Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Shipwrecks and their Treasure

After having bought a "shipwreck effect" 1861-O Seated Liberty half dollar recovered from the SS Republic shipwreck, I was still not yet a coin collector. I loved the fact that I now possessed a coin from an important event in history, even if it was a tragic one. I wanted to know more about the shipwreck and if there were any other similar shipwrecks with coins recovered that I could own.

What I found was that people have been recovering treasure from shipwrecks since the beginning of time. But I immediately started to see a problem. How do you authenticate that an item you purchase is really from a specific shipwreck? I first started questioning this as I found many items in online stores and on auction sites claiming to be from old Spanish shipwrecks that were part of the famed Spanish treasure fleets. The most famous of these being the Nuestra Señora de Atocha.

The Nuestra Señora de Atocha was a Spanish galleon loaded with treasure that sank in 1622. After 16 years of searching, the main part of the treasure was found in 1985 by Mel Fisher. Today, you can find many places selling a piece of the treasure and guaranteeing the authenticity. But how does a simple certificate of authenticity prove a coin is from a shipwreck? It doesn't take a genius to see there is plenty of opportunity here for misrepresentation.

For example, I came across an auction (ebay #8375370870) for 2 certificates of authenticity, each for an 8 reale coin, from an unknown shipwreck apparently excavated by a company called Maritime Explorations. The key here is that only the certificates were being auctioned, not the coins with them. Someone actually bid on and won the auction. So again, it doesn't take a genius to see that there probably is going to be two non-shipwreck coins paired up with these certificates and sold to an unsuspecting buyer! So, am I going to pay a premium for something whose authenticity is always going to be in question? I don't think so.

But the coin from the SS Republic was different. Odyssey Marine Exploration had enlisted Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) to certify and encapsulate the coins from the shipwreck. NGC and PCGS (Professional Coin Grading Service) are considered two of the more reputable of the third party coin graders. (some dealers only deal in certified coins from these two companies) This more than took care of my concerns about authenticity. I now was on the hunt for more shipwreck coins certified by either NGC or PCGS.

This new hunt of course led me to gold $20 Type 1 Double Eagles (1850-1866). There were four major shipwrecks that have been found with hoards of $20 Type 1 Double Eagles. These were the SS Yankee Blade (sank in 1854), SS Central America (sank in 1857), SS Brother Jonathan (sank in 1865), and the SS Republic (sank in 1865). If I really wanted to own some nice coins from shipwrecks, it looked like I would have to start collecting $20 Type 1 Double Eagles. Collecting gold was going to cost more, but at least I felt confident about the authenticity of the coins being from a shipwreck. . . . And anyway, who doesn't like gold?

They say to buy the book before the coin. So my bible became "An Insider's Guide to Collecting Type 1 Double Eagles" by Douglas Winter and Adam Crum. I read this book from front to back and I began my quest for shipwreck gold. Eventually, I acquired $20 Type 1 Double Eagles from the SS Central America, SS Brother Jonathan, and SS Republic. But there was still the elusive SS Yankee Blade?

Then this past summer, I came across lot #355 in the American Numismatic Rarities "William H. LaBelle, Sr. Collection" auction on July 25th, 2006. There was an 1854-S $20 Type 1 Double Eagle in MS64 listed as being from the SS Yankee Blade. On top of that, it was being auctioned from the reknowned Q. David Bowers's own personal collection. . . . What a pedigree! . . . But my understanding is that very little is known about the 1977 recovery of gold from the SS Yankee Blade and nothing has really been printed as to what exactly was found. So I asked the owner (and clearly an expert on the subject), Mr. Bowers, the following questions:

1) Has the coin been certified by one of the grading services, and if so, is the attribution to the SS Yankee Blade designated on the holder?

2) If there are no real records of the coins recovered from the SS Yankee Blade, how sure are you of the attribution of this coin to the shipwreck.

3) What is the history of the coin before you acquired it? Did you purchase it soon after the recovery or has the coin changed hands a few times?

Basically, I was concerned with the proof of authenticity. If I bought it and then later wanted to sell it, what proof would I have that the coin was from the SS Yankee Blade? Here is Mr. Bowers's response:

Thank you for your inquiry. There are no 1854-S $20 coins that are directly attributed to the S.S. Yankee Blade, but it is presumed that all with slight seawater effect and with myriad tiny die cracks are from this source. There is a spread on this ship in my American Coin Treasures and Hoards book. I never sent it into a certification service, but if I did, and they marked “S.S. Yankee Blade” on it, this would by (sic) probable but not certain. I did interviews, etc., as mentioned in my book, and that is why my attribution is such.

