Restrikes might not be ‘originals,’ but collectors love these oddities anyway

Four coins in January Heritage auction have interesting backgrounds
By , Coin World
Published : 12/09/16
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Restrikes are the oddities of rare coins. They are not originals and yet many restrikes are as avidly collected as the real thing. In some cases, “restrikes” exist of coins for which no “originals” exist.

The upcoming sales Heritage Auctions has scheduled in conjunction with the Florida United Numismatists convention in Fort Lauderdale, in early January, features a number of restrikes, each with its own fascinating story.

Technically, a “restrike” is a coin (or medal or token) struck from original dies but at a later date. As Richard G. Doty writes in his 1982 The Macmillan Encyclopedic Dictionary of Numismatics, government mints create restrikes for a range of reasons: to dispose of excess bullion, such as Mexican gold 50-peso coins; for sale to collectors, as with various U.S. patterns; or unofficially, to supplement the income of a mint employee using government resources. And then there are private restrikes, struck by nongovernment entities to fill collector demand.

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Here are four pieces from Heritage’s January FUN auction that illustrate several of these categories of restrikes.

Fugio cents

The first circulating coin issued by the United States government was the 1787 Fugio copper or cent, authorized under the authority of the Articles of Confederation, before the establishment of the Constitution and the federal Mint.

The name “Fugio cent” is derived from the Latin inscription on the coin, translating to “I fly,” which, when used as part of the sundial design device on the obverse of the coin, is considered a reference to the passage of time (time flies). The reverse shows 13 interlocking rings representing the original colonies and states. The designs are similar to those on the 1776 Continental dollar, which are attributed to Benjamin Franklin.

Since Congress authorized the federal copper cents (under the Articles of Confederation, the individual states also had authority to strike coins) but lacked a federal mint, the task of striking the Fugio cents was contracted out to businessman James Jarvis, who was already striking copper cents for Connecticut. However, Jarvis had trouble meeting the requirements of the contract; the pieces did not meet the federal standards for weight; and when quantities were finally released into circulation, the timing was such that they circulated alongside severely underweight counterfeit British coins and other fakes, and thus were rejected like these other copper pieces.

Today, 1787 Fugio cents are highly prized for their status as the first official U.S. coin, and they are available in sizeable numbers with many in high condition since large numbers never circulated.

The popularity of the Fugio cents, even with the first collectors of U.S. coins, helped lead to what are called New Haven restrikes of the issue. 

As the Heritage cataloger writes, “Thin rings identify the so-called New Haven Restrike, which wasn’t made in New Haven and isn’t a restrike, since a strict numismatic interpretation of ‘restrike’ requires the original dies. Nonetheless, the variety has been collected consistently since the 1860s.”

The so-called New Haven restrikes are attributed to Horatio N. Rust, who in 1859 used re-creation dies to strike pieces in gold (two known), silver and copper or brass. The designs, while faithful in concept to the originals, clearly differ in the details. Rust attempted to sell these as being restruck from the original dies, claiming that teenager C. Wyllys Betts (future author of a major work on early American medals) was on the site in New Haven, Conn., where the original Fugios were struck. The origin story, of course, was a lie.

Despite these being unofficial copies rather than restrikes from the original dies, the New Haven restrikes are popular with collectors today. The example in the Heritage auction is one of the copper pieces, graded Mint State 65 by Professional Coin Grading Service. Heritage describes it as “a meticulously struck and gorgeously preserved Gem of this popular 19th century copy. Chocolate-brown overall with glimpses of mint red in protected areas,” with 11 more in PCGS MS-65 and three in finer condition. The coin in the auction sold for $2,530 in a January 2009 Heritage auction.

A restrike, no originals

Some patterns are true experi­mental pieces, struck to test new designs and compositions, and for some of these, both original pieces and later restrikes exist, the latter issued for the collector market. However, the entire pattern series is full of pieces that were likely struck only for collector sales as opposed to being struck to test new potential coin designs. 

This next piece might fall into that collector sales purpose category. While it is an official issue of the United States Mint and is generally considered a pattern restrike, numismatists have never been able to conclusively identify an original strike (a piece from the year it is dated) of the design, according to Heritage. 

The piece is an 1838 Liberty Head half dollar pattern in silver, cataloged as Judd 73 and Pollock 77 in the standard references on patterns by J. Hewitt Judd and Andrew Pollock. 

Heritage describes it: “On the obverse, Liberty faces left and wears a diadem and a ribbon inscribed LIBERTY. 13 stars and the date fill the periphery. On the reverse, an eagle flies level in a plain field with the statutory legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA around, and the denomination HALF DOLLAR below.”

The piece is shrouded in mystery. Both William Kneass and Christian Gobrecht are cited as the potential designers, with the reverse being a version of Gobrecht’s Flying Eagle design found on the silver dollar circulation and pattern strikes of 1836 to 1839.

An even deeper mystery exists, as Heritage writes: “The Judd-73 patterns surely are among the most confusing issues in the entire pattern series. It appears that all are restrikes. The only question is when a particular coin was produced. Occasional mention has been made of original strikes, but such a piece does not appear to exist; to date, every coin examined shows die cracks on the reverse. The Mint Cabinet (Smithsonian) does not have an example of this pattern in any state. The earliest state known is the same as seen on this piece: a die break from AM in AMERICA to the eagle, a second from AR in DOLLAR to the eagle, and a partial crack from the eagle toward the A in HALF. This last crack is only partially present and key to dating this half dollar to the early 1840s.”

