Among the rare coins available for viewing at this year?s MidAmerica Coin Expo, June 22-25, in Rosemont, Ill., was a pattern coin that, according to its owner, William Bierly, may shed some light on a series of ?transitional? U.S. pattern coins. The coin in question is an 1865 pattern quarter in silver (Judd-425/Pollock-497) struck over an 1840-O quarter.
Bierly attended the Chicago Coin Club meeting, held on June 24 at the DoubleTree Hotel, where he gave a short presentation about the coin, which is part of the series of patterns produced during the process of placing the religious motto ?In God We Trust? on U.S. coins. The motto, which first appeared in circulation on the 1864 two-cent piece, was then adopted for use on the nickel, quarter, half dollar, dollar, half eagle, eagle, and double eagle in 1866.
Bierly purchased his pattern coin in 2004, graded PCGS Proof-65, out of an auction as an upgrade for an example of J-425 already in his collection. He only later discovered his new specimen was an overstrike. There are currently about a dozen J-425s known ? this being, however, the only specimen confirmed to be an overstrike.
Placement of a religious reference on the nation?s coins was first suggested by Rev. Mark R. Watkinson of Ridley, Pa., in an 1861 letter to Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase. Watkinson?s letter, written during the Civil War, proposed the use of ?God, Liberty, and Law? on a U.S. coin.
Various 1860s-dated patterns with religious mottoes are known, some with ?God and Our Country? (dated 1863) or ?God Our Trust? (dated 1861, 1862 and 1863). Patterns with ?In God We Trust? were struck as 1863- and 1864-dated two-cent pieces; 1865- and 1866-dated nickels; 1863-, 1864-, and 1865-dated quarters, halves and dollars; and 1865-dated half eagles, eagles, and double eagles.
According to Bierly, of these so-called ?transitional? patterns leading up to the motto?s adoption, numismatists now believe that those ?In God We Trust? coins dated 1863 and 1864 were probably struck in later years, perhaps in 1868 or 1869, for sale to collectors. Die characteristics and die rust on the 1863 and 1864 quarters, Bierly says, seem to confirm this.
However, until the late 1980s, when Walter Breen?s Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins was released, most assumed the 1865-dated ?In God We Trust? pieces were actually minted in that year.
It was the appearance of a ?with motto? silver dollar pattern dated 1865 (J-434) struck over an 1866 dollar that apparently led Breen to determine that even the 1865-dated pieces were of later origin. Since that time, according to Bierly, it has been shown that the dollar pattern Breen referred, which became part of the Harry Bass Jr. collection in 1977 (a portion now housed at the American Numismatic Association?s Money Museum, in Colorado Springs, Colo.), is actually struck over an 1853 dollar, not an 1866 coin.
This, Bierly believes ? when combined with his discovery of the 1865 pattern quarter struck over an 1840-O quarter ? may again give credence to the earlier belief that at least some of the 1865-dated pieces were indeed minted in that year.
Bierly notes that with a Dec. 15, 1865 letter from Mint Director James Pollock to Treasury Secretary Hugh McCulloch, the director forwarded specimens in copper of the gold and silver coins with the motto for the secretary?s approval. The coins enclosed could have been dated 1866, Bierly admits, but they were minted in 1865, and it is, therefore, reasonable to believe, he says, that these patterns were dated 1865.
Bierly has examined a number of the existing 1865-dated quarter patterns in silver (J-425) and copper (J-426), and believes them all to be from the same dies. None showed any signs of die rust or significant die polishing, suggesting that if, indeed, some of these were struck after 1865, they are probably indistinguishable from any earlier pieces.
As to why an already struck coin became the host for his 1865 pattern, Bierly speculates that a Mint employee may have used his own quarter to create a souvenir, or that Mint officials, being anxious to see what the new coins would look like in the intended metal, simply employed a previously struck quarter. Considering an 1865 quarter and dollar are now known as overstrikes, he wonders if any of the known 1865 ?In God We Trust? half dollar patterns (J-429) are also overstrikes.
Conjecture aside, Bierly?s J-425 overstrike is interesting to examine. Struck out of alignment, ghostly remnants of the host coin exist. For instance, the ?1? in ?1840? appears in front of the ?1? in ?1865,? with the ?8? of ?1840? in front and partially under the ?1? in ?1865.? Likewise, the ?4? is under the ?8,? and the ?0? is under the ?6.?
Additionally, design elements of the under type, such as stars and the figure of Liberty, are still visible ? all rotated similarly. On the reverse, the ?O? mintmark and eagle remain visible. See the accompanying illustrations.