Hmm? He probably is right and all the coins with seawater effect and myriad tiny die cracks are probably from this shipwreck. But is it certain? Is it evidence enough to pay a premium? Will others in the future agree with this attribution? Needless to say, I did not bid on the coin. In hindsight, I probably should have bid on the coin if for no other reason than it is pedigreed to Mr. Bowers. But again, without certification and encapsulation, how would I prove that pedigree in the future?

So, it would appear that my collection of shipwreck coins will not include an example from the SS Yankee Blade. But more importantly, this quest for shipwreck coins, and the reading of the Winter/Crum book, was the turning point for me. It is from that point on that I consider myself, not only a coin collector, but a numismatist. Not only do I want to learn more about shipwrecks, I want to learn more about coins. . . all coins! I have the bug!

15 Comments:

At 2:28 PM, Blogger Thomas Hoke said...

Do you know the the real reason most of the 1861-O $20 double-eagles have a date at the bottom that drops out, especially the 6 and the 8? It is difficult to explain how just one set of dies was used, yet several almost perfect 1861-O $20 double-eagles exist....and many others have a definite drop-out in the bottom of the date. But it can be explained: first, you have to understand a majority of the 5,000 coins minted by the United States Government at the New Orleans mint during January, 1861 never made it into circulation. Why not? Well, they were exchanged for British soverigns which flooded into the mint by the tens of thousand during January, 1861. The first 5,000 gold $20 double-eagles along with 300,000 silver half-dollars were transferred to Citizens Bank in New Orleans. On April 15, 1861 they were "given" to a Confederate officer. He took them by wagon to just outside Waveland, Mississippi and buried them along Harbor Drive.
So....how does that explain the drop-out in the date? On February 1, 1861 the only gold the state of Louisiana could use was gold melted from the foreign gold sovereigns. The British sovereigns contained less copper than the coins used to make the first 5,000....and less copper mixed in means it was more difficult to punch the blanks in the steam presses. Because the blanks were effectively harder, the date dropped out and became weak at the base. The same die was used, but the harder gold stock resulted in the defect seen in coins produced by the state of Louisiana and the Confederacy.

 
At 2:42 AM, Blogger A.C. Dwyer (aka The Arlington Collection) said...

This is one of the better theories that I've heard, but it's still impossible to prove over other theories. Here is why I have my doubts, keeping in mind that gold is softer than silver, and silver is softer than copper.

Since the Great Recoinage of 1816, English sovereigns have been minted from 22k gold (or 91.7% gold and 8.3% copper). The only exception was 1887 when 1.25% was silver which replaced some of the copper to make the planchets softer for striking.

The 1861-O $20 double eagle, on the other hand, is 900 fine (or 90% gold). The other 10% is an alloy of silver and copper with the silver not to exceed 5% but it can be lower.

Gold being the softest metal, the normal double eagle planchet was 90% gold to the sovereign's 91.7%. All else being equal, then the planchets made from the sovereign would actually be softer, not harder. But there's the allow to consider.

The sovereign is 8.3% copper whereas the normal planchet for the double eagle was a minimum of 5% copper. If the double eagle planchet was a full 5% silver and 5% copper, then the theory might have something going for it. But any increase in the copper to silver ratio starts to even things out or even lean towards the planchets made from the sovereigns being softer.

But I do agree that the theory is possible, even if not provable.

The historical part of the theory, if true, does add some weight to the sovereign planchets being harder. Do you know what the sources are that show that they only had sovereigns from which to make the gold planchets starting after Feb 1? And what was used in January, California gold?

Proving the historical part of this theory would throw some circumstantial evidence behind it. But either way, I would still prefer to pay a premium for a full strike example than one with a weak strike. Paying premiums on theories usually doesn't pay off when it comes time to sell.

 
At 8:21 AM, Blogger Tom Hoke said...

