Stranger than fiction

Hobby facts you may not know
Published : 04/19/11
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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 strike coins.

➤ 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,, or at Q. David Bowers, LLC, Box 1804, Wolfeboro, NH 03894.

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