Lettered Edge Considered for 20-Cent Piece
by Roger W. Burdette
Copyright 2006. All rights reserved.

A recently located letter by U.S. Mint engraver William Barber indicates that Mint Director Henry R. Linderman seriously considered placing the motto E Pluribus Unum on the edge of the new 20-cent piece issued in 1875.

Linderman’s idea was to put the motto on the edge of the 20-cent coin to more readily distinguish the new denomination from the reeded-edge quarter. He felt it would also deter counterfeiters. In a reply dated April 17, 1874, Barber suggested placing the motto on the edge and removing it from the face of the coin. He also described three ways the lettering could be applied and his objections to two of them:


     …The first is by attaching a “split collar” in three pieces, operating automatically, to the presses now in use, and striking the rim and face by the same blow. The objections are cost of altering presses, decreased production, and liability to frequent repairs.

     The 2nd way is by striking the coins as at present and putting the motto on the edge afterwards. These objections follow: risk of soiling the beauty of the new piece by handling, also by collision, and by the necessary pressure on the rim throwing up a ”fin”, or unfinished look on the edge.

     The third way is the one I wish to suggest to you as likely to overcome the objections of the two former methods, it is this…. Make your planchets a trifle large, then put them through a small machine such as are used to throw up more metal on the edges of coins or medals, having the letters raised on the steel sides. The pressure will at once insert the motto and also raise up the extra metal on the edge necessary to get up the additional rim on the turned edge of the die…protecting the device. These prepared planchets to be struck in the usual way.

     You will observe on coins having the sunken letters, that the last striking of the dies presses the rim so tightly in the collar that the sunken motto on the edge is slightly, very slightly injured, but by no means obscured.


Barber also suggested that the edge could include “…some delicate and secret mark, changeable periodically at pleasure… which, made known to the [counterfeit] detector, should aid him and baffle the counterfeiter.”

            During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the U.S. Mint had produced coins with lettered or ornamented edges before settling on reeded edges in 1836. Planchets were run through a lettering machine, in much the same manner as Barber described in his third, and preferred, option. The “split” or “segmented collar” had been used by the British Royal Mint for many years and was known in England as a “cone collar.”

It does not appear that Linderman’s concept was tested in 1874. None of the 20-cent patterns (Pollock 1498-1503; Judd 1354-1358) have been identified as showing signs of edge lettering and Mint Bureau records do not indicate that edge lettering experiments were undertaken that this time. By 1885, the subject had again attracted the attention of Treasury Department officials and an experimental silver dollar with E Pluribus Unum on the edge in relief (Pollock 1959-1961; Judd 1747-1749) was tested, this time by William’s son, Charles who was now engraver of the Philadelphia Mint. Again, nothing was done to utilize the device on circulating coins until 1906 when Charles Barber and George Morgan collaborated on a pattern double eagle with lettered edge (Pollock 1992; Judd 1773). This experiment led directly to use of E Pluribus Unum on the edge of the Saint-Gaudens double eagles from 1907-1933. The raised lettering was applied to normal production coins by a three-segment edge collar die using both the English collar design, and an American “toggle collar” mechanical arrangement.