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Gobrecht revisionists fly in face of facts

In the Sept. 9 issue of Numismatic News, Saul Teichman attempted to prove that certain Gobrecht dollars with the eagle flying flat, when rotated, are original coins, the so-called “revisionist” theory. (The Teichman essay was written in answer to a forum letter by Scott Casey.)

In defense of this theory, he produces several “facts” which, on close scrutiny, prove not to be facts at all.

In preceding articles, Craig Sholley and I wrote jointly, but here I will be covering only those points in my area while Craig will, if thought necessary, cover the other revisionist “facts” by Teichman at a later time.
The revisionist theory, championed of late by Teichman and John Dannreuther (the latter most recently in the May 2008 Rare Coin Market Report, the PCGS magazine), in reality has no documented facts, only opinions.

The first Teichman “fact” is as follows:

Fact 1: First and foremost, there is nothing in the Mint Archives describing what alignment was used for the March 1837 strikings, nor is there any discussion that the eagle must still be flying upward that has been published. In fact, from 1838 onward, it appears only eagles flying level were used on any U.S. coinage design, pattern or regular issue.

It is true that the law has never specified that the reverse design be symmetric when the coin is rotated but collectors can confirm the truth of the matter by simply examining their own coins. It may be stated with certainty that no circulating U.S. coin has ever been deliberately issued with a skewed reverse. Moreover, all 19th century circulating coins are round and this fact is not found in the law or Mint documents either.
Teichman has the argument backwards. In 1836 Mint Director Robert Patterson specifically ordered that the eagle fly upwards on the new silver dollars to symbolize the rising status of the United States on the world stage. It is up to the revisionists to produce documentation that the eagle alignment was changed.

The only 19th century U.S. coin issued for circulation with a horizontal eagle was the Flying Eagle cent of 1857–1858 and here again the design is symmetric when the coin is rotated, not skewed, a point carefully ignored in “Fact 1.”

As collectors sometimes are confused by terms such as “Alignment II” for Gobrecht dollars, the following will make the discussion easier to understand:

Alignment I – Coin turn, eagle flying upwards
Alignment II – Medal turn, eagle flying upwards
Alignment III – Coin turn, eagle flying level
Alignment IV – Medal turn, eagle flying level

Note: Coin turn means the coin is rotated end-over-end as on current U.S. coins. Medal turn means a side-by-side rotation, as on Canadian coins. Alignments III and IV have the “skewed” or non-symmetric reverses (about 30 degrees off center) described in the text and were never used for circulating U.S. coinage.

Fact 2: The majority of the alignment II’s and alignment IV’s (struck in March 1837) seen are on the old 416 grain planchet stock. This is incompatible with the Breen/J&S theory and no explanation other than the Mint using up the old planchet stock first really makes sense. Julian/Sholley try to explain this in their earlier July 2007 write-up by saying that these heavier planchet pieces were collector coins but this makes no sense as, by their own description of the Judd–60s, all of these coins were struck as proofs and thus all are collector coins to begin with. There is also no difference in quality between any alignment II noted on the 416 or 412.5 grain standard seen thus far.

This second “fact” is not even close to reality. The Mint records show, beyond any doubt, that the 600 silver dollars coined for circulation in March 1837 (using dies of 1836) used planchets on the legal standard under the law of Jan. 18, 1837 – 412.5 grains.

As the supposed use of 416-grain planchets in March 1837 originated with the discredited Gray-Carboneau theory, it is perhaps best to show the actual ledger entry:

March 31, 1837

Silver Coinage Cr. [Credited] to Chief Coiner his a/c [account] of Silver Received from him this day in pursuance of a warrant of the Director No. 1480.
600 Dollars
102,620 Half Dollars
30,000 Dimes
100,000 Half Dimes

51,485.15 oz. [ounces] Standard Silver  .     .     .     .     .   [$] 59,910.00

Those persons with a mathematical background can confirm the stated Mint weight by noting that a dollar (or 10 dimes, etc.) contained 412.5 grains of standard silver and a troy ounce contained 480 grains. (Beginning Jan. 18, 1837, “standard silver” meant 900/1000 fine silver.)

It is perhaps well to restate the legal requirements for planchet weights, which were presented in an earlier Numismatic News article of July 31, 2007. Dollar coins struck for circulation after Jan. 18, 1837, were to weigh 412.5 grains, with a tolerance of 1.5 grains. Each planchet was individually weighed, meaning that a dollar issued for circulation had to weigh between 411 and 414 grains.

On the other hand, proofs for collectors were not struck as coins but rather as medals and not subject to legal tolerances. This meant that a dollar planchet, for example, weighing 416 grains could not be used for circulating coinage but was available for proof coinage. The convoluted arguments by the revisionists about weights of coins in various alignments are merely a smokescreen to avoid discussing the legal requirements.

