The E-Sylum:  Volume 10, Number 37, September 16, 2007, Article 8


Regarding Carl Honore's item on high-relief coinage in the last
issue, Richard Doty of the National Numismatic Collection at the
Smithsonian writes: "I'd like to observe that Carl Honore and I
have been talking about matters technological, industrial, metallurgical,
and numismatic for the better part of fifteen years.  I think he's
right in his comments about curved fields, strikes, die wear, and
American twentieth-century coinage.  The ancestor of the buffalo nickel
and the Walking Liberty half dollar was indeed Conrad Kuchler's
halfpence and farthings of 1799.  Take a close look at one in any
condition above fine, and you'll see a very clever use of depth, a
balancing act between fields, designs, and relief that the Americans
would rediscover a century and a quarter later."

John Dannreuther writes: "Our first high relief coinage was for
our most diminutive gold coin - the gold dollar.

"In 1849, Longacre used concave fields (convex dies) for the obverse
for the first gold dollars (the reverse dies were normal, flat field
types). (The 1849 gold dollar is also the first US regular issue coin
to have the date in the master die.) The original high relief, concave
fields 1849 gold dollars (the No "L" and the first "L" variety had
concave fields) were abandoned because of reverse die breakage. The
stress on the reverse (anvil) dies required a change to flat fields
for both sides. The double eagle prepared later in the year was also
first prepared with slightly concave obverse fields, which were changed
for the 1850 regular issue. The complaint that the double eagle would
not stack was false, but the lesson Longacre learned with the breaking
of the reverse dies for the gold dollars undoubtedly resulted in his
changing the double eagle dies.

"In regards to the early twentieth century high relief coinage, I was
in the Smithsonian last week and was shown some of the Charles Barber
papers (mainly letters) that may, or may not, be familiar to your

"Although I would not really consider the Mercury dime (yes, it really
is the Winged Liberty Head) and Walking Liberty half dollar high relief
coinage, they do have slightly concave fields. Striking problems were
encountered and the half dollar design was modified.

"Among the Barber letters was a July 18, 1916 handwritten letter from
Adolph Alexander Weinman to Barber. This letter may be published
elsewhere, but I am sure some of the subscribers (me included) have
not seen it. The content is interesting, as it relates to the design
and the ultimate change from brilliant Proofs to Satin/Roman/Matte

"In it, Weinman states:

 I am sending you today by parcel post the bronze cast of the reverse
 of the Dime. I have strengthened the lettering and have slightly
 simplified the foliage of the olive branch. The obverse for the Dime
 is now being cast in bronze and should be in your hands within a few
 days, if the bronze cast turns out satisfactory. I shall also make
 the lettering stronger in this model.

 The obverse for the Half Dollar is now being reduced, after I had
 made certain modifications with Mr. Woolley's consent and I am now
 busy with the reverse.

 I am much troubled about the polished background of the two coins
 shown here. The reflection from the polished surface is so intense
 that one cannot get a calm impression of the design at all. Mr.
 Woolley agrees with me that the background of these coins should
 not be polished and I would greatly appreciate an expression of
 opinion from you in the matter.

 Will you also kindly inform me when both dies for the Dime have
 been completed and a sample coin struck, with dull surface, and
 I will come over to see them.

"(Thanks to Jim Hughes of the Smithsonian for the copy of this letter.)

"Of course, the dime and half dollar do not have the deep concave
fields of the Saint-Gaudens coinage, but as collectors of these two
series know, fully struck coins are difficult for many of the dates,
especially the branch mint issues.

"The convex nature of the dies for high relief coinage not only make
striking difficult, but makes polishing the dies for brilliant Proof
coinage nearly impossible. (This is discussed in detail in Roger
Burdette's book on the 1905-08 coinage.)

"There are just too many technical difficulties to strike regular
coinage with deeply high relief dies. Any clashing would be difficult
to remove without removing some detail, as noted by Carl Honore. We
are lucky that Teddy was so adamant in insisting that the High Relief
double eagles be struck, as the Mint certainly knew that a regular
issue high relief coinage was impractical."

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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