Originalist (Breen) Theory
1) Obverse/Reverse orientation tells restrikes from originals
2) All pieces in Die Alignment I (obv/rev in normal coin turn) with eagle flying up at an angle are originals. Pieces in DA II – 1836 dies, medal turn, struck in 1837 on 412.5 grain planchets are also originals.
3) All coins in DA III (coin turn) and IV (medal turn) with eagle flying flat are restrikes regardless of date.
Originalist Theory Has Serious Problems
First, how do you enforce this? There is no letter from then Mint Director Patterson, or any other Mint or Treasury official, stating that all Gobrecht Dollar restrikes must be struck in an “eagle flat” alignment. What prevents an enterprising future Mint Director from striking “originals”? Did Patterson, Snowden, or whomever threaten to come back beat them up, or what? While I’m being a bit facetious here, once you think about it, the Originalist proposition does become rather absurd.
Second, it’s circular reasoning: a thing cannot prove itself. You cannot say that since pieces exist in odd alignments that proves that the Mint was trying to identify them since the pieces are in odd alignments. This is the same logic that the old myths used – The sky is blue because the Earth is covered by a giant glass globe, and we know this because otherwise the winds would blow the air away, and that’s why the sky is blue.
The theory cannot explain the large numbers of 1836 Name On Base and 1839 Name Removed pieces in DA IV.
Analysis of the historical records and features on the dies DOES NOT support the theory.
Finally, and most critically, the emission sequence for the 1836 Name On Base pieces DOES NOT support this theory. In fact, as we’ll shortly see, it directly contradicts it!
These last three points are particularly important. Myths, like the glass globe, stay in place until someone comes up with data that the myth cannot explain. As we’ll see, that data now exists.
So What Really Happened?
The “DTS” (Dannreuther, Teichman, Sholley) Theory
The DTS Theory is a modification of the “Revisionist Theory” first proposed by Mike Carboneau and James Gray (and subsequently revised a few times by Dannreuther and Teichman as more data became available).
The DTS Theory is so significantly different than previous Revisionist proposals we’ve given it a new title for clarity.
We refer to the DTS Theory as “The True History of the Gobrecht Dollars” since it takes into account the historical records, discrete die sinking evidence, and the emission sequence.
Today we’ll just be hitting the “high points” due to time constraints. We will be publishing fully in The Numismatist in the near future.
As we’ll see, the die sinking evidence fits, the emission sequences fit, and the historical records fit. This is The True History of the Gobrecht Dollars.
1836 Name Below Base
The 1836 NBB was the first die created. How do we know? Die evidence.
The date on the NBB is “punch-linked” to the 1836 Name On Base and 1838 and 39 dies. Date and numeral punches did wear or break and were replaced rather frequently. The punch-linking thus strongly suggests the 36 NBB was sunk circa 1836.
Finally, the NBB obverse is the only die showing full detail in the central portion of the rocky base. Once the Name On Base die is created by punching the name into the hub, this detail is obliterated. The 1838 and 39 dies were then created by engraving the name off the hub, thus leaving the base slightly concave. (1838’s are far more concave than 39’s indicating some touch-up on the 1839 die.)
There are no known 1836 NBB “originals”. How do we know? Historical records and data from the coins themselves.
The NBB first appeared in Edward Cogan’s 1859 sale of J.N.T Levick’s collection, where it didn’t even sell! (Both Levick and Cogan were “influential persons” and the Mint was known to trade with and restrike for such persons.)
No NBB traces to the Mint Cabinet Collection and this piece is not listed in Snowden.
Only two Starry Reverse dies are known. The first, Reverse A, used on 1836 Name On Base originals, starts out perfect and rapidly becomes nicked and scratched. Reverse B, called the Cracked Reverse, is always seen with a crack thru "NITED STATES O” and "OLLA" in "DOLLAR". Later states show polishing around A in STATES.
All NBB pieces use the cracked reverse, some in the earliest state, but others in later states and these pieces are die state intermingled with the 1836 Name On Base Die Alignment III restrikes.
All NBB pieces are in alignment IV or III – alignment IV is not seen until late 1836 on the Name On Base pieces and III does not occur until much later (1860s or 1870s).
Last, we do have some weight data, and so far all pieces weigh 412.9 grains or less thus indicating they were struck after the weight and alloy change on Jan 1, 1837.
So, what happened
Punch-linking and the detail in the rocky base show that the 1836 NBB was created in 1836.
Gobrecht added his name, likely at the behest of Patterson to follow the French style.
Mint officials including Director Patterson (and possibly Treasury Secretary Levi Woodbury) took a look at the die, or perhaps a splasher or struck sample, and their reaction was something on the order of “OH MY GOD, NO! They’ll crucify us.” The die was then put away and never used in production.
Still wishing to introduce new styles to U.S. coinage, Patterson then has Gobrecht add his name to a new die, but this time less obtrusively on the rocky base.
In the late 1850s, coin dealers Cogan and Levick convinced then Mint Director Snowden to restrike the piece, probably in trade, as Snowden directly states in his 1860 “Mint Manual” that he did exactly this.
