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Half of canal payment made in silver dollars


Clinic0701-a.jpg I understand that the down payment for the Panama Canal was made in silver dollars. How many were involved?

You have about half the story. In 1904 the U.S. government made the down payment on the Panama Canal land lease, paying out $10 million, but only half of that was silver dollars. Even so, this was a significant drain on the stock of silver dollars, and it is uncertain if very many of them found their way back to the States. The result of the transaction was that the silver coins became the backbone of the Panamanian economy for many years afterward. This might help to explain why there are so few uncirculated 1903 and 1904 dollars.

 I?ve been told that Hawaii was once the richest country in the world. How could that be?

Someone once said, ?Statistics can prove anything.? This seems to be a case in point. Just before the turn of the century, the official estimate of the gold stock in Hawaii was $4 million. With the population at that time estimated at 100,000, this gave a per capita figure of $40, which was, and probably still is, the largest reported per capita amount of gold for a country, about two ounces each.

 I have a rectangular coin that appears to be brass with ?5 DWTS? on one side and five small circles on the other. Can you identify it?

It is not a coin. It?s a weight. The ?5 DWTS? stands for five pennyweights. Each pennyweight equals 20 grains, so your piece weighs 100 grains. Four of the five pennyweight pieces would equal one troy ounce. Most old-time jewelers had a set of these weights to use on a balance scale to weigh gold. The set runs upward from one half grain.

 Didn?t the U.S. government institute gold restrictions before the famous 1933 date?

One that escapes many historians is the curtailment of gold coin production and of payments in gold in 1917 during World War I. The government feared that if these steps weren?t taken our gold reserves would be depleted by the war, leaving nothing to back our paper money.  As it turned out, we did such a brisk war materiel business with the Allies that gold reserves by the end of the war had reached the $3 billion mark, and in the next several years added another $1.25 billion.


Address questions to Coin Clinic, Numismatic News, 700 E. State St., Iola, WI 54990. Because of space limitations, we are unable to publish all questions. Include a loose 41-cent stamp for reply. Write first for specific mailing instructions before submitting numismatic material. We cannot accept unsolicited items. E-mail inquiries should be sent to Answerman2@aol.com.

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