The "Gold Book" at the National Archives building in Ft. Worth shows the amount of foreign gold exchanged at the New Orleans mint in January, 1861 was more than 10,249.17 ounces. The United States Government made 5,000 $20 gold double-eagles which weighed 5,890 ounces. When someone brought in a gold nugget, a gold tooth, or some trinket of jewlery, they were paid, usually within 7 days, in gold. On January 16, 1861 the records show "someone" (try: Johnson Kelly Duncan, the hero of Ft. Jackson, Superintendent of Public Works for the New Orleans branch mint, and a West Point graduate who went from Captain in the U. S. Army to Brigadier General in the Confederate Army) brought in 5,000 British sovereigns. Then, awhile later the same day....well, he brought in 5,000 more.....and then, pushing his luck since that would be the last day for exchanges....he brought in another 5,000 British sovereigns. So, in that one day alone one guy brought in 15,000 gold British sovereigns. Does this sound like "normal exchange activity"? No, but it does smell a bit like something interesting was happening. During the latter part of January, 1861, John Dix, the Treasurer of the United States, knew he had to do something to try to get the gold and silver out of the New Orleans mint before it was taken over by the State of Louisiana. He sent a draft note for $350,000. He claimed on January 22, 1861 a total of $880,087.40 was in the hands of the New Orlean's mint Treasurer. He broke it down as: "Treasurer of the mint, $389,267.46; Assistant Treasurer to the Credit of the Treasurer of the United States, $265,445.14; and to Assistant Treasurer to the credit of disbursing officers, $225,374.80."
The first amount ($389,267.46) was subsequently turned over to the Confederate States of America intact, penny for penny. The "interesting" amount was the $265,445.14....because this was the gold and silver produced by the United States Government during January: 5,000 $20 gold double-eagles, worth $100,000, and 330,000 silver half dollars, worth $165,000.....for a total of, yes: $265,445.14. The other amount, $225,374.80 was more than likely foreign gold which was incoming, but it could not be used for transactions because it was not legal tender. The response to the draft note for $350,000 was immediate: the Assistant Treasurer replied he could not pay any part until he could pay the whole, i.e., he did not have $350,000 to send back.....because he couldn't return the bullion fund, and he couldn't return the foreign coins....which left him with $265,445.14....and by the time the letter was received in New Orleans it was too late....because most of the $20 gold coins and silver half dollars were already exchanged, and they had been sent to Citizens Bank.

It would be interesting to know the composition of some of the coins in existence....with the dropped out date.

I agree with you: buy the best coin you can....but that might be difficult, because this past year an 1861-O coin appeared which was MS-62 and the asking price was $160,000. For me this was the first example of a $20 gold double-eagle which might have slipped through the crack in January, 1861....because it is perfect, and the date looks great.

By the way, when the New Orleans mint was transferred to the state of Louisiana on January 30, 1861 an inventory was taken of the gold and silver coins. The letters from A. J. Guirot, Assistant Treasurer of the State of Louisiana shows the balance (on copperplate press impressions in the National Archives center, Rockville, Maryland) of gold and silver coins to be: $308,771.00 (gold coins) and $175,212.98 (silver coins).

For some strange (?) reason the mint was inventoried, item for items, screw for screw, and the inventory was available on February 1, 1861 when the state of Louisiana took control of the mint. But....and this is a big B-U-T...it took another 13 days for A. J. Guirot to produce his "inventory" (shown above). Why? It was all foreign gold coins....principally British sovereigns. Almost a year later in 1862 a letter supposedly written by a prominent New Orleans businessman to United States Secretary of State William H. Seward read: "It should not be forgotten that the Citizens bank or the president, or some other person connected with the bank, has been reported as acting in some way, directly or indierectly, as fiscal agent of the Confederate Government, and that that Government may have funds in the hands of such agent, which were on deposit with the Citizens bank. It is even probable that a portion of the gold stolen from the mint in New Orleans at the commencement of the rebellion was deposited in the Citizens bank by some agent or officer of the Confederate Government." Whoever wrote the letter was almost correct, except the gold and silver deposited in an account in Citizens Bank was "given away" on April 15, 1861. In the Story of "Dixie" and The Citizens Bank of Louisiana, an interesting phamphlet explains: "Besides these forced contributions, the Citizens Bank gave $250,000.00 to the Confederacy on April 15th, 1861...."
This was the date a 7 year old Choctaw indian living on Harbor Drive near Waveland, Mississippi watched from the woods as a wagon turned off the Old Spanish Trail, stopped, two black men got out and dug a hole, put the wagon contents into the hole, got into a fight with the Confederate officer driving the wagon, and were killed. Their bodies were dumped into the hole, it was filled-in, and the officer left, never to return. I think the Confederate officer was Johnson Kelly Duncan, and he went back and fought at Ft. Jackson, was wounded, sent to Tennessee, and died before he had a chance to ever return. The link between Harbor Drive and New Orleans was sketchy until I had a call from a New Orleans attorney a couple of years ago. He was the great great grandson of....you guessed it: Johnson Kelly Duncan. He had read a story I published in The Numismatist Journal in September, 1994 (How the Mint Was Robbed)....and he wanted to know just one thing. I had mentioned in the story our family had 16 acres along Harbor Drive, and in 1954, I had met and talked with the Choctaw indian man who was 99 years old. The only thing the lawyer wanted to know as where our property was located. It turned out his family had bought our 16 acres in about 1980. I had my brother who lives in Diamondhead check the deed records, and it was true: the Johnson Kelly Duncan great relatives had purchased our property on Harbor Drive. My Father and I used to drive by the property. A high fence had been installed with no tresspassing signs all around. They were looking for something....

