Alex E Outerbridge.

Curiosities of American coinage online

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AI>rAlfCE EDITION



Ciiriosities of A7nerica7i Coinage



By Alex. E. Outerbridge, Jr.



AUTHOn'S EDITION, extracted from HVIjIjETIT^

OK THE

^Uu^cum 0f Science and %x\, ^^\\mx$\% of f enna.

No. 4, Volume 1
MEMORANDUM (not for publication) FROM THE AUTHOR.



The "proof" of this paper was submitted to the National Sound Money
League, 740 Monadnock Building, Chicago, with the request that any errors of fact
or theory might be pointed out. The Secretary replied, " Your communication has
been examined by our staff and found correct."

The proprietors of the Bankers' Magazine, N. Y., referring to the statements
rej^arding the gold coinage, which appeared in a brief article in the July issue of that
magazine, write (Aug. 19th, 1898): "The facts brought to light by your investiga-
ti



2 CURIOSITIES OF AMERICAN COINAGE.

came from all parts of the islands. When the receipts were
counted the lady found that her share consisted of several pigs,
fowls, goats, and a large quantity of bananas, cocoanuts, and
other tropical fruit. There was very little money in circulation
on the islands, and as Mademoiselle could not consume any
considerable portion of her share of the proceeds of the concert
it became necessary to feed the live stock with the fruit.

This story is told to illustrate a difficulty which arose in the
earliest commercial transactions from the want of a common
medium of exchange, which difficulty led to the invention (about
700 B. C.) of coined money as a "go-between " or substitute for
direct barter.

At the first glance it might appear a simple matter for the
butcher, the farmer, or the miller to make due exchange of
commodities without the intervention of the go-between called
money, but a little reflection will soon reveal at least three great
difficulties: First, that of finding two persons whose disposable
goods mutually suit each other's wants ; second, the impracti-
cability of subdividing many articles ; for example, a tailor can-
not cut up a coat into small portions without destroying its
value; third, the complexities involved in equitably adjusting
the relative values of various commodities. These and other
difficulties led to the selection, quite early in the history of
civilization, of certain substances which, by common consent,
were received by all persons in exchange for all commodities
at certain rates by mutual agreement. A curious variety of
materials have, at diffiirent times, and in diffi^rent countries,
served this useful purpose, and it is evident that such sub-
stances would soon come to possess the two great functions of
money, viz. :

1. A common medium of exchange.

2. A common measure of value.

In the most primitive age the skins of wild animals were
usually selected, being both useful and portable. Even in the
early part of tiiis century the business of the Hudson Bay
Trading Company was transacted with the North American
Indians entirely on this basis; a gun, for example, was valued at
" twenty i)eaver skins." In Massachusetts (and otlier colonies)




ftj] be be £JD !^

o o o o o
i - ^ o o o^o

CI -^-; — M



CURIOSITIES OF AMERICAN COINAGE. 5

prior to the Revolution specie was at times so scarce that
laws were passed legalizing the payment of taxes in skins,
cattle, and farm products.

It is said that in the mountainous districts of Kentucky,
skins are used even to this day as currency to a limited extent
by the natives.

In Massachusetts a law was enacted, March 4th, 1634, as
follows : " It is likewise ordered that muskett bulletts, of a
full hoare, shall pass currantly for a farthing a-piece, provided
that noe man be compelled to take above XII pence att a tyme
in them."

EARLY COLONIAL COINAGE.

The inconvenience experienced from the want of sj'tecie
caused the colony of Massachusetts to establish a mint as long
ago as the year 1652 ; this was exactly 140 years before the
establishment of the National Mint in Philadelphia. The
Massachusetts law provided for the coinage of "shillings,"
" 6 pence" and " 3 pence," all of sterling silver, that is, 925
parts of pure silver and 75 parts of copper ; the law stipulated
that the coins were " to be reduced in weight 2 pence in the
shilling less than the English coin." A curious mistake
occurred in the calculation whereby these shillings were made 5J
grains too light, but they served a good purpose notwithstand-
ing. The device upon the coins is a " pine tree," and the
Massachusetts pine-tree shillings are now so rare that they are
only to be found in cabinets of coins.

The British Government opposed the establishment of this
mint, as it did in fact all manufacturing industries of every
kind in the colonies, but the mint continued in active opera-
tion for over thirty years and Maryland soon followed
Massachusetts' example. These were the only silver coins
issued before the Revolution, but several other American colo-
nies issued copper coins. After the Revolution silver Avas coined
by the ditferent States, and even by private individuals, and very
soon after peace was established Congress began agitating the
subject of a national coinage. Robert Morris, the financier, was
directed to present a scheme of coins and currency. His first



6 CURIOSITIES OF AMERICAN COINAGE.

report (prepared by the assistant financier) was presented in
1782 and it proposed a decimal system, which has been adopted,
but all the other features were discarded, chiefly on account of
the diminutiveness of the proposed " unit," which was only
one-tenth of a penny. Jefferson said in the discussion " a horse
or bullock of $30 value would require a notation of six figures,
to wit: 115.200 units." A few years later Jefferson himself
presented a rejiort proposing the Spanish milled dollar as a suit-
able unit, as this coin was very familiar to the people and of a
convenient size ; these proceedings were under the " confedera-
tion" and one of the articles of the original compact permitted
coinage " by the respective States." Vermont, Connecticut,
Massachusetts, and other States issued coins under this arrange-
ment for a few years, until the Constitution in 1787 vested the
ris:ht of coinage solelv in tiie General Government.

