Is the mintmark in the same location on the 1838-O Bust half and the 1839-O Seated half?
The 1839-O actually is a Bust half with the mintmark in the same location, above the date. New Orleans struck its 1839 halves only with the old dies, while Philadelphia used both, which may have caused the confusion.
Didn’t one of the early gold medals awarded by Congress turn up on the scrap heap?
Not quite, but it came close. The medal contained about $125 worth of gold. It was awarded posthumously to Lt. William Burroughs who was killed in the battle between the Enterprise and the Boxer in 1813. It was discovered in a deposit of gold brought to the Mint for coining in 1842.
Did the Native Americans use copper coins of their own?
One reference I found describes the use of copper plates by Indians on the northwest coast of America as symbols of wealth, which might be considered to be coins.
I thought the $50 gold coins of 1915 were supposed to honor the completion of the Panama Canal. What’s an owl doing on the coin?
Yours is by no means the first criticism of the coin that served the dual purpose of recognizing the completion of the canal and the subsequent Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. The owl was sacred to Minerva, who appears on the obverse. Minerva is the goddess of fine arts and crafts, symbolic of the Exposition displays. The Gatun Locks or the first ship through the canal would have satisfied a lot more people, but when you put a committee in charge of designing a coin, you are likely to wind up with a camel or an elephant.
Wasn’t the Mint totally opposed to the idea of Bicentennial coin designs?
Up until March 5, 1973, it was. On that date Mint Director Mary Brooks offered a proposal for Bicentennial designs for the Ike dollar and Kennedy half. It was only after strong criticism and a proposal from John J. Pittman that the Washington quarter was an ideal medium for at least a third coin was it added to the list. The opposition was based on the claim that the public would hoard all coins with a Bicentennial design, repeating the coin shortages of the 1960s.
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