The "something", I think, was the gold and silver from the New Orleans mint. I believe it was buried just South of our 16 acres....for another reason. But, enough for now.

Suffice it to say: the coins with the dropped out dates must have been different....or the dates would never have faded like they did.

All the best.

 
At 3:28 PM, Blogger A.C. Dwyer (aka The Arlington Collection) said...

Thanks Thomas. This is great stuff and you've obviously done your research. I'm going to look up your Numismatist Journal article from 1994. I'm very interested in reading it.

But now you really have me thinking on this. Sometimes the best way to prove something is to rule out other possibilities. I believe you've made a good argument that the gold used after Feb 1 came from the gold sovereigns. So back to the question of whether the sovereigns really would have resulted in a harder planchet.

I've been thinking about this. Since they obviously would not make planchets that were 91.7% gold, they would have had to add alloy (silver and/or copper) to the mix to bring it back to 90% (they obviously wouldn't keep more gold in the planchet than needed). Assuming they used only silver, the softer metal, it would have only required adding 9.57 grains of silver to 506.43 grains of the sovereign melting to get to the proper weight (516 grains) and 90% gold (464.4 grains) for the double eagle. This would mean the planchet contained, at a maximum, 1.85% silver which would be much lower than the 5% normally allowed. Therefore, I believe you are correct about the planchets created from the sovereigns would be harder.

So that really leaves the question of whether or not that is the reason for the weak strike on the date.

So thinking some more, I realize that I have an 1861-O in my collection whose pedigree might be tracable back to New Orleans. Mine is an example found in the SS Republic shipwreck which was heading back to New Orleans just after the war. Mine has the weak date. So the question is how and when did my 1861-O double eagle wind up in New York during the war?

I used to think that mine was a Union strike because I thought it unlikely that a Louisiana or Confederate struck coin would have traveled to New York during the war. But the thousands of 1861-O silver half dollars from the SS Republic show that it did happen. In the case of the silver halves, it has been possible to determine which was Union struck versus which was Louisiana and Confederate struck. I'm assuming, and you might know the answer to this, that the halves were shipped to New York after New Orleans had been retaken by the Union. Then most likely my 1861-O double eagle was part of that shipment. If it can be proven that the shipment didn't contain any of the Union struck double eagles because they had already been distributed, then my coin would have no choice but to be from after Feb 1.

So the question is, "How did the 1861-O halves and double eagle recovered from the SS Republic shipwreck get to New York during the war so that they would be on the ship back to New Orleans just after the end of the war?" I'm sure its no coincidence that the majority of close to 50,000 half dollars recovered from the shipwreck were from 1861-O. I believe there were 17 different die varieties discovered for that date alone.

So the answer might just solve the puzzle to the 1861-O double eagle since there is no doubt where my coin was at in 1865. If there is a way to show when the SS Republic coins were originally shipped from New Orleans to New York, I think that would be the key to the puzzle.

 
At 8:01 AM, Blogger Tom Hoke said...

One thing you might do, just for the fun of it, would be to get a really good digital scale and weigh your 1861-O $20 gold double-eagle which came from the shipwreck of the S. S. Republic.

