The following article appeared in the February 12, 2008 edition of Numismatic News and is reprinted here by permission of Numismatic News and the authors with all rights reserved so that pattern collectors can get both sides of the controversy surrounding these pieces.
In the Numismatic News of July 31, 2007, we discussed the Revisionist theory that had been developed by James Gray and Michael Carboneau. It was demonstrated that the Breen theory for distinguishing an original Gobrecht dollar of 1836–1839 from a restrike was correct and the Gray-Carboneau revisionist theory was invalid.
In answer to the Numismatic News article, the PCGS Magazine published an article, in the October and November issues, by John Dannreuther, which attempts to resurrect the revisionist theory but with certain differences. In the present essay the Dannreuther article will also be referred to as Revisionist II or the PCGS article.
As the Dannreuther article was not published in the mainstream numismatic press it is not readily available. For those with internet access, however, it has been posted at: www.uspatterns.com/gobdol.html. The original Numismatic News article is also found at this same website address.
There is one further relevant article, in the October 4, 2004, Coin World. This was an official PCGS announcement that the Gray-Carboneau thesis (Revisionist I) had been found to be completely correct and all other articles (including those by Breen) were outdated. As the 2004 PCGS pronouncement is conveniently not mentioned in the current PCGS article it would appear that PCGS concurs with our findings that Revisionist Theory I (Gray-Carboneau) is invalid.
The main tenet of Revisionist Version II (in the PCGS article) is the same as that for Version I. The core belief is that the number of extant “Eagle Flying Flat” Die Alignment IV (and III) pieces, along with the fact that some are circulated, proves that these pieces are originals. The continued revisionist embrace of this belief leads them to again make serious historical and mechanical errors.
In the Gray-Carboneau theory, the revisionists attempted to show that the dies came loose and accidentally rotated from the eagle flying up orientation. This proposition was necessary to explain the fact that the “eagle flat” pieces are in direct contradiction to the “eagle up” orientation ordered by Mint Director Robert Patterson and well documented in Mint records. This “loose dies” theory collapsed when faced with documented Mint policies and the mechanics of the press detailed in our July 31 Numismatic News article.
In light of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the revisionists have now abandoned the loose dies theory and replaced it with a new proposition that Mint personnel deliberately changed the orientation to an eagle flying flat for the March 1837 striking because it “looked more natural.” While the revisionists are certainly entitled to their artistic opinion, not only do they offer no support for their speculation (other than this is what they believe) but it also runs into the same historical discrepancies that plagued the Gray-Carboneau theory.
First, this new scenario still obviously conflicts with the well-documented eagle flying up orientation ordered by Mint Director Robert Patterson. On April 9, 1836, Patterson wrote Treasury Secretary Levi Woodbury, noting that “The eagle is flying, and, like the country of which it is the emblem, its course onward and upward.”
The revisionists would thus have us believe that Patterson, following established Mint practice, informed his immediate superior seeking official concurrence with the proposed design and its symbolism, but subsequently changed it without any further discussion.
For 1838 and 1839 the new Revisionist theory claims that the eagle is deliberately flying flat as Mint policy. This is directly contradicted by the plated example of the 1838 dollar, with eagle flying up, presented in Mint Director James Ross Snowden’s Mint Manual. The pellets at the sides of ONE DOLLAR are level and there is no way around this illustration, perhaps why the PCGS article ignores it. (It is worth noting that the illustrations are embossed images taken directly from actual coins; an even more secure argument about the alignment.) Because Snowden plated only design types in his Manual, the illustration clearly includes the 1839 coinage.
In support of their design argument, the revisionists have now offered the weak example of a double struck 1838 Gobrecht pattern half dollar. It scarcely needs pointed out, however, that a mis-struck piece of an unapproved design is irrelevant. Even if one accepts the argument that a mis-struck coin shows Gobrecht’s preferred orientation, his opinion did not matter as the sole authority for design approval lay with Treasury officials and the Mint Director and their intentions are clearly documented as the eagle flying up alignment.
