■ Is it true that President Hayes was opposed to the Morgan silver dollar being issued?
The Bland-Allison Act was vetoed in early 1878 by President Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881) due to Hayes’ concerns that the bill would negatively impact the government’s ability to fulfill monetary contracts. Hayes said the silver coin’s value was overstated by 8 to 10 percent. Congress overrode his veto, then ensured Hayes was presented with the first strike.
■ How did the 1878 silver dollar end up being named for its designer rather than as a Liberty dollar?
The Morgan silver dollar was the first U.S. coin named for something or someone other than what appears in the design. The coin was initially called “the Bland dollar” for Representative Richard P. Bland (D-Mo.). It would be 1907 before another coin would be named after its designer (Augustus Saint-Gaudens) rather after the major design element.
■ Does Congress control changes to our coinage exclusively?
While Congress holds most of the cards regarding changes to our coinage, there are instances in which a Presidential Proclamation has been used instead. George Washington was the first, reducing the weight of the large cent and half cent through a proclamation dated Jan. 26, 1796, but retroactive to Dec. 27, 1795.
■ Our coinage is supposed to be based on a decimal system. How did the quarter dollar and the quarter eagle fit into a decimal system?
Congress chose the decimal system already in use in France when approving the Coinage Act of 1792. At the same time, the government was aware that the United States was already using the Spanish milled dollar or 8-reales coin and its change – known as “pieces of eight.” Since these pieces of eight were the half, quarter, eighth, and sixteenth of the milled dollar, logic suggested this too had to factor into our new currency system.
■ Our 5-cent denomination began as the half disme. Why?
The word, “disme,” is derived from the Latin word, decimus, or one-tenth. France began using the word, disme, during the 16th century when money was divided into 10 parts. The United States later chose to anglicize the word to “dime.” Official Mint correspondence continued to use the term, disme, until 1837.
■ An abbreviation for “Liberty: Parent of Science & Industry” appears on the 1792 half disme. What is the origin of this legend?
No one knows for certain where this lengthy legend originated, but it is known that Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Liberty ... is the great parent of science and virtue ...” in a 1789 letter to Harvard University President Joseph Willard. Jefferson was supervising Mint operations in 1792 and may have used this phrase on occasion. The legend was shortened to “Liberty” for our circulating coinage.
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