Last week I mentioned an exchange I had with collector Ray Williams
about information received unsolicited on the Internet, including a
list of facts that are stranger than fiction.
Ray suggested that I should write a column or two about weird
facts in numismatics. A nod goes to the late Walter Breen, who
published many in his time, sometimes prefacing a comment with “Just
as a guinea pig is not from Guinea, nor is it a pig,” this or that
coin is odd.
So here goes:
➤ In New York City and other eastern metropolises, in 1851 no
Seated Liberty coins were in circulation at all, although a couple of
years earlier they had been common. Instead, Spanish-American silver
coins were everywhere. In 1861, lots of Seated Liberty coins
circulated, but none from Spanish America. In 1871, no silver coins at
all were in commerce. In 1881 there were lots of them.
➤ In 1862 the Treasury Department decreed that ordinary postage
stamps could be used as money.
➤ In 1961 the rarest of all Morgan silver dollars in Mint State
was considered to be the 1903-O coin. Most hobbyists had never seen
one. Today it is abundant.
➤ The Republic of Vermont was not a state in the Union in 1785
when it issued its own coins. Accordingly, a collection of coins from
different countries would need a Vermont copper to be complete.
➤ No one knows the identities of the various women whose images
appear on early American coins.
➤ 1794-dated Flowing Hair half dimes were first made in 1795, and
1804-dated Draped Bust dollars were first struck in 1834.
➤ In the 1860s Treasury Department constructed a Mint at The
Dalles, an Oregon town on the Columbia River, but never used it to
➤ When the “mini-dollar” was proposed, Chief Engraver Frank
Gasparro prepared and recommended a Liberty Cap, Flying Eagle design,
a tribute to early American numismatics. “Political correctness”
intervened, and Congress mandated that Susan B. Anthony be used.
➤ The contest-winning reverse of the 1776-1976 Bicentennial half
dollar seems to be a copy of the design used on the reverse of the
1926 Sesquicentennial gold $2.50 quarter eagle.
➤ For the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, 1,500
round-format gold $50 coins were minted, to be sold at $100 each. They
were not popular at all, and only 483 were sold. Read this and weep.
Today a nice example sells for more than $100,000.
Q. David Bowers is chairman emeritus of Stack’s Bowers Galleries
and numismatic director of Whitman Publishing LLC. He can be reached
at his private email, email@example.com,
or at Q. David Bowers, LLC, Box 1804, Wolfeboro, NH 03894.