In our July 31 Numismatic News article it was noted that, had the director wished the eagle to be flying level for 1838–1839, it would have been easy to prepare a new reverse die with just this feature. In reply the PCGS article claims that this would have been too expensive and time-consuming. This is simply not true. Mint records show that once hubs were on hand it only took a few days to sink a new die. Moreover, the expense was not significant as the hubbing was performed by workmen. This shows very clearly that skewed dies (i.e. the eagle flying level) were not used for the 1838 or 1839 Gobrecht dollars.
The PCGS article states that our proposition that the Die Alignment II pieces of 1837 were dispersed and subsequently lost to circulation would similarly mean that the “huge numbers of circulated Die Alignment IV examples” had to be likewise circulated and rescued by collectors or bullion dealers.
We are not sure how the PCGS author arrived at this “huge numbers” conclusion as the auction records of Bowers & Merena, Stack’s, ANR, and Heritage dating back to 1986 document only eight truly circulated pieces below AU–50. Even the PCGS Population Report does not support the author’s conjecture, showing just nine pieces below AU for the “J-61 Restrike” category and three for the new “Original-Medal Alignment” category as of April 2007! These data are even more damaging when one realizes that the reports suffer from multiple re-submissions, thus inflating the numbers. The claim of “huge numbers” is thus refuted by the data.
Lastly, the PCGS writer is mistaken in claiming that circulated survivors prove that the pieces were original. It is quite possible that these circulated Alignment IV Gobrecht restrikes were simply pocket pieces. People have always liked unusual coins as pocket pieces so it should come as no surprise when we see them circulated or even holed. In fact, the auction data strongly support this view as three out of the eight circulated pieces have been holed for use as pendants or fobs. Moreover, the fairly common occurrence of circulated proofs and commemoratives, such as the 1895 Morgan Dollar, clearly shows that one cannot prove a business strike from circulated pieces. No definitive information as to a piece being original or restrike can therefore be drawn from this handful of circulated specimens.
The PCGS article speculates that the various sub-alignments of the Die Alignment IV pieces for 1837 means that the dies were repeatedly removed and replaced, creating the different sub-alignments. Multiple alignments are actually far more supportive of the Originalist view that the Die Alignment IV pieces are restrikes since restrikes would have been struck on multiple occasions based on collector demand in the late 1850s.
This same section of PCGS article also contains a rather confused discussion of striking orders of the supposed Die Alignment IV sub-alignments and winds up with the speculation that more Alignment IV pieces “may have been struck later in 1837 or 1838” if the 400 originals of 1836 retained by the Mint were dispersed. Here the new revisionist theory is in even further conflict with the historical record because the record clearly shows that December 1836 coins were still being distributed in July 1838!
The PGCS article also shows that the revisionists are yet again struggling to support their theory as they alternately suggest that the Die Alignment IV pieces consist of some of the March 1837 striking, all of the March 1837 striking or pieces struck after March 1837! The reason for this confusion is clear. Since the revisionists have no viable reason for the Alignment IV pieces being struck in 1837 (or 1838 or 1839 for that matter), they can do little except offer conflicting options in the hopes that the reader will buy at least one of them. These arguments collapse when it is noted, once again, that Director Patterson specifically ordered that the eagle fly onward and upward and the undeniable fact that the U.S. mints have never deliberately issued coins with a skewed reverse.
The last issue for the 1836-dated Gobrechts that needs to be addressed is that of the die markers and the die states. With respect to the die markers, it should be noted that the PCGS article incorrectly refers to the nicks above AT in STATES the “Julian/Sholley die markers.” In the July 31 Numismatic News article we clearly stated that we had found several die markers and that the indents above AT were merely the most prominent. We also found, but did not list, those over the U in UNITED, the last A in AMERICA, the R in DOLLAR, the chips in the dentils above last A in AMERICA and that between the pellet and R in DOLLAR.
Moreover, the PCGS article did not discuss one of the most prominent reverse die markers, an arcing scribe line in the dentils above ITED ST. Overlooking this scribe line marker led the PCGS author to incorrectly conclude that the rim nicks were machined off and that the cracked reverse is the same die. It is not; there are two separate starred-reverse dies, Reverse A and Reverse B.
