US Coins

Monday Morning Brief for Aug. 14, 2023: First of its kind

The "fist" Morgan dollar ever struck was presented to President Rutherford B. Hayes it 1878. It survives today at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library and Museum in Fremont, Ohio.

Screenshot from Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library and Museum.

Rarely do we know the identity of the first of a particular coin to be struck. Thanks to historical documentation, however, we do know about the first Morgan dollar struck. No, not any of the 2023-P Morgan or Peace dollars — the first Morgan dollar struck for circulation, produced on March 12, 1878.

Mint records and contemporary news accounts report that at 3:17 p.m. on March 12, 1878, Philadelphia Mint foreman Albert Downing placed a planchet into the receiving tube of a press. Standing nearby were Superintendent James Pollock, future superintendent Oliver C. Bosbyshell, and George T. Morgan, assistant engraver and designer of the coin being struck.

The first coin was struck and removed from the press, then a second one was struck. According to the March 13, 1878, The Cincinnati Commercial newspaper, the first piece was “blurred and deformed,” counted as the “veto coin.” The second piece, or the “first piece” after the rejected initial strike, “goes to President Hayes.” (One news account suggest that a half dozen spoiled examples were struck before press adjustments were made to ensure the striking of  pristine presentation coins.)

President Rutherford B. Hayes, Republican from Ohio, had been declared the winner in the controversial and hotly debated presidential election of 1876, defeating (barely) Samuel J. Tilden (whose last name is my middle name).

The first presentation coin went to Hayes at the White House, with the second going to Treasury Secretary John Sherman and the third coin to Mint Director Henry Linderman.

Amazingly, the Hayes presentation still exist, in the Rutherford B. Hayes Museum in Fremont, Ohio. It is accompanied by a holder with flaps to cover obverse and reverse, with one of the flaps bearing the numeral 1 signifying its status as the first official 1878 Morgan dollar. That presentation holder fits into a larger case.

According to numismatists who have examined the coin, it has not been conserved in a manner acceptable to numismatists. Instead, it bears signs of heavy polishing.

Still, the historical significance stands. The coin is the first ceremonial strike of what is considered one of the most popular U.S. coins series with collectors. The fact that it survives today and that contemporary news accounts record the circumstances of its production is amazing.

Will the hobby treat the first Uncirculated 2023-P Peace dollars struck with the same reverence as that first 1878 Morgan dollar?

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