Mark Hotz writes:
I was interested to read in The E-Sylum the excerpt from Maurice Gould (1949) about the Boston Masonic Hall 1864 engraved half dollars. I obtained one of these nearly 30
years ago (from whom I cannot remember) as a curiosity for a small price. At the time, prevailing literature indicated that (as Gould said) a group of 1864 half dollars were
recovered from the ruins of the Boston Masonic Temple, which was destroyed by fire in April 1864, and engraved as souvenirs.
As time wore on, it became clear something was wrong with this conclusion. Specie payments had been suspended in 1861 - there were no 1864 half dollars circulating in
Boston in April of 1864 and thus none could have found their way willy-nilly into the Temple. Some years back this mystery was solved when a newspaper article was located that
indicated clearly that the melted and damaged Masonic silver accoutrements (hollow-ware, trophies, regalia) were recovered from the Temple. This silver was then sent to the Mint
in Philadelphia and struck into 1864 half dollars (the only way one could get Civil War dated Philadelphia issues was to provide one's own silver to the Mint for such
strikings). Some of the 1864 half dollars struck from coin silver from melted Masonic regalia were then engraved and sold as souvenirs, making this particular item one of the very
first real commemorative coins struck at the Mint!
Newark Daily Advertiser Thursday, Oct 06, 1864 Newark, NJ Page: 2
Mark wrote an article about these coins in the February 1993 issue of The Numismatist (p188). It discussed his exchanges with Q. David Bowers and others about the pieces
and the suspicions that Gould's story was incomplete. It doesn't mention the newspaper article, which wasn't discovered until later.
Julia Casey was able to quickly locate the newspaper article (illustrated above). Thanks! These are then indeed among the first commemorative coins struck at the Mint. But they
weren't THE first. QUICK QUIZ: What commemorative coins were struck by the U.S. Mint prior to the Civil War?
Julia also located some related articles and images (linked below). Thanks! -Editor
To read the a New York Times article on the fire, see:
The Great Fire in Boston.; DESTRUCTION OF THE WINTHROP
HOUSE AND FREEMASON'S HALL. - The New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/1864/04/10/archives/the-great-fire-in-boston-destruction-of-the-winthrop-house-and.html)
For a post-fire photo from the Boston Public Library, see:
Ruins of the Winthrop House, cor. Tremont and Boylston Sts. Burned 1864
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
NEWMAN PORTAL ADDS NENA NEWS (https://www.coinbooks.org/v22/esylum_v22n03a12.html)
Wayne Homren, Editor
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