The scribe line marker appears only on the “nicked rim” Reverse A along with the other markers noted above and a couple of fine die scratches noted in the PCGS article. These markers, including the dentil chips, are all missing from Reverse B, the cracked reverse. One could propose that the scribe line was polished out along with the other markers, but this would have obviously affected the dentils and the adjacent letters. However, the dentils and letters show no signs of lapping – the area is full and sharp.
Two nearly identical dies may seem odd but Mint records clearly show that the Gobrecht Dollar dies were produced by the new hub-and-die process that Franklin Peale brought back from his visit to European mints. In this process, the engraver created a master die with all of the design elements (except for the date on the obverse). The master die was then hardened and used to raise a working hub from which the working dies were sunk. Dies replicated in this manner are so nearly identical that they can only be differentiated by minor defects arising during the finishing of the die or the cracks and nicks which accumulate during striking.
Aside from the definitive scribe line, there are other problems with the revisionist’s repaired die theory. First, the PCGS author should have realized something was amiss with the repaired die idea since this would mean that the Mint machined an already hardened die or, alternately, re annealed, machined and re-hardened the die. Either way, this is very unlikely. Such a proposal becomes even more improbable given the fact that the rim remains the same width and depth, showing no signs of repair.
Further, the repaired die conjecture does not fit the fact that the coins show that the Mint struck all 1600 pieces delivered in 1836 and 1837 with the nicked rim reverse. The repaired die speculation would thus have us believe that the Mint did not care about the defect for the original 1600 pieces only to suddenly repair it for a very few Alignment III strikes!
As far as the dentil chips are concerned, we are not sure what the PCGS author thought he saw on the cracked reverse (B), but auction photographs of Alignment III pieces and the Judd-58 pieces, which share this reverse, clearly show that the chips are not there. Interested readers can refer to the following photos: Heritage 2004 June Long Beach Sale Lot 6112, Heritage 2007 Milwaukee Sale Lot 1722, Heritage 2007 September Long Beach Sale Lot 1903 and Stack’s 72nd Anniversary Sale Lot 5210. Only the Heritage 2007 Milwaukee Sale piece appears to show something in the dentils above the A in AMERICA, and this small line is not the same shape or direction as the dentil chip on Reverse A. It may be just a toning mark.
The Starry Reverse Die States
Since the major markers are at the rim and therefore obviously strike dependent, accurate die stating of Reverse A is difficult. Moreover, the inserts in the grading service holders sometimes cover the rim, making die state determination impossible.
The failure to realize that there are two separate dies and the failure to understand that strike and the holder inserts affect the appearance of rim markers led to the jumbled die states and thoroughly confused emission sequence presented in the PCGS article.
Readers should note that on Reverse A in addition to the strike and insert problems with the rim markers, the dentil chip between the R and pellet and the line through O(NE) cannot always be seen. Likewise while the rim nicks at AT and R grow heavier in Alignment IV, the nicks at the last A in AMERICA and U cannot always be seen. With that in mind, the die states are as follows:
Reverse A – “The Nicked Rim”
A – Perfect. Die Alignment I only (see Heritage 2007 St Louis Sale Lots 2165 and 2157).
B - Small chip between dentils above right upright of last A in AMERICA. Die Alignment I only (see Heritage 2005 July San Francisco Sale Lot 10239).
C - Now with small rim mark right of A in STATES, small rim mark below R of DOLLAR and die scratch up from eagle’s wing. Die Alignment I only (see Heritage 2006 March Palm Beach Sale Lot 1643).
D - Now with rim nick over first T in STATES, rim nick over A in STATES much heavier, rim nick below R heavier. Die Alignments I and II (see Heritage 2005 May St. Louis Sale Lot 7598 and 2003 St Louis Sale Lot 7008).
E – Now with rim nick right of U in UNITED, faint rim nick above last A in AMERICA, small chip in dentils between pellet and R. Die Alignments II and IV (see Heritage 2006 August Denver Sale Lot 5315 and Heritage 2006 October Dallas Sale Lot 2286).
Readers should note that the fact that the obverse is not nicked along with the similarity of the rim nicks to defects seen on certain Large Cent varieties and the rapid progression of the nicks indicates that they were caused by contact with tooling rather than repeated removal as suggested in the PCGS article.
Reverse B – the “Cracked Die” die states are essentially as noted in the PCGS article except that they should be noted as States A, B and C in place of i, j and k, and State A is not “reworked” nor do the dentil chips show.
