US Coins

Notable engraved 1879-O Morgan dollar sells at auction

An engraved 1879-O Morgan dollar that states it is the first dollar adjusted in the New Orleans Mint sold for $19,200 on Aug. 7 at Stack’s Bowers Galleries.

Images courtesy of Stack's Bowers Galleries

A historical engraved 1879-O Morgan dollar celebrating the New Orleans Mint sold for $19,200 from Stack’s Bowers Galleries on Aug. 7 in its Las Vegas auction.

The dollar carries hand-engraved text on the obverse — THE FIRST DOLLAR ADJUSTED / IN THE / NEW ORLEANS MINT / BY / MRS. C. CAHN. It is graded Extremely Fine Details, Engraved, by Numismatic Guaranty Corp.

The New Orleans Mint began producing U.S. coins in 1838, but stopped in 1861 after briefly striking coins for Louisiana and the Confederate States of America before shutting down. It was reopened in 1879, largely to help strike the new Morgan silver dollars to satisfy the Bland-Allison Act, which required the U.S. Treasury to buy a certain amount of silver and put it into circulation as silver dollars.

The facility struck 2,887,000 1879-O Morgan dollars, along with low-mintage gold $10 eagles and $20 double eagles. Well-circulated 1879-O dollars are available for a modest premium over their bullion content.

The cataloger points out that this is no ordinary 1879-O Morgan dollar, however, writing, “The desirability of the coin offered here lies not in its exceptional preservation, however, but rather in its confirmation of a little-known procedure that the United States Mint of the 19th century used to adjust overweight planchets, as well as its direct connection to the former New Orleans Mint employee who oversaw that procedure.” Presumably it was minted in February 1879, and it was noted in Q. David Bowers’ 1993 book Silver Dollars and Trade Dollars of the United States: A Complete Encyclopedia, after the consignor, Lawrence C. Korchnak, wrote to Bowers.

Researcher Roger Burdette responded to a 2014 inquiry from Korchnak in the Numismatic Bibliomania Society’s weekly E-Sylum newsletter, explaining that, in 1879, “Dollar planchets would have been weighed and filed on the edge if too heavy. Striking obliterated all traces of the filing. Silver coins were handled by Adjusters in their dual role as inspectors and counters of finished coins.”

Some 1879-O Morgan dollars may have been struck on planchets that had their rims filed prior to striking, recalling the adjustments to the surfaces of early planchets that left marks still visible on some coins struck in the early years of the Philadelphia Mint.

As coinage operations began at the New Orleans Mint on Feb. 20, 1879, Bowers writes in his Guide Book of the United States Mint, “Silver bullion was in short supply in the district at the time as it cost more to deliver the metal to New Orleans than to the Mint in Philadelphia, and the Mint worked at less than capacity.” The New Orleans Mint would eventually receive shipments of silver directly from Western refineries.

Burdette’s research was able to identify the woman whose name appears engraved on the coin: Clementine Cahn. She was foreman of the adjusters and was originally from Georgia. Burdette added, “She might have had it engraved as the first piece to have been picked from the first delivery that was counted by her Adjusting staff. The dollar coin represented almost half of Mrs. Cahn’s daily pay ($2.50/day).”

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