US Coins

Monday Morning Brief for Oct. 30, 2023: A too-perfect replica?

The 2024 American Liberty silver medal and 2025 gold coin will feature the designs of the 1794 Flowing Hair dollar. Shown is the 2024 silver medal.

Original images courtesy of the United States Mint.

Producing dies for the upcoming 2024–2025 American Liberty medal and coin program bearing the designs of the first U.S. silver, the 1794 Flowing Hair dollar, by using 21st technology is a bad idea.

The charm of the nation’s oldest coins, those produced from 1792 to the 1830s, lies in the individualism of each die, the invariable imperfections resulting from the hands-on work of engraving the two main design devices and punching each star, letter and numeral into the die individually.

Replicating an 18th century design using 21st century technology will produce a finished product that is too pristine, too clean, too exact — a issue that looks like a cheap knock-off of the original.

Collectors of early U.S. coins from the era of hand-made dies love the imperfections arising from how the dies were made. Specialists lovingly seek to identify every single die and every pairing of obverse and reverse. That is what makes these early coins so charming.

The United States Mint’s early rendition of the 2024 American Liberty silver medal is lifeless. It lacks the charm and old-timey look of the real thing. It looks like it was made by AI, by a computer, and not by a sculptor using old-fashioned engraving techniques.

I would have loved seeing an American Liberty medal or coin struck from dies whose master hub/die were made starting the old-fashioned way, by an artist working in clay with hand-carving tools, the way dies were made when I joined the staff in 1976. Copy the original designs as perfectly as possible but make the designs look like they were hand-made.

The 2024 medal’s strike and finish will be too perfect, too.

The 1794 Flowing Hair dollars were not perfectly struck. The faces of the obverse and reverse dies were not perfectly parallel, and most surviving examples show a weakness of strike in the lower left obverse and corresponding spot on the reverse. Expect all of the medals to bear 69 and 70 grades.

Similarly, the finish on the 2024 medal will likely be too perfect, too flashy. The surfaces will lack the imperfections of the real thing.

We still think the basic idea is good. Purchasers of the silver medal, however, should expect too-perfect replicas.


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