The September 23 Bonhams Coins and Medals auction
includes the "Tacasyl Collection of Magnificent United States Proof Gold Coins" , a "27-strong selection assembled by a private collector of nearly every major American gold coin design in proof between 1836 and 1915." The catalog is available online and the descriptions contain some interesting bits of information about these coins.
Lot 1007, 1885 $3
The Three Dollar denomination is today a collector’s favorite, but
while it was being produced it was barely used by the American public.
Authorized in early 1853, its design was essentially an enlarged version
of the Type 3 Indian Head one dollar gold piece, also by James Longacre.
The reasons for creating such an odd denomination remain somewhat
hazy, but the first suggestion for the denomination dates back to June,
1832. Whether historically founded or not, numismatists have suggested
with some common-sense that the denomination was created to pay for
large purchases of 3-cent postage stamps (100 to a sheet). Regardless
of the reasoning, the denomination was never popular. (Professor John
Alexander, one of the first proponents of an international coinage in the
mid-1850s, called the denomination “an excrescence”).
During its entire
thirty-five year production from 1854 until 1889 only about 16,300
three dollar gold pieces were produced in total (compared, for example,
with the nearly 600,000 Quarter Eagles struck in Philadelphia in 1854
alone). Of that total a meager 2,000 pieces were struck as proofs, and a
fraction of those have survived.
Lot 1008 1879 $4 Stella
Although the Stella is undoubtedly America’s best known physical
manifestation of an international currency, the idea of coinages which
were of equivalent value and convertible in other countries was not
new. According to a recent article, in 1855 Professor John H. Alexander
published a pamphlet on an international coinage for the United States
and Great Britain. The concept was to have the sovereign and half eagle
of equal gold content and value. The idea reached the halls of Congress,
which subsidized an exploratory trip to Great Britain for the professor, but
following Alexander’s report the program failed to win support.
In Europe, the Latin Union was formed in 1865 and seven countries agreed
to adopt the French currency system. The members of the Union would
produce coins of a national character, but their value and underlying gold
content would be based on the French franc. In Paris, two years later at
an International Monetary Conference it was agreed (in principal) that all
conferees would adopt a similar system, but in subsequent debates the
system, largely on nationalistic grounds, was defeated.
France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War ended enthusiasm for the
idea until 1878, when a second conference was held, again in Paris,
at the urging of the United States. This time it was an international
bimetallic standard that was proposed and it was as a result of this second
conference that the Stellas were developed, largely at the urging of John
Kasson, the United States Minister to Austria.
With Congressional approval and the support of the Secretary of State,
the Mint was ordered to develop a coin which could not only circulate
around the world, be recognized as an international coin, but also
indicate its value in a similarly multi-national way.
The Mint’s solution to all of its charges was common sense: the value
of the coin was expressed not only in dollars (Four), but in the metallic
composition of the coin itself; 6 grams gold; .3 grams silver; .7 grams
copper. To achieve this alloy, the Philadelphia Mint’s assay shop simply
mixed the correct proportions. Finally, to create an odd sized planchet,
half eagle blanks were adjusted (probably by hand, as the striations vary
from one example to another) to the correct weight.
When completed, the newly struck patterns were forwarded on to the
Coinage Committee in Congress for approval. Word of their unusual
design and beauty quickly made the Washington, D.C. rounds and
additional examples of the 1879 Flowing Hair variety were struck to satisfy
Congressional demand. Ultimately though, like earlier efforts to create
international coinage, legislators scuttled the plan, but not before creating
one of the United States’ most sought-after collector coins.
To view the complete catalog, see:
Wayne Homren, Editor
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