The 1836 Name Below Base Gobrechts
For the 1836 Name Below Base coinage, the PCGS article misinterprets known historical references. Numismatist Edward Cogan published a note in the American Journal of Numismatics (AJN) for June 1867 that the patterns first struck in 1836 had the name below base but that unpleasant remarks concerning the artist’s name as being too prominent forced a change to the base of the seated figure.
In addition, George Sellers (in his published reminiscences) stated that “When the first few dollar coins were struck, it was found that Gobrecht had taken the inexcusable liberty of placing his name on the die, which became conspicuous on the coin, and the coinage had to be stopped until it could be obliterated.”
The revisionists claim that the stoppage to which Sellers refers is the end of coinage in March 1837 and thus the removal of the name thus refers to the new obverse die for 1838 without the name on the base. However, this does not agree with the Sellers account where he clearly states that that only a few coins were struck and the coinage had to be stopped immediately – not four months and 1600 coins later as the revisionists believe. In addition, Patterson was still distributing the 1836 Name on Base pieces in 1838, clearly indicating that there was no official stigma attached.
Although there are minor differences, Sellers’ account does fit the 1867 AJN account in that the coinage was stopped and the design modified. These slight differences are not surprising since Sellers was writing 50 years after the fact. It should be noted that Sellers’ recall on other subjects – such as the portrait lathe – is slightly off on the fine details when compared with Mint records. It is therefore certain that the 1867 AJN account and the report by George Sellers both refer to the removal of C. GOBRECHT F. from below the base in 1836.
The PCGS article also claims that the presently known 1836 Name below Base pieces were struck with an obverse die which had the name removed from the base. We have not seen illustrations of sufficient quality to verify this claim but if true, it merely means that a new die was made or a left-over “name omitted” die was modified in the late 1850s to make restrikes.
The above was written before additional Revisionist material was posted to the uspatterns.com website. The most important was a joint effort between John Dannreuther and Saul Teichman, showing “comparisons” between the Originalist (Breen) theory and Revisionist I, accompanied by “current research” by these same two writers.
While there are several substantive errors and omissions in this “current research” discussion, the most serious is the question of coin weights. In our first Numismatic News article there was a discussion about coin weights and tolerances, based on the law and documented Mint practices, which thoroughly destroyed the revisionist argument. In an effort to get around these weight discussions, a “comparison” statement claims that the Waste Book (a key source used for the Numismatic News article) does not record weights for “distributed” coins and therefore weights cannot be used to determine if a coin may be original or restrike. This is simply not true.
Unfortunately, Dannreuther and Teichman apparently have never seen the Waste Book and thus made critical errors in their statement. Weights are given in the Waste Book for all coins delivered to the treasurer of the Mint. The Waste Book entries were in fact determined by actually weighing each delivery. Moreover, Mint records clearly show that all silver and gold planchets were individually weighed prior to coinage.
The above discussion clearly shows that the Originalist (Breen) theory for originals and restrikes of the Gobrecht coinage is correct. If the eagle is flying “onward and upward” it is an original and if flying level it is a restrike.
Further, it can be clearly seen that the Revisionist II theory is based on nothing more than the belief that the historical record is wrong. This has resulted in weak arguments, mis-analyzed data, and pure speculation, none of which meets the known historical documentation. The revisionists have now tried two excuses for their belief that the eagle flying flat pieces are originals. The first – accidentally rotating dies – was so discredited that they had to abandon it. The new “deliberate rotation” excuse has now likewise failed.
On the other hand, each time new Originalist information has been published, it is in complete agreement with historical records and Mint documents.
Based on the documented historical record, the Originalist Theory explains how the various alignments occurred – no convoluted arguments are required. Additionally, it is the Originalist Theory that has over-turned Revisionist speculation of the dies rotating and their incorrect die states and emission sequences. The result is a proper notation of the die states and a simpler emission sequence.
With this second Numismatic News article we have now made the Originalist theory even stronger. The revisionists have no supporting Mint records or historical documentation while the Originalist theory has a wealth of such material. It is now time for the revisionists to produce credible official documentation and known Mint practices as proof rather than merely wishing something to be true.