Saturday, November 11, 2006

Peter, the U.S. Mint Eagle and Mascot

If you were lucky enough to be present at one of the state quarter launches or saw a news clip of one of the launches, you may have seen him. If you’ve been to the U.S. Mint’s website, you may have seen him. His name is Peter, and he is a bald eagle and the U.S. Mint’s official mascot. But unless you’ve been to the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia, you probably don’t know that Peter was a real bald eagle. The true story about Peter has evolved into more legend than lore over the course of the last 150 years or so.

“Peter, the mint bird”, as he was called by Philadelphians, was a resident of the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia for over half a decade. According to the U.S. Mint, Peter is said to have resided at the first U.S. Mint on 7th Street from 1830 to 1836. Since the first U.S. Mint was in operation from 1792-1833 and the second U.S. Mint went into operation in 1833, did Peter move from the first Mint to the second Mint? In any case, it is believed that Peter lived at the U.S. Mint sometime in the first half of the 19th century.

Legend has it that Peter would fly about the city during the daytime, always to return at night to spend his evenings at the Mint. Apparently on the streets of Philadelphia, everyone knew who Peter was and would recognize him when he flew by. It is said that during this time, Peter’s fame was as great as the later fame of “Old Abe”, the Wisconsin war eagle that became famous during the Civil War.

Then one day at the Mint, Peter was mortally wounded in a tragic accident. Details of the accident have become clouded over time and there are multiple versions of what happened. One account has it that Peter was perched atop one of the fly-wheels and when it was turned on, Peter’s wing became caught in the machinery, mortally wounding him. Another account has Peter trying to fly through the fly-wheel as it was moving, and a third account has Peter being injured when the sudden starting of the fly-wheel caused Peter to be thrown to the ground. However it occurred, legend has it that Mint employees nursed Peter for a few days before he finally died.

After Peter’s death, the superintendent had the bird mounted with his wings spread as if in flight. Peter was then placed in a clear case and eventually placed on display in the Mint cabinet. In 1893, Peter traveled to Chicago and became part of the U.S. Treasury’s exhibit at the World’s Columbian Exposition.

According to legend, the stuffed Peter was used as the model for the American eagle design on the reverse of the 1836, 1838, and 1839 dollars. In 1856, it was again said to have been indirectly used as the model for the flying eagle cents. But this version of events is not without controversy as some people do not believe the bird was used as a model. Personally, when I look at the eagle on the coins and a picture of the actual stuffed bird, I believe that Peter may have been the actual model for those coins.

Whatever the true story is about Peter, there is no doubt that Peter existed at a time when bald eagles could still be found flying around Philadelphia. Today, Peter is displayed in a case in the lobby of the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia and can be found in cartoon format on the Mint’s website educating kids.

Here is a link to a picture of Peter at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia, along with pictures of the obverse of an 1856 flying eagle cent and the reverse of an 1836 silver dollar. What do you think about the notion that Peter was the model for the coin?

Link to picture of the real Peter

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

The images above depict units of currency issued by the United States of America.
The design is ineligible for copyright, and is therefore in the public domain.

Recommended Reading:
History Of The United States Mint and Its Coinage (History of the U. S. Mint and Its Coinage)


At 11:58 AM, Blogger Scott said...

Actually, the eagle reverse of the Gobrecht Dollar was used as the model for the obverse of the Flying Eagle small cents. Its use was a conscious effort by Mint engraver James Longacre along with Mint Director James Ross Snowden to use a familiar design so that the coin would be accepted by congress.

The story of Peter as the inspiration for Mint Chief Engraver Christian Gobrecht is credible. I have seen this story before. Although Peter may not be a direct inspiration for the Flying Eagle small cent, it is indirectly an inspiration. In either case, it is a fun story!

At 3:27 PM, Blogger A.C. Dwyer (aka The Arlington Collection) said...

Thanks Scott for the additional information. Although it's a credible story, I have not been able to definitively nail down the years Peter was at the Mint. Although the Mint's website states 1830-1836, another source places the dates in the 1850s, which would be too late to have been the inspiration.

The earliest accounts I found of Peter were written in the 1880s and 1890s, well after his untimely death. They repeat that he was the inspiration for the silver dollars and flying eagle cent and that he lived at the Mint for six years, but they don't state what years he was at the Mint.

If anyone has any accounts of Peter that include the dates he was at the Mint, please let me know. Also, I would appreciate learning of any 19th century accounts, especially earlier than the 1880s. Maybe someone will find the taxidermist bill in the Mint's records.


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