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First commem definitely Columbian

 (Image courtesy

(Image courtesy

Reader Frank Crowe wrote: This is in response to the Coin Clinic comment in the June 5 “Numismatic News” concerning the debate whether or not the Columbian Exposition half dollar should be considered the first commemorative coin or not. There are many coins with commemorative connotations that are not treated as commemoratives. One example is the Washington quarter. What about the “P” mintmark on a Philadelphia Lincoln (2017) cent to commemorate the anniversary of the Mint? I believe that arguments made to dethrone the Columbian half as the first true commemorative coin and the Columbian Exhibition coin program as the first commemorative coin program are not convincing.

Reader input into the “Coin Clinic” column is always welcome.

The U.S. Treasury purchased massive amounts of silver from mines in the Western United States during the period the Morgan silver dollar was being struck. How did this impact the price of silver bullion?

The demand for silver resulting from silver purchases made between 1878 and 1904 raised the spot price of silver significantly. Nevertheless, from a high of $1.2075 in 1878, silver fell to a low of 53.375 cents an ounce in 1904.

Some time ago, you consulted a Washington directory listing the current director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the director of the Mutilated Currency division. Does that same directory list the current Register of the U.S. Treasury (whose office still exists according to a source I read, even though his/her facsimile signature no longer graces U.S. paper money since 1928)?

The facsimile signature of the Register of the Treasury appears on most U.S. bank notes alongside that of the Treasurer of the United States through Series 1923 issued until 1929. The Register became the Public Debt Service in 1919 and the Bureau of the Public Debt in 1940. Current information on functions, organizations and activities of the US Department of the Treasury are available online at

Paul Revere was a silversmith. Was he involved in striking coins?

Paul Reverse engraved and printed Provincial Congress of Massachusetts and New Hampshire notes in 1775, but no coins.

What about the Pitt tokens of 1766? Wasn’t Revere involved in striking these?

It has been suggested the portrait of William Pitt the Elder, First Earl of Chatham, appearing on these tokens may have been based on sketches by Revere, the dies having been engraved by James Smither. It is also believed the tokens might have been struck in England.

How did we ever get past the monetary system through which private banks issued their own, often unbacked, paper bank notes?

In 1863, the U.S. Treasury offered local banks a choice between joining the national banking system or paying a 10 percent tax on any private bank notes they issued. By 1866, the private notes were gone.

Shouldn’t doctored coins also be considered counterfeit? Even though the said doctored coin started out as a legitimate coin, it was altered to represent a more valuable coin, thus misrepresenting the buyer. That is what counterfeit coins do, misrepresent buyers of a particular coin. Sometimes it’s easy to spot a doctored coin (a copper dipped 1943 cent, for example); other times, not. Since there are a few 1943 copper cents, wouldn’t a copper dipped 1943 cent be considered counterfeit?

How you define the word counterfeit comes into play in answering this question. According to the U.S. Mint website, counterfeit coins are “Imitation coins intended to be passed off fraudulently as genuine; forgery.” It could be argued a copper-dipped 1943 zinc composition cent is imitating the rare copper composition 1943 cent. According to the 1879 British text The Journal of Jurisprudence (Volume 23, page 476) by Hugh Barclay and S.H. Laidlaw, “...the majority of the court thought that counterfeit meant anything that pretended to be what it is not; consequently a coin that had been clipped ... to make it appear as a coin of full weight was a counterfeit coin.” Is the jury still out?

Are proof coins always white, that is, without toning?

Any metal coin can oxidize or tone due to the environment in which it is stored. Proofs are no different.

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