For some reason, not known, the code of laws for establish-
ing the National Mint was not formulated until five years later.

The Act of April 2, 1792, provided for the establishment of a
Mint, and for the coining of ten, five, and two-and-a-half dollar
gold pieces ; also one dollar, one-half, one-quarter, one-tenth of
a dollar in silver ; one cent and half-cent in copper.

Copper coins were struck at the Philadelphia Mint in 1792,
some of these bore the head of Washington on one side, but he
disapproved of the device and suggested the substitution of the
head of Liberty. Since that time no American coin has ever
displayed the head of any individual.

COINAGE BY PRIVATE INDIVIDUALS AND COMPANIES.

An exceedingly interesting curious, and, indeed, inexplicable
feature of the early history of coinage of money in America,
regarding which there is but little accurate information available
at the present day, is the issuing, on a large scale, of gold, silver
and copper coins (also "tokens") by private individuals and by
trading companies. It will surprise many, no doubt, to learn
the extent to which this practice was carried, and that it was
permitted to exist until a comparatively recent period, notwith-
standing the express prohibition in the Constitution of all such
acts.



CURIOSITIES OF AMERICAN COINAGE. iJ

III a report made to Congress by the Director of the Mint
(Dr. Patterson) iu 1840, these words may be found :

" Coinage of gohl and silver, though withheld from the State,
is freely permitted by individuals."

In 1850 the assayers of the Mint (Eckfeldt and Du Bois)
reported: "There are several classes of gold coins which are
struck within the national boundaries, but are not of the United
States; these are Bechtler's coins of North Carolina and the
California coins."

In 1851 the assayers reported that twenty-seven different
kinds of gold coins, issued from fifteen private mints, had been
received and assayed at the United States Mint in Philadelphia.

The earliest private coinage intended for use in the colonies
of America (except the Bermuda "hog" coins) is known to
numismatists under the general name " Rosa Americana," and
the storv connected therewith is most remarkable. In the year
1722, Mr, Wood, an iron founder of Wolverhampton, Eng-
land, claimed to have discovered an alloy suitable for coins,
consisting of copper, zinc and a small proportion of silver.
Through the influence of a favorite of George I, known as
the " Duchess of Kendall," a patent was issued by the King,
dated July 12, 1722, together with a "Royal license," which
was to continue for fourteen years, for coining "tokens" for
Ireland and the colonies of North America to a large extent,
viz., "three hundred tons;" the amount of the Irish coin was
limited to £105,000, a great sum at that day.

A small royalty of £100 a year was to be paid into the
King's exchequer and a salary of £200 to an officer of the
Crown, called the "Comptroller." Sir Isaac Newton, then the
Director of the Royal Mint, was chosen for this office, and he
served for a short time, when he nominated a nephew, M'ho suc-
ceeded him.

Thousands of Wood's base metal coins were struck for
use in Ireland, and the issue would probably have been
accepted by the people without question, had it not been that
Dean Swift, then living in seclusion, saw in this scheme an
opportunity to attack the English Government, and by his
*' Drapier's Letters," his poems, and other writings, all anony-



10 CURIOSITIES OF AMERICAN COINAGE.

moiisly published, iu which he mercilessly lampooned the scheme
and all those who were in any way connected with it, lie
aroused a storm of fury that is said to have been "indescrib-
able." A writer of the day said : "All parties, Catholics and
Protestants, Whigs, Tories, Orangemen and Rapparees, were
equally frantic. Merchants publicly announced they would not
accept the coin, the very hawkers and link-boys refused it,
declaring it would buy neither ale, tobacco, nor brandy.
Wood's effigy was dragged through the streets of Dublin
and burned. . . . The Privy Council offered a reward of £300
for the discovery of the author of the ' Drapier's Letters.' "

The Kiug then ordered the proposed issue to be reduced to
£40,000, but this did not assuage the excitement in the least,
and it finally became necessary, iu order to restore peace, to buy
back the Royal license from Mr. Wood, by the payment to him
of a pension of £3,000 a year for fourteen years.

This failure did not, apparently, kill the project for coining
money for the American colonies, and the many pieces actually
struck for that purpose are creditable specimens of the art at
that period. On the obverse appears the head of the king and
on the reverse a full blown rose, with the legend, " Rosa
Americana," and the date " 1722." On the later issues the head
of George II appears and the date, 1733.