Fact 3: The ratio of alignment l’s known to the combined ratio of alignment II/IV more or less matches the mintage ratio of 1,000 to 600. The “leap over logic” quote that Casey notes with regard to Dannreuther’s observations is actually quite logical and far more sensible when one actually studies the coins than the idea that most of the believed 600 alignment II’s did not survive. The 1837 coinage was distributed at nearly the same time, only three months apart and in the same manner. They are believed to have been distributed locally, just like the December pieces and thus would have been subject to the same circulation patterns afterwards. If they were distributed elsewhere, i.e. not in the Philadelphia area, then it is more likely that the alignment II’s would have been, saved in the same high numbers as the alignment I’s simply because the people in those areas would not have had access to alignment I’s earlier and thus they would likely have the same ratio of survival as the alignment I’s over time yet this is not the case.

As before, “Fact 3” has no documentation of any kind. Teichman claims that the coins “would have been subject to the same circulation patterns” but this is pure speculation as the Mint records do not show if any of these 600 coins actually reached the marketplace. It is also a well-established statistical fact that the number of specimens currently existing of a given coinage cannot be used to determine original mintages, especially if one includes restrikes in the calculations.

We know from Mint documents how the 1,000 Gobrecht dollars of December 1836 were distributed: 400 kept at the Mint and 600 to the Bank of the United States, which also distributed the coins. No such data are available for the 1837 issue.

Teichman also claims, in his explanation of Fact 3, that 1838 and 1839 dollars were struck in Alignment IV, the inverted skewed reverse. The 1838 issue, actually a pattern although called regular coinage by Dannreuther, is illustrated by James Ross Snowden in his 1860 Mint Manual with the eagle flying upward, not flat (skewed) as on Alignment IV. The revisionists cannot get around this illustration so they pretend it doesn’t exist and hope that readers do not catch on to a “skewed” argument.

The revisionists also do not explain why the U.S. Mint would strike coins in 1838 and 1839 with an inverted (Alignment IV) reverse, with the eagle flying flat. It is true that this was done for the March 1837 coinage (with the eagle flying upwards, Alignment II) but there it was necessary because dies of 1836 were used and Mint officials did not wish confusion at the next Assay Commission meeting, February 1838. There was no reason whatsoever for this skewed die pairing (Alignment IV) in 1838 or 1839 so the revisionists avoid discussing the matter. In point of a real fact, the only United States coin struck since 1793 with a deliberately inverted reverse (Alignment II) is the Gobrecht dollar of March 1837; all other U.S. circulating coins have used the coin turn, Alignment I.

Although not labeled as facts, two further points need to be examined. The first is the revisionist theory that the 1836 Name Below Base Gobrecht pattern dollars were not struck in 1836 but only with a new die of the 1850s. This flies in the face of two independent witnesses who state that such coins were in fact made in 1836. George Sellers, closely associated with the Mint during the 1830s, made a clear statement of this in his memoirs; the revisionist answer to Sellers is to ignore him.

The other statement came from Edward Cogan, writing in the June 1867 American Journal of Numismatics (AJN). This is well known so the revisionists downplay the Cogan letter by claiming, with no proof whatsoever, that he got his information from Mint Director James Ross Snowden (responsible for many, but not all, of the restruck coins in the 1850s) and it is therefore unreliable.

We do not definitively know the original source of the Cogan statement but it is unlikely to have come from Snowden as the latter was at the Mint only between 1847 and 1861. However, there were several individuals living in 1867 who had been at the Mint in 1836 – Robert Patterson, for example – and one of them was very likely the source for the Cogan letter. The 1867 letter was not challenged in print by anyone, a telling omission.

The second point is a discussion of Mint records. In his May 2008 PCGS article Danreuther claims that the Mint records must be wrong if he finds a coin that appears to conflict with documentary evidence. This is a common error by researchers who have never examined the actual records.

It is true that public statements by Mint officials are sometimes open to question; such misstatements are rare but do exist. On the other hand, internal coinage records were subject to strict oversight by Treasury auditors and Mint officers, a double layer of scrutiny. I have never seen an internal coinage document that was in error although revisionists seem to think that this is the case for any record that disagrees with what they think they see.

For those who have read and understand the Mint documents and studied the coinage there is no doubt that all original Gobrecht dollars have the eagle flying upward when properly rotated. Those pieces where the eagle is flying flat, or nearly so, are restrikes. The fact that the revisionists have not been able to produce a single mint document to justify any of their theories perhaps says all that is necessary.

There is, however, one area where doubt remains. It is possible that some Gobrecht dollar restrikes of the late 1850s may have the alignment correct. It is known that Director Snowden had competition inside the Mint for restrikes and it may be that his competitors had no qualms about duplicating the original alignments.               

[Note: The two earlier Numismatic News articles, as well as some of the revisionist material, can be found on the internet at http://www.uspatterns.com/gobdol.html.]

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