on certain coins of the 1908-1916 period and the technical difficulties involved in trying to “Proof,” or polish, the textured surfaces of the new 1916 silver coins.

I have no idea why the 1916 Barber Dime and Quarter were not struck in brilliant Proof even if there were no plans to strike a 1916 Barber Half, but as sales of the silver Proof sets had fallen drastically in previous years (380 in 1914 and 450 in 1915) it may have been thought that they just weren’t worth the bother. The classical Proof set era begun with a bang in 1858 ended with a whimper in 1916 with only the Matte Proof Cent and Five Cents being offered to collectors, no regular issue gold coins being struck in Philadelphia in 1916 and hence no Proofs.

Once the decision was made to stop making Proofs, bureaucratic inertia saw to it that the same policy was observed in the next year, and the next, etc. I have never seen a good reason given as to why the production of Proof coins was resumed in 1936, but it is possible that the commemorative coin frenzy which reached its peak in that year inspired the Mint to imitate the Post Office, which since 1934 had been making a tidy sum selling specially prepared souvenir sheets of otherwise regular design stamps to collectors. (more…)

1834-1844: A Decade of Great Change for U.S. Gold Coinage

By Doug Winter – RareGoldCoins.com

The decade between 1834 and 1844 was the beginning of the modern era at the United States mint. The second half of this decade was especially interesting. A number of experiments and acts of legislation provided some of most attractive and popular issues in the history of American coinage.Classic Head Quarter Eagles

A combination of factors occurred in the early to mid 1830’s that led to these design changes and the introduction of new mints and new denominations. Large quantities of gold were discovered in North Georgia and western North Carolina in the early 1830’s. This led to the establishment, in 1834, of branch mints in Charlotte, New Orleans and Dahlonega. These mints opened in 1838 and by the end of the 1830’s, all three were producing gold coins.

First Steam Powered Coining Press Introduced in 1836An important technological advance was the introduction of the steam press in 1836. Coins were now able to be struck using a close collar which allowed for a thicker edge and a more precise diameter and sophisticated designs. It also meant that the quaint, “folk art” designs of John Reich were to be replaced with more modern, technologically savvy renderings.

Christian Gobrecht was named the new Mint Engraver in 1835, after the exodus of John Reich. Gobrecht was a talented artisan whose skill enabled the Mint to modernize its gold coinage. Beginning in 1838, he attempted to create a uniform Liberty Head design for all three of the current gold denominations. This design would remain, with minor changes, until 1907.

One of the first assignments that Gobrecht was given was to design a new gold dollar. A small number of experimental pieces were produced in gold (Judd-67) as well as in a gold alloy, silver and copper. Despite an attractive design, this experiment did not produce any immediate results and the gold dollar denomination was shelved until 1849.

As more and more gold was discovered in the south, the importance of the yellow metal in coinage increased. Conversely, large discoveries of silver in Mexico and South America meant that the price of gold bullion rose. The Classic Head quarter eagle was introduced in 1834 and it featured a design by William Kneass and John Reich. The weight of these quarter eagles was reduced to 258 grains (from 270) and the diameter was lessened from nineteen millimeters to 17.5. Most importantly, mintage figures rose dramatically. Between 1829 and 1834 around 25,000 quarter eagles were struck. In 1834 alone, over 112,000 of the new Classic Head pieces were produced. (more…)