There is preserved iu the Massachusetts archives a letter of
instructions, dated October 29th, 1725, from the Duke of New
Castle to the Governor of Massachusetts, saying:

Sir, His Majesty having been pleased to graunt to Mr. Wood his letters
patent for the coining of two pence and half pence pieces of tlie value of
money of Great Britain for His Majesty's dominions in America, which said
coin is to receive such additional value as shall be reasonable and agreeable
according to the customary allowance of exchange in the several parts of
His Majesty's dominions, as you will see more at large by the patent
wliicli will be laid before you by the person that delivers this letter to you,
I am to signify to you His Majesty's pleasure that in pursuance of a clause
in said patent by which all His Majesty's officers are to be aiding and assist-
ing Mr. Wood in the due execution of what is therein directed and in the
legal exercise of the several powers and enjoyment of the privileges and
advantages thereby graunted to him, you are to give him all due encourage-
ment and assistance and that you and all sucii other of His Majesty's officers
there, whom it may concern, do readily perform all legal acts that may he



CURIOSITIES OF AMERICAN COINAGE. 11

requisite for that purpose. This I ara particularly to recommend tu your care,
and to desire your protection to Mr. Wood and to tho.se whom he shall employ
to transact this affair in the Provinces under your government.

I am Sir

Yr Most Humble Servant

New Ca.stle.

If we may rely upon the statement of an Engli.sh writer ot
the day Mr. Wood's coin did not meet with a very cordial
reception in America, for the pamphlet says:

" Wood obtained a patent for coining small money for the English planta-
tions in America in which he had the conscience to make 13 shillings out of
1 pound of brass, this money they rejected in a manner not so decent as that
of Ireland."

In the year 1830 Mr. Templetou Reid, of Georgia, established
a private mint at which he coined $10, $5, and $2.50 gold
pieces ; these circulated freely through the South, and they were
brought to the U. S. Mint in Philadelphia for deposit and
re-melting in quantities. The assayer reported in 1842 that the
$10 gold pieces of T. Reid weighed 248 grains, contained 942
parts of pure gold in 1,000 parts of metal, and the intrinsic
value slightly exceeded the nominal value, being worth $10.06.
These coins are now quite rare.

In 1831 Christopher Bechtler of Rutherfordton, N. C, fol-
lowed Mr. Reid's example on a larger scale, and in a few years
he had issued several million dollars worth of gold coins of
denominations of $10, $5, $2.50, and §1.^

In 1842 the Mint assayers stated that "coining is still carried
on by Bechtler, although there is a branch United States Mint
less than eighty miles distant." This was located at Charlotte,
N. C.

In 1851 the assayers reported that "several of the private
issues of gold coins from California are close imitations of
the national coin; some assay nearly up to the nominal value,
but many fall below." A $10 piece of the Pacific Company
only yielded $7.8(3 in gold. A lot of diilerent denominations

'In 1840 Mr. Bechtler stated that the amount of his coinage to date was
$2,241,840.



12 CURIOSITIES OF AMERICAN COINAGE.

aggregating S562.50, nominal value, yielded at the Mint in
Philadelphia 3479.20.

One interesting gold coin, a $50 piece (some were octagonal),
issued by Aug. Humbert, United States Assayer at Sau Fran-
cisco, yielded the full nominal value. All of these private
issues have now been stopped, and strict laws have been passed
punishing any attempt to imitate the coins of the nation ;
even the toy money formerly made for children of gilded paper
has been prohibited by the government authorities.

THE NATIONAL COINAGE.

The Mint was established in Philadelphia in 1792 and in its
first year issued copper coins only, coining of the other denomi-
nations of money, as already named, commenced in 1793.

Many persons believe that the so-called " Dollar of the
Daddies," weighing 412^^ grains (nine-tenths fine), having a
ratio to gold of " 16 to 1 " in value when first coined, was the
original dollar of the Constitution. This is, however, erro-
neous. The 412| grain silver dollar was not authorized until
forty-five years later. The original silver dollar weighed 416
grains, and the ratio of silver to gold was 15 to 1, not J 6 to 1.

Several modifications in weight and fineness of both gold and
silver coins were made during the first few years, prior to the
Act of January 18, 1837, which greatly simplified the coinage
by adopting the French decimal system, including a uniform
"fineness" or proportion of 9 parts of gold to 1 part of copper
for the gold coins, and the same proportion of silver and copper
for the silver coins ; the weights of the gold and silver coins
were, at the same time, readjusted so as to make the ratio " 16 to
1 " between silver and gold.^

The total issue of silver dollars coined under the Acts of 1792
and 1837 until 1873, when the coinage was dropped, amounted



' The original silver dollar, authorized under the Act of April 2, 1792»
contained 892.4 parts of pure silver in 1000 parts of metal and weighed 416
grains. The Act of January 18tli, 1837, changed the proportion of silver to
900 j)art8 in 1000 and the weigiit to 412J grains, the amount of pure silver
thus remained unchanged.



CURIOSITIES OF AMERICAN COINAGE. 13

to $8,031,238. When the Bland Act was passed, in 1878, the
sih'er in the silver dollar weighing 412^ grains was worth 89.1
cents ; to-day the silver in the same dollar is worth about 42.5


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Online LibraryAlex E OuterbridgeCuriosities of American coinage → online text (page 1 of 2)