A recent article by Matthew Wittmann on the ANS Pocket Change blog covers the fascinating Lesher referendum dollar series.
Here's a brief excerpt. -Editor
The so-called Lesher Dollars were octagonal silver pieces minted by Joseph Lesher of Victor, Colorado, in 1900 and 1901 as part of a
larger movement for the cause of free silver, which had particularly strong support locally. After the Crime of ’73 saw the United States
effectively demonetize silver and embrace the gold standard, a diffuse alliance of farmers, miners, and their political allies pressed to
reintroduce silver currency and concomitantly expand the money supply. The apex of this ongoing struggle was the presidential election of
1896, in which Republican William McKinley defeated William Jennings Bryan and his coalition of free silver supporters. Although Bryan’s
defeat seemingly settled the issue nationally, he had received more than 80% of the vote in Colorado, and it continued to roil the
politically tumultuous mining districts there through the early twentieth century.
Victor was a boomtown on the western slope of Pike’s Peak, just a few miles southwest of its more famous neighbor, Cripple Creek, where
the 1890 discovery of gold inaugurated a decade-long rush into the region. Joseph Lesher was an early arrival and by the
turn-of-the-century he was well-known and established figure in the local mining and real estate business. The contentious politics of the
county boiled down to a struggle between the heavily working-class mining districts and the more conservative city of Colorado Springs to
its west, where many of the mine owners lived.
The American Numismatic Society holds fourteen Lesher dollars and some related minting equipment–2 obverse dies, 1 reverse die, 2
punches, and 3 bed plates–that were donated by Farran Zerbe (1871-1949). Zerbe also published a useful account of their genesis in the
American Journal of Numismatics in 1917 that drew from an in-person visit with Joseph Lesher some years prior. As Zerbe points out, Lesher
was clearly in a very grey legal area vis-à-vis the United States government, which held a monopoly on issuing hand-to-hand currency. He
differentiated his silver pieces from government money with an octagonal shape and an inscription on the obverse that read JOS LESHERS
REFERENDUM SOUVENIR. The dies for this initial issue of one hundred pieces were cut by Frank Hurd and struck by metal stampers in Denver.
They were composed of silver .950 fine with copper alloy, weighed 480 grains (equivalent to one troy ounce), and measured 35mm in
To read the complete article, see:
LESHER REFERENDUM DOLLARS
Wayne Homren, Editor
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