US Coins

Distinguished numismatic ghosts pop in spare mind seance

In my spare mind I conduct séances. You know, when you bring back the spirit of a dead person, talk to them a while and then shoo them back into the afterlife.

I was summoning my grandfather, when I started daydreaming about coins (no big surprise, according to my wife) and who do you suppose popped in? None other than David Rittenhouse, John Reich, Christian Gobrecht, Charles Barber, Victor David Brenner, Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Felix Schlag. Though their deaths conspired to make them look a bit motley, this may be the largest and most distinguished numismatic crew ever assembled! Dead or alive!

I had to pull up an extra chair! (I know, I know, why do ghosts need chairs? I asked Elvis that very question once and he said, “I dunno, we juss likem’, thank-ya-vera-mush.”)

They stared at each other without speaking. I envisioned a ghostly brawl, but as paranormals go, they were surprisingly cordial.

Rittenhouse finally spoke: “Say there, what brings thee gathering? Who are thee?”

Me: “Mr. Rittenhouse sir, I’m so pleased to meet you. My name is Jeff; I am from the 21st century. I accidentally summoned you here because I was thinking about coins.”

Rittenhouse: “21st century? I knew it! I invented ye time travelers mechanism! I did it!”

Me: “Well, not really sir. This is a séance — you are dead, a poltergeist in fact.”

Rittenhouse: “Oh, blast!”

Me: “I do have a question for you, sir, about the Mint: Did Mr. and Mrs. Washington donate their silver tea set so the Mint could produce the first coinage?”

Rittenhouse: “Ye Mint! A ramshackle operation! Tea set? Preposterous! Thou used melted musket balls for those silly half dismes!”

Brenner, Barber, and Saint-Gaudens began to engage in conversation.

Brenner: “Clearly my beard is far superior to either of yours.”

Saint-Gaudens: “Indeed, your beard is full and well formed, quite unlike what you did to Mr. Lincoln.”

Barber: Ha ha, good one, Augie.”

Saint-Gaudens: “Don’t call me Augie, you simpleton. I am Augustus!”

Barber: “Sure, Augustus Saint-Pompous!”

Saint-Gaudens: “Yes I am pompous, as pompous as the day is long. It’s my talent that supports my pomposity. You sir, are not pompous because you haven’t any talent. Indeed, you are a sculptural art butcher!”

Barber: “First of all, your name is Augustus but you aren’t actually Caesar Augustus! Secondly, this isn’t ancient Rome; it’s the 20th century!

(I peeped in to mention it is actually 2011, but was promptly waved off.)

Barber continued: “We’ve got to get coins out into commerce. Industry needs them; people have to actually spend them. Your high relief slugs are totally impractical in the modern world, pompous boy!”

Saint-Gaudens: “You pedestrian oaf! You flattened my beautiful art like a pancake! Yes, I am pompous; it becomes me!”

Barber turned to John Reich: “Hey old-timer, how’s your plump mistress?”

Brenner and Saint-Gaudens: “Ha ha, good one, butcher boy.”

Reich: “Once and for all, I tell you, my engraved interpretation of Miss Liberty is not my plump mistress! I hardly knew her. Besides, I only kissed her once, and calling her my mistress is an unseemly connotation. Also, referring to her as plump is overstated. She was bodacious, yes, and rather buxom, but let me remind you that these were optimal traits of the female physique in my day. Now you must desist regurgitating that libelous mischaracterization!”

Me: Um, Mr. Gobrecht, I have a question for you: On your Seated Liberty design, how come she has such manly pipes?”

Gobrecht: “Pipes? What is this pipes?”

Me: “I’m sorry; it’s a 21st century term referring to muscular arms.

Gobrecht: “My mother had, what you call, pipes! She cradled Christian with her pipes!”

Brenner to Schlag: “Have you seen my beard? Is it not splendid?”

Schlag: “I hadn’t noticed, but I commend you for setting the trend of president heads on our coins.”

Brenner: “My pleasure, sir — you may now feel my beard.”

The conversation continued for hours. It was fun when the 1883 Liberty, No cents 5-cent coin was mentioned. Then my grandpa finally popped in, so I asked the coin ghosts to hit the haunted highway.

Jeff Reichenberger, of Wisconsin, collects U.S. coins, ancient coins, medals, paper money and numismatic literature. He enjoys history, research and writing. His “Low Relief” column is dedicated to low-stress discussions of insignificant numismatic subjects, written from the angle of a “regular guy.” Comments are welcomed at

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