The Mint of the United States
was established at Philadelphia by resolution of Congress, dated
April 2, 1792, and the first coins were struck the following
year. Subsequently the branch mints were established.
In the act establishing the mint the devices and legends for the new coins were prescribed as follows: Upon one side of each of the said coins there shall be an impression emblematic of liberty, with an inscription of the word "Liberty" and the year of coinage; and upon the reverse of each of the gold and silver coins there shall be the figure or representation of an eagle with the inscription "United States of America," and upon the reverse of the copper coins there shall be an inscription which shall express the denomination of the piece, namely, Cent, or Half-cent, as the case may require."
The device chosen was suitably emblematic of the Goddess of Liberty, though the law permitted the greatest freedom in the composition of the design to express the idea. The bust of Liberty which appeared on the Cent and Half Cent in 1796, is almost certainly a conscious imitation, if not indeed an unskilled medalist's copy, of the bust on the medal made by the celebrated French artist, Dupre, to commemorate the Victories of Saratoga and Yorktown. At first the Liberty pole of the medal was omitted from the coin, but before the end of the year that detail too was added. Between the busts on the silver coins that first appeared in 1794, and that on the gold that followed in 1795, the former having the hair hanging down upon the neck, and the latter wearing a Phrygian cap, there are marked differences for each of the metals.
On the obverse of the gold and silver of 1796 there are fifteen stars, and later we find as many as sixteen stars, the number in each case corresponding to the number of states to which the Union had grown. We find that some denominations were struck with two different sets of stars, like fifteen and sixteen. The same practice of adding a star for each state was also begun on the reverse, after the Great Seal type was placed thereon, but it was soon found to be inconvenient because of the large number of stars that