US Coins

Why does this 1875 pattern have an “Illogical steamship?"

This 1875 pattern for a 20-cent piece grades PCGS Proof 66 red and features an “illogical steamship” on the obverse. It brought just under $20,000 at Heritage’s April 25, 2014, auction.

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Collectors of pattern coins love the stories behind them as much as the designs.

This 1875 pattern for a 20-cent coin features what J. Hewitt Judd called an “illogical steamship” in his book United States Pattern Coins, Experimental & Trial Pieces.

The ship is illogical because it’s in movement on water, and its auxiliary sails are billowing forward, while smoke from its stack drifts to the rear. In defying the laws of physics, the design is an amusing gaffe. 

The design is one of several distinct obverse designs on 20-cent piece patterns dated 1875. Another featured a Seated Liberty similar in appearance to the regular die and a third type featured William Barber’s left-facing bust of Liberty, sometimes nicknamed the “Sailor Head.”

The “illogical steamship” was also used on other denominations of pattern coins dated 1875, including silver dollars.

The discussed example, graded Proof 66 red by Professional Coin Grading Service, brought $19,975 when offered at Heritage Auctions' April 25, 2014, sale held in conjunction with the Central States Numismatic Society.

The piece was previously offered at Heritage’s January 2013 Florida United Numismatists auction where it sold for $25,850. It is the only example of the variety (Judd 1400) certified by a major grading service as having full red color.

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