Dick Johnson submitted this discussion and question regarding the definition of the "So-Called Dollar" medals. Thanks - what do readers think?
I am in a dialog with So-Called Dollar gurus Jeff Shevlin and Bill Hyder over the definition of So-Called Dollars. They have just published Discover The World of Charbneau So-Called Dollars in which they allowed me to expound in the preface on the subject. You should examine (politically correct for the word "buy") this book. The color illustrations alone are worth the price of admission, let alone their tale of who Charbneau was and their attempt to learn the identity of the mysterious engraver of this tiny medal. You may not have one of these little expo gold dollars in your collection but the book will elevate your knowledge of so-called dollars.
Also, this is the first book in a series of books they plan on So-Called Dollars. (Bless them for this undertaking - it won't make them rich, but readers can benefit from their labor of love!)
Jeff Shevlin insists coin dealers of the last decade of the 19th century originated and defined the term by listing them in their (back-of-the-book) auction catalogs. Richard Kenney gathered them together and published the first list of these in The Coin Collector's Journal (July-August 1953). Dick Kenney held to a strict definition of the term.
But it was Hibler and Kappen who tried best to define the term in their monumental 1963 work, So-Called Dollars. They gave eight points for inclusion -- U.S. only, size restrictions near a silver dollar, no holder or looped -- and such. But HK left it at that for a somewhat more liberal definition.
Jeff is taking a hard-line approach. Like some collectors who say "If it isn't in HK (or will fit in a 2x2 holder) the hell with it!" Not quite Jeff's view. "I personally like the term and definition the hobby currently has for So-called Dollars and I do not intend to redefine that definition." However, he states "I do intend to remove some medals that should not be included and add hundreds more that were not included."
The problem is since the silver dollar size is such a major criteria, then a lot of what has been struck over the years should have been included. Thus Franklin Mint medals, for example, meet this size criteria. I asked both gentlemen would they include Franklin Mint medals as so-called dollars? Neither wanted to include them.
Bill Hyder's response was so insightful I hope they include it -- or the gist of what he wrote -- in their next book. He stated his interest in So-Called Dollars, while intense, is not to obtain every HK medal, like he was filling every porthole in an album. His interest is dominated more by the medal's subject or topic, as he collects everything on the 1894 California Midwinter Celebrations. This includes tokens, medals and badges in addition to the So-Called Dollars from that event.
This is more in line with how medal collectors collect. I learned this early on when I added souvenir spoons to my medal auction catalogs. Collectors of expo medals, I found, also purchased expo souvenir spoons, for example. I would hope more collectors would carry this theme-centric topic forward by adding other "associated items" as postcards, maps, posters and such. (Like Fred Reed did in his Lincoln book, just published.) It adds more depth to your collection.
I tossed out the term "Souvenir medal" as a more apt term to what a so-called dollar really is. And I would include medals in sizes other than that the constrictive silver-dollar size. Several So-Called Dollars were struck with the same design for the same event in a larger size than inch-and-a-half.
Perhaps we are midway in our discussions - no consensus yet. It points out to all authors: If you don't make a clear definition of any subject you write about, it will be argued about for generations.
Care to add your comments on so-called dollars?
Wayne Homren, Editor
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