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First commemorative debate goes on

In a letter to the editor published in the March 6 “Numismatic News,” a reader disagreed with R.W. Julian’s suggestion that the 1848 CAL $2.50 quarter eagle is our first commemorative coin. What do you say?


The 1797 $5 half eagle was issued with either 13 or 14 stars, “possibly” recognizing the addition of further states to the Union. (We had 16 states by 1797.) Since the 1817 Coronet large cent was issued with either 13 or 15 obverse stars, it can be argued this, too, might be our first commemorative coin, the 15-star variety “possibly” marking the entry of Indiana and Mississippi to the Union in 1816 and 1817, respectively. A commemorative coin does not have to be something made special with an entirely new design, as was the 1892 Columbian Exposition half dollar. Readers, do you want to jump in?

What is the true function of a pattern? Were these made because a Mint die engraver had time on his hands?

Patterns were made to present something tangible to individuals considering a change in our coinage, as experiments to test possible future designs, or so the Mint could test metals and machinery without using existing coinage dies.

Weren’t patterns meant to be destroyed after they fulfilled their function?

Patterns were not intended to be officially sold, but government officials often ignored this, selling them or giving them to government officials as souvenirs.

Is it legal to own U.S. Mint pattern coins?

Patterns minted prior to 1887 are legal to own due to the efforts of Philadelphia coin dealer John W. Haseltine. His attorney argued successfully to recover a parcel of 23 patterns dated before that time and seized by government agents. All others are likewise legal to own due to the Coinage Act of 1965.

Why are there dark spots appearing on some U.S. gold coins?

Prior to our recently issued 0.999 fine gold coins, these issues were typically composed of 90 percent gold and 10 percent copper-silver. Due to the mix, a coin occasionally appears where some of the copper has concentrated near the surface of the coin where it oxidizes sufficiently to appear as a dark spot.

Can these unsightly dark spots be removed?

Dark spots on gold coins can be removed but should be done professionally. If you do it yourself, you will likely impact the surface of the coin negatively.

What can you tell me about a 2006-dated gold Ronald Reagan dime?

The Merrick Mint issued silver- and gold-plated commemorative “dimes” in 2006 as a tribute to the late president. They are not legal tender.

Coin and bank note collectors appear to go in two different directions. Both are currency. Any idea why the two don’t appear to go together?

One of the things I try to be careful with in this column is to lean towards addressing coins first. This is because of the Numismatic News readership. There is no reason why these two forms of currency can’t be collected simultaneously, but it appears the trend is in the other direction. Collectors, any insight?

Who uses the “vapor blast” process on coins? Would this make the coins appear more proof-like?

The U.S. Mint used a vapor blast process on its America the Beautiful 5-ounce silver uncirculated coins as well as on some of its recent three-inch medals. The coins are struck, then vapor blasted to remove the brilliant finish, creating an uncirculated matte finish by blasting water vapor and a ceramic media concoction.

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