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The E-Sylum: Volume 25, Number 44, October 30, 2022, Article 12

WILLIAM MORRIS MEREDITH (1799-1873)

American Numismatic Biographies author Pete Smith submitted this article on Treasury Secretary William Meredith, a missing rare coin, and altered fractional currency portraits. Thanks! All great topics. -Editor

  Where is the Missing 1849 Double Eagle?

  1849 Double Eagle.01

One of America's rarest and potentially most valuable pattern coins is missing. This week we offer some clues to the disappearance of the only 1849 double eagle in private hands.

  William Morris Meredith (1799-1873)

William M. Meredith was born in Philadelphia on June 8, 1799, the son of attorney William Tuckey Meredith (1777-1844) and Gertrude Gouverneur Ogden (1777-1828). Gertrude was the niece of Gouverneur Morris (1752-1816) who is credited for his proposal for a decimal system of American coinage.

The son graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor's degree at a young age in 1812 and master's degree in 1816. He read law until he was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar in 1817 at age 18. He then practiced law when he was not in an elected position. Meredith was elected to the Pennsylvania General Assembly and served 1824 to 1828. He served on the Philadelphia City Council from 1834 to 1849 and was a delegate to the 1837 Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention. He campaigned for Whig candidate William Henry Harrison and was rewarded in 1840 with an appointment as attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Meredith was quick to finish his education but slow to get married. After a ten-year engagement, he married Catherine Keppele (1801-1853) on June 17, 1835. They had a son and four daughters.

He was an unsuccessful Whig candidate for the Senate in 1848. President Zachary Taylor appointed Meredith Secretary of the Treasury and he began his service on March 8, 1849. President Taylor died on July 9, 1850, and Meredith resigned, effective on July 22 having served a little more than sixteen months in the position.

Gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill in California on January 24, 1848. Soon large quantities of gold were shipped back to Philadelphia for conversion into coinage. Congress voted on March 3, 1849, to issue $20 gold coins to be called double eagles. James Barton Longacre produced dies and at least two pieces were struck on December 22, 1849. One was set aside for the Mint Cabinet and the second was sent by Mint Director Robert M. Patterson to Secretary Meredith for his examination and approval. The 1849 pattern pieces were in high relief and could not be properly struck in the mint presses. New dies in lower relief were prepared for coinage in 1850.

After leaving Mint service, Meredith returned to the practice of law and changed his party to Republican in 1854 as the Whig party was dissolving. He was elected Pennsylvania attorney general and served in that position from 1860 to 1867. In 1872, was president of the Republican National Convention.

Meredith died on August 13, 1873, and is buried with his wife at Christ Church Burial Ground. That cemetery is the final resting place of Benjamin Franklin and is across the street from the current Fourth Philadelphia Mint.

A photograph shows the 1849 double eagle in the Meredith estate. Subsequent ownership is uncertain. Walter Breen states that it was handled by dealer Stephen K. Nagy and went into a private collection. Nagy (1884-1958) was born ten years after the death of Meredith and ownership between Meredith and Nagy is untraced. If Breen is correct, This could be in a multi-generation collection where the owner knows what they have. It could also be sitting in a collection unappreciated or it may have been lost.

I do not own the missing 1849 double eagle. As a literature collector, I own three books with the 1849 double eagle embossed on the cover. These include Montroville Wilson Dickeson's The American Numismatical Manual, 1859; George Evans' History of the United States Mint and American Coinage Ancient and Modern, 1891 edition; and Isaac Smith Homans The Coin Book, 1872. The Dickeson and Homans covers have the obverse slightly overlapping the reverse. Both were published by J. B. Lippincott & Co. in Philadelphia.

  Meredith Fractional Currency

A Mathew Brady photograph of Meredith may be as rare as an 1849 double eagle. An engraved portrait of Meredith, made from the Brady daguerotype, appears on a ten cent fractional currency note, fifth series, issued six months after his death February 26, 1874, and continued through February 15, 1876. This portrait became a popular base for artistic alterations.

  Meredith Altered Banknote.02 Altered portrait fractional currency note
Left: Pete's notes; Right: Last week's E-Sylum notes

I scanned two pieces from my collection. The first is the portrait as issued without alteration. The second shows a piece altered with black and red ink to represent some type of religious figure. This was probably not intended to represent a specific person.

The E-Sylum of October 16, 2022, showed a Meredith portrait altered to represent Boss Tweed. This was the inspiration for me to look for alterations on the internet. I produced a composite picture showing six examples out of about twenty I found.

  William Meredith Altered Banknotes.01

Each of these may be a unique work of art. Similar pieces are not common but are also not rare. I can't explain why the Meredith portrait was so popular for alteration. I suspect some people saw examples and were inspired to try their own. The initial examples can't be identified but then the whimsy spread like a virus to others.

I would be interested to hear from any E-Sylum reader who has formed a collection of these.

Can anyone help? I wouldn't be surprised if other readers collect these, too. -Editor

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
BOSS TWEED CARICATURES (https://www.coinbooks.org/v25/esylum_v25n43a12.html)

THE BOOK BAZARRE

RENAISSANCE OF AMERICAN COINAGE: Wizard Coin Supply is the official distributor for Roger Burdette's three volume series that won NLG Book of the Year awards for 2006, 2007 and 2008. Contact us for dealer or distributor pricing at www.WizardCoinSupply.com.



Wayne Homren, Editor

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