The 1836 Name On Base
The Name On Base obverse and the Starry Reverse A are the sole production dies for 1836.
Records show two separate deliveries at the end of December 1836. 400 were retained by Mint for distribution to the public and 600 for distribution to commerce via the Bank of the United States.
There is some question as to whether this is actually two separate deliveries at different times or simply an accounting mechanism. Looking at deliveries of half dollars (and other coinage) which do occur several times in any given month, the latter is more likely.
Originalists maintain that only Die Alignment I and II coins are originals. DA I being “normal” coin turn so that the eagle is flying upward at an angle when the coin is turned over bottom to top, and DA II being medal turn when the coin is turned side to side.
There is a very significant problem with this view.
Both the obverse and especially the reverse develop a number of defects, or markers, during striking. And, these defects develop in a very specific order,
The defects include, in their order of occurrence:
1. Die chips in the dentils above the last A in AMERICA
2. Two rim nicks at T in STATES
3. A clash line over the eagle’s wing on the reverse and concurrent repair of the drapery on the obverse
4. A rim nick at A in STATES
5. A die chip in the dentils above R in AMERICA
6. A rim nick near R in AMERICA
7. Die scratch through O in ONE
8. Die scratch below D in DOLLAR
9. A rim nick over the last A in AMERICA
10. A rim nick over U in UNITED
These markers allow us to die state the extant pieces and develop an emission sequence. If the Originalist Theory is true, then the die state should progress clearly from DA I to II and finally to IV and III. Further, the II, IV, and III pieces should all be 412.5 grains since they were struck after the weight and alloy standard change on Jan 1, 1837. However, this is not what is seen.
In fact, what we see is the emission sequence going from DA I to IV then to II, back to IV, then back to I, and finally ending at IV.
Most interestingly is that the nicks progress around the rim as the dies are rotated into these various alignments.
And here’s a spreadsheet to illustrate this shifting, along with weights of the coins
1836 Name On Base – The Real Story
So, what really happened is not some undocumented, secret method to identify originals from restrikes, but rather the Mint was having problems striking dollars for the first time in 32 years. Either they did not properly design the feed fingers or they tried to use the ones for the half dollars, and the fingers were slamming into the reverse die.
Eckfeldt, Peale, et al, deliberately rotated the dies and adjusted the feed mechanism in an effort to figure out what was causing the problem leading to both the various orientations and the nicks progressing around the reverse die.
All Die Alignment I, II and IV pieces struck using Reverse A (“the Nicked Reverse”) are originals struck in December of 1836.
There are a very limited number of 1836 Name On Base restrikes in alignment III, but they are all struck with Reverse B (the “Cracked Reverse”) and the repaired obverse.
As to these DA III pieces, there is an interesting bit of numismatic lore. William Idler had 36’s restruck and he claimed he could tell which ones were his. Numismatists have looked for years for some kind of tell-tale mark but could not find one. The late appearance of the DA III pieces strongly suggests that this was Idler’s tell.
The 1837 Gobrecht Dollars
The Mint records show that 600 pieces were struck and delivered in March 1837. However, these do not appear in the Mint Report for that year.
The original Breen theory held that the medal turn DA II pieces were this issue and that the alignment was changed to medal turn for identification purposes.
Based on a November 21, 1840 Niles Register article stating that “Three years ago a new die was got up [i.e., 1837], the coins from which looked so bad that it was broken up”, R.W. Julian has since revised this part of the theory to say that the March 1837 coins were a test run on the new steam press which were subsequently scrapped (along with the dies) and that all extant DA II pieces are proofs struck on the screw press for collectors.
There are two very significant and fatal flaws with this new explanation:
1. The emission sequence clearly shows this view is completely wrong.
2. Mint records show that the dollar steam press did not arrive until June of 1837.
We do agree that the March 1837 striking was a test. However, it was a test to figure out what was going wrong with the screw press in case the Mint had to strike more dollars before the dollar steam press arrived.
We also agree that these pieces were melted, as we cannot identify any coin which would even hint at being from this striking.
We also agree that the Niles Register article was correct about a die being destroyed as the “Nicked Reverse” is never seen after the latest die state in the emission sequence. All later coins use Reverse B, the “Cracked Reverse”.
Despite the fact that there are no extant pieces from the March 1837 striking, there is one surviving coin that both die evidence and Mint records clearly show was struck in 1837. It just most likely wasn’t struck in March.
On Jan 8, 1837 Franklin Peale wrote an internal memorandum to Mint Director Robert Patterson noting, among other things, that the new dollar had received much criticism for looking too medallic. Peale stated that he felt this was due to the plain edge and suggested striking with a segmented lettered-edge collar like he had seen in France.
Now, we don’t have a lettered-edge Gobrecht Dollar, but we do have an 1836 Name On Base, Starry Reverse A coin in the latest die state known… with a REEDED EDGE.