Since individual dies used for patterns (originals and restrikes alike) were often used with multiple other dies to create different varieties, numismatists can use die state evidence in an effort to determine when a particular die marriage was struck. Die cracks are among the evidence used, since the lack of a die crack or its increasing severity can be charted to show how a die changed over time.

The example in the auction is graded Proof 66 by PCGS and it bears a green sticker from Certified Acceptance Corp. “This is one of the finest examples known of this early-striking period half dollar,” Heritage writes. “Only one other piece has been so graded by PCGS and one is finer, an NGC-certified coin (11/16). The fields are deeply mirrored and flash strongly through the cobalt-blue and deep rose toning seen on each side. No obvious flaws or contact marks are apparent.”

Half cent second restrike

This next piece, an 1844 Coronet half cent, is not only a restrike, but is considered a “second restrike.” 

By the mid-1830s, the Phila­delphia Mint’s vaults were filled with 1834 and 1835 half cents (totaling more than a half million pieces) that were little needed in circulation. The Mint stopped striking the denomination for circulation, a hiatus that would last from 1836 to 1849. Nonetheless, a new Coronet Head portrait was created in 1839 to replace the existing Classic Head portrait. Starting in 1840, when the Mint began selling Proof sets, the Mint struck Proof Coronet half cents every year starting in 1840. While a new obverse die was made every year, the same reverse die was used every year from 1840 until the late 1840s, with new dies used later. These pieces with the first reverse die, since they were struck in the years they were dated, would be considered originals.

Beginning circa 1858 and 1859, the interest in coin collecting exploded, and Mint officials began expanding sales of Proof coins and sets, and also began restriking early issues. The restrikes of half cents were generally struck from each year’s original obverse die and one or two additional reverse dies. The combination of obverse die and reverse die determines whether a piece is considered an original, a first restrike or a second restrike. 

For the 1844 Coronet half cents, the original would have been struck in 1844, with a first restrike produced circa 1856 to 1857 (from a second reverse die). A second restrike (from a third reverse die) was struck sometime later.

The 1844 half cent in the auction, struck in 1858 or later, is graded Proof 64 brown PCGS Secure, with a grade of Proof 63 under the standards used by the club Early American Coppers (EAC uses different standards than the market grading standards used by most third-party grading services). As described by Heritage, “This desirable proof is sharply detailed with olive and pale orange surfaces. The fields are moderately mirrored.”

Scott restrike

The final piece is another private issue, but of a coin struck by a rebellious government in an occupied federal Mint — the Scott restrike of the 1861 Confederate half dollar.

When the Southern states seceded following the election of Abraham Lincoln as president in 1860, three Branch Mints fell under state control and then under Confederate control — Dahlonega, Ga.; Charlotte, N.C.; and New Orleans, La. The Confederate government’s economy did not support sustaining minting operations at the three facilities, and each was closed in 1861, though not before small quantities of coins were struck after they left federal control.

The Confederate government had ambitions, however, to issue a national coinage, and to that effect, four experimental half dollars were struck at the New Orleans Mint in 1861. The obverse of each bears a distinct Confederate design while the reverse is actually an 1861 Seated Liberty half dollar obverse (for the purposes of this coin, the Seated Liberty side is generally considered the reverse).

The existence of the 1861 Confederate half dollar was not known to the collector community until 1879, when the first published reports surfaced, attributed to Benjamin F. Taylor, the New Orleans Mint chief coiner. Taylor had, not only one of the four Confederate half dollars, but also the Confederate die, both of which he sold to dealer Ebenezer Locke Mason. In turn, coin and stamp dealer John Walter Scott purchased Taylor’s coin and the die from Mason.

Scott knew the benefits of good publicity and recognized the strong collector appetite for unusual coins. He decided to restrike the Confederate half dollar, using the original die and 500 genuine 1861 Seated Liberty half dollars. Scott had the reverses of the half dollars planed away and used the Confederate die to produce the 500 private restrikes. He also used the Confederate die to make store cards, matching it with a new die outlining the history of the original coin and also promoting his firm.

The Heritage auction offers several Scott re­strikes of the 1861 Confederate half dollar, in­cluding one PCGS graded About Uncirculated 53.

As Heritage write, the action of planing away the reverse of the host 1861 half dollar for the restrike “somewhat flattened the dated side, as seen on the present restrike,” adding about the offered example, “The Confederate side is toned golden-brown and shows light wear. The dated side has rich aquamarine patina and a few thin marks made by a curious finder.”

While the Scott restrikes typically sell for thousands of dollars, they are more affordable than the originals. Of the four original Confederate half dollars, today two are in institutional collections and two are in private collections, both of which made their first auction appearances only in the 21st century, each registering six-figure prices.

The Confederate die, incidentally, disappeared from public view in the 1920s and its current whereabouts are unknown.

Additional restrikes of various other coins appear in the FUN auction. Go here for more details. 

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