Since most of the exchanges for British gold sovereigns took place around January 16, 1861, it is possible before that date some of the recently minted $20 gold pieces got into circulation. People were trading teeth, nuggets, everything you can imagine for the coins which were in great demand. But the reality is only one that I know of seems to be "perfect"....while there are many with the dropped-out date. Also, some of those with the dropped-out date have an inverted "v" near the face of Liberty. I have seen this on several coins.

Another random thought: when Louisiana took over they were in a hurry to produce more gold coins, so maybe their efforts were not as precise as they should have been in controlling the addition of silver, copper, etc. to the melted sovereigns....and a harder blank emerged....

Along this same line of thought: if the United States Government had 3 sets of dies for the 1861-O $20 gold double-eagle, why would they produce 5,000 flawed coins? Think about that!

As far as the 1861-O silver half dollar goes, from the original bunch of 330,000....representing $165,000.....about $15,000 worth of these (30,000 coins) did not go along with the gold to the Citizens Bank....because the $250,000 which went to Citizens Bank for later "distribution" on April 15, 1861 to the Confederate officer.....involved about $150,000 worth of silver, and $100,000 in gold (the first 5,000 coins).

Also, because of the large production of silver half-dollars by the United States Government, the state of Louisiana, and the Confederate States of America....and the many die varieties, it is difficult to claim what went where and when.

As far as the silver half-dollars go, keep in mind when the mint was turned over they still had $175,212.98 in silver coins. Were these freshly minted coins, foreign silver coins, or what?

A very interesting demand from the Senate of the United States tried to address the problem of gold and silver minted in New Orleans in 1861 prior to the start of the Civil War. In 1871 (ten years later), the Senate demanded a report from the Treasury Department concerning the production of gold and silver coins at the New Orleans Mint in the year 1861. The report showed the quantities of gold and silver produced at the mint were really much higher than claimed. I discussed this report years ago with one of the leading authorities (can't recall his name), and he said the report was of no consequence because the quarterly calender system used to determine production periods had been altered and because of the change the data was "suspect". However, it was interesting to read the report, look at the numbers, and wonder what quantities of gold and silver coins the New Orleans Mint might have produced.

How so many silver coins might have been taken to New York is interesting....but it is more probable the coins were shipped after the Civil War started than before....because certainly you would have seen more perfect 1861-O $20 gold pieces in the bunch....and those would have been perfect. The coin you have with the dropped out date, and the lack of other perfect gold coins, means to me the shipment was made after the Civil War began. But, to refute this comment, how could the Confederate States of America ship so many silver half-dollars to New York during the war?

Hmmmnnnn....interesting.

 
At 9:04 AM, Blogger Tom Hoke said...

Arlington,

I'm not trying to post you to death, but I had a few more thoughts which you might consider.

In 1862 it was William M. Evarts who represented the state of New York (if I remember correctly) who sent a letter supposedly written by a New Orleans businessman to United States Secretary of State William H. Seward complaining about "gold stolen from the mint in New Orleans at the commencement of the rebellion was deposited in the Citizens bank by some agent or officer of the Confederate Government." So, my question is: why would a New Orleans businessman write to a representative of New York....and speaking of New York, wasn't the S. S. Republic's departure from.....New York? If so, especially since you bought one of the coins from the shipwreck, why don't you ask two simple questions from the people who sold you the coins and who discovered the S. S. Republic: (1) Whose name was on the ship's manifest as the shipper (what company or person sent the gold and silver), and (2) whose name was on the ship's manifest as the potential receiver of the shipment? Extensive records are kept before a shipment is sent, and extensive records are kept when it arrives.

 
At 12:22 AM, Blogger A.C. Dwyer (aka The Arlington Collection) said...

Thanks for the time to write all this Tom. I love these types of discussions. I have a contact at Odyssey Marine Exploration (the company that salvaged the SS Republic) so I will see if they will tell me who was on the manifest as the shipper and receiver of the coins. It would be interesting to see if it sheds any light or just adds more questions. Thanks again for you time.

 
At 5:41 PM, Blogger Tom Hoke said...

I just read "Gold Coins of the New Orleans Mint 1839 - 1909 (Second Edition) by Douglas Winter, and the book is beautiful, interesting, and very informative, but his comments and discussion about the 1861-O $20 double-eagle leave me wondering. His basic discussion revolves around the idea two dies could have been used, even though it has been well accepted one set of dies was used. Early on he suggests a good example of a weak date coin with a die crack variety is ANR 6/05: 588, but when I take a look at the coin full screen on a 17 inch color monitor, the date looks good and strong to me. He follows this with a comment suggesting there may be some 1861-O $20 double-eagles with a strong date and no obverse crack but he has never seen one. So I sent him a jpg of the MS61 coin Tom Pilitowski recently had listed for $160,000 and apparently sold, because it no longer shows up. Then, at the bottom of the page Winter says it is his belief the coins with a strong date and a die crack which appears on some coins just above the second star on the left across from Liberty's face, came from the Confederacy, those 2,991 coins struck from April 1 to April 30, 1861 by the Confederacy.
The question immediately comes to mind: what about the 9,750 coins produced by the State of Louisiana? Where do they figure into the picture puzzle? Then in an amazing amount of smoke and mirror stuff he suggests since he has viewed many images and 1/5 of those images showed coins with a strong date and an obverse die crack, and since that 20% correlates closely to the ratio of coins produced by the Confederacy, they must be from the Confederacy.
That would be true if all the coins he viewed were in direct proportion to the various producing entities, but that simply doesn't compute and makes no sense to me.

As you know I believe and can prove the first 5,000 1861-O $20 gold double-eagles were exchanged at the New Orleans mint for British sovereigns and other foreign coins during January, 1861. Those coins were, in my opinion, similar to the one Tom Pilitowski had listed for $160,000 in MS61 condition, perfect in every way. The next bunch of coins produced by the state of Louisiana were produced using the same dies, one set, and because of the composition of the foreign gold sovereigns used to create the next bunch of coins, the coins were harder and even though at first they showed a good solid date, the date began a process of wearing down on the bottom part of the 1861. After continued use under this same condition, a die break could have occurred, but even that die break might have faded after further production.

I sent Doug an e-mail about my ideas, but I doubt if he is interested in my ideas.

The 1861-O $20 coin you have from the S. S. Republic could have been exchanged during the brief trading with New York which took place before it sank. Also, the S. S. Republic was called the Tennessee before it was the Republic, and it was a blockade runner which might have gone back and forth to New Orleans, taking goods in and bags of silver dollars, etc. out in trade.

 
At 9:14 AM, Blogger Thomas Hoke said...

One more comment: the British sovereigns used to create the 1861-O $20 after the state of Louisiana took over had a propensity to crack.

Take a look at: www.taxfreegold.co.uk/2005halfsovereignsdieflaw.html

where it is stated:

"Die Cracks
Die cracks are exactly what they sound like, cracks which start to appear in the die used to strike the coin, caused by stress on the steel dies during striking. It frequently appeared on older sovereigns and other coins."

And that statement came from the United Kingdom....

 
At 8:52 AM, Blogger Joe Gaines said...

I read the very interesting comments by Tom on the 1861-O double eagle. I wanted to clarify a couple of things. In Doug Winter's book there is a missprint. The ANR 6/05:588 is a coin with a strong date and the obverse die crack.The 1861-O MS61 coin sold by Tom Pilitowski is a coin with a weak date that shows the scribed lines at the base of the 8 and 6. I have a very good digital photo of theis coin and it definately shows the repair that has previously been suggested as being of Confederate issue. In my collection I have an example of the strong date with obverse die crack coin. The crack is strong and this has to be a different die from the coins with the weak date.Die cracks do not fade after further production, they become more pronounced. I have looked very carefully at two other weak date coins, one with the repairs at the base of the 8 and 6 and the other without the repairs. The two coins show no suggestion of a die crack and must be from a different die. I know this is a new theory and one that needs more study but it makes for interesting discussion.

 
At 11:29 PM, Blogger A.C. Dwyer (aka The Arlington Collection) said...

Thanks for the comment Joe. I have an example in my collection that shows a weak date with no die crack. After reading everyone's comments and what is currently in books by Douglas Winter and Q. David Bowers, along with looking at many examples of the 1861-O, I am convinced that only one obverse die was used even though 3 sets of dies had been shipped to New Orleans. Dates were hand-punched into the working dies in Philadelphia and no hand punches were available in New Orleans to strengthen the dates. So any strengthening had to be done manually.

The mintage is low enough that only one die would be needed. Actually, almost all New Orleans double eagles only needed one die which accounts for so few die variations in the entire series. The exceptions are the early years prior to 1853 when the mintages were much higher.

I have looked at photos of strong dates with die cracks and I am convinced that those strong dates were a result of manual strengthening of the weak dates. They just got better at it. But even the best of the strong dates appear to have been strengthened. Just looking at the first 1 in the date seems strengthened at the bottom. But since I am looking at photos, I could be wrong, but I look forward to one day looking at a strong date in person to verify to myself that I am correct or not.

Here's what I think:

It started with the weak dates and no die crack.

Then there was a crude attempt to strengthen the date which resulted in a date with a sort of V shape to the base of the 8 and 6. Still no die crack.

The dates received further strengthening that was better rounded then the initial V shaped attempts. This is also when the die crack appears.

Finally, there is an example I've seen with the strong date, die crack, and clash marks near the ear similar to those found on many examples of the 1859-O.

Since I've seen only one example with the clash marks, the clashing probably happened towards the very end of the mintage.

So my belief is that the most likely candidates for Union struck are those weak date examples before any attempt was made to strengthen the date. This probably also covers the Louisiana struck coins too.

The most likely candidates for the confederate struck coins are the one's with the strengthened date. The better the attempt at strengthening, the more likely it is a Confederate struck coin. And by far, the most likely candidate of being Confederate struck, is the example with the clashed-die.

If you have a good photo of a strong date that you are convinced is not manually strengthened, or a strong date that has some die characteristic that would prove its a different die (maybe a die chip), I would love to see it. I can always be reached by email at the_Arlington_collection@yahoo.com.

 
At 9:20 AM, Blogger Tom Hoke said...

"So my belief is that the most likely candidates for Union struck are those weak date examples before any attempt was made to strengthen the date."

Your last comment is getting closer to the truth, but it does not take into account the question: "If the Union had three sets of dies, why would they produce a weak dated coin in the first place? The answer is: they didn't. The first 5,000 1861-O $20 gold pieces were perfect: that is why only one set of dies was used. Since the BEST written record still in existence is the Gold Book at the National Archives in Ft. Worth, Texas....why shouldn't this direct link to history be incorporated into the equation? After all, the Gold Book shows tens of thousands of British gold sovereigns were dumped into the mint by a representative of the Citizens Bank in January, 1861 on several occasions. Gold was paid for with gold, and a majority if not all of the 5,000 double eagles produced in January, 1861 by the Union were exchanged. By February 1, 1861 only the British gold soverigns were left in the "inventory". These were melted down and used to produce what: the 1861-O $20 gold pieces created by the state of Louisiana, and subsequently by the Confederate States of America. Because the copper content varied from the "original" 5000 coins made by the Union, the new coins had a dropout in the date. Because British gold sovereigns of that era had a propensity to crack, and because that was the only gold available...eventually the coins produced by the state of Louisiana and the Confederacy began to crack.

It would be very interesting to checkout the National Archive records related to the Philadelphia mint to see if there is something written which tells about 3 sets of dies being sent to New Orleans in December, 1860, as well as anything written which shows what eventually became of those dies or how many might have been used.

The Gold Book records should not be ignored for they are: the true history of what happened in January, 1861 at the New Orleans mint, and even though the mint was not "robbed", all the gold and about 300,000 silver half dollars were exchanged for foreign gold, and that $250,000 went directly to Citizens Bank, and Citizens Bank subsequently "gave" it to a Confederate officer on March 15, 1861.

It would be wonderful someday if we could enjoy the blessings of electronic magnification which would be standardized for all coins, so instead of seeing a fuzzy jpeg or gif on the Internet, or even a blurred full page presentation of something, the details could be positively viewed on a standard basis. This stuff of "weak date" "strong date" is left to the imagination and often rather biased opinion of the observer.

 
At 11:05 AM, Anonymous Trojan Condoms said...

I think the one thing that makes coin collecting exciting is the tie to history. I really like the colonial coins. It would be great to see some more information on them. It seems there are a lot of commemorative types and to me those just aren't the same and I am having trouble distinguishing which were actually used for trade. Anyway, it would be a great article...

 
At 1:51 PM, Anonymous Ron Cadby said...

Here's my site:

Authentic Treasure dot com

Coins came from my Mom's estate. She was Mel Fisher's secretary in Vero Beach.

....Ron

 
At 6:12 PM, Anonymous Revitol said...

I miss collecting coins and stamps. I used to love doing it. Had a massive collection of them. :(

 

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