This unique piece is known by it’s pattern designation of J61 and was previously thought to be a fantasy piece from the 1860s or 1870s. However, the above letter, additional Mint records, and the die state say otherwise
The 1837 Name On Base Reeded Edge J61 Pattern
So now we have a coin that meets the intent of the Peale letter in that it does not have a plain edge and it’s in the correct die state, with a brand new and fresh collar (yes, the collars can be die stated).
But that’s not the end. We also have a rather curious set of letters between Patterson and his direct boss, Treasury Secretary Levi Woodbury in July of 1838.
Woodbury writes Patterson asking for 50 more samples of the new dollar. Patterson replies that all he has on hand are ones from the December 1836 striking so he’s sending those.
Numismatists have known about these letters at least 60 years and no one has questioned the rather odd wording of Patterson’s reply.
WHY WOULD YOU SAY YOU ONLY HAVE DECEMBER 1836 COINS UNLESS YOU SENT SOMETHING ELSE THAT WAS VERY SIMILAR IN THE MEAN TIME?
Prior to the discovery that the March 1837 striking turned out so poorly the coins were subsequently melted, it could have been suggested that Patterson had sent some of those. But that doesn’t fit anymore.
Another possibility is that Patterson had sent the new 1838 No Name Starless Reverse design. But would you really send the earlier 1836 design to your boss and have him explain that the revised design looks the same as these except we removed the name on the base… and we removed the stars from the reverse… and we put them on the obverse… and it has a reeded edge?
The fact is that the only coin meeting Peale‘s letter, the rather oddly worded Patterson-Woodbury letter, and the emission sequence is J61. The Name On Base/Reeded Edge J61 Pattern was an attempt to rescue the original design which was receiving a lot of criticism. Sadly, it didn’t work.
The 1838 and 1839 Gobrecht Dollars
The 1838 No Name Starless Reverse pattern was a last ditch attempt to rescue the overall design.
Originals were all struck as proofs in DA IV - evidence on later state 1836 Name On Base pieces shows that the I-II reverse die cup was distorting so the Mint simply used the alignment IV cup thereafter.
1839s were struck in late December 1839, likely as a business strike test on the steam press in preparation for the new Seated Liberty design stuck in January of 1840 (this is strongly suggested by the fact that the new Liberty Seated design had been accepted and the new dies already prepared, thus there was no other reason to strike the obsolete “flying eagle” design). Despite the fact that there is no delivery record, the mintage figure of 300 does appear in the Mint Report for 1839. Originals are in DA IV, with restrikes in DA III.
Originalists claim that all 1838 and 1839 are restrikes simply because they are not in alignment I.
However, several interesting facts show that these pieces are originals:
First, the 1838 and 1839 the pieces from the Mint Cabinet Collection (now in the Smithsonian) are in DA IV from perfect-state dies (weighing 412.8 and 412.9 grains, respectively). No other restrikes trace to the Mint Cabinet.
Snowden lists both the 38 and 39 in his book as patterns. In fact, Snowden states that the reason he calls the 39 a pattern is that although these pieces are listed in the Mint report for 39, he cannot find a delivery record. So, Snowden is revealing all he knows and the fact that he is confused by the lack of a delivery record. (By the way, according to the governing laws, the official record of what was issued during the year was the Mint report. The delivery warrant was merely an internal accounting slip.)
Snowden also notes that the 39 is scarce but not as scarce as the 38. This is a curious statement. How does he know this? Well, he is the Mint Director and thus has access to the Mint records. Further, he is trading coins to two of the biggest dealers of the day: Cogan and Levick. All he has to do is ask. And since he is restriking to trade, he would certainly ask about demand.
Price history supports the 39s being originals. In the 1851 Roper sale, the 39 sells for almost twice the 1836, and less than half the price of the 38. So, knowledgeable collectors of the day knew they were real.
Lastly, at around 100 pieces, there are far too many extant DA IV 1839s to claim they are restrikes.
Restrikes from this period number from 2 or 3 to a couple dozen, including far more rare and valuable pieces such as the Proof Seated Dollars of the early 1850s.
A Final Surprise
Despite the fact that all Gobrechts are called proofs, very few ORIGINALS are truly proofs.
For the 1836 Name On Base Plain Edge (J60) there is only one true proof: the Korein 47 coin now in the ANS.
All other J60s currently known to us are proof-likes similar to the typical 1880-S DMPL and PL coins. The fields are not full mirror, there is planchet luster around the devices (particularly within the letters and dentils), and the letters and numerals are not “squared-off” with straight sharp sides as on proofs.
The J60s were likely stuck from burnished but not polished planchets as with true proofs. And the fact that they were struck as business strikes on the screw press with a feed mechanism rather than in proof mode shows there was no intention to make proofs.
The unique 1836 Name On Base Reeded Edge (J61) pattern is a proof.
All 1838s in both DA IV (original and restrike) and DA III (restrike) are proofs.
All 1839 DA IV originals are not even close to proof as they exhibit a satiny luster with no proof features. They may have been struck on burnished planchets.
Non-proof Gobrechts should properly be termed Specimen. That is what they were – specimen strikes for the purpose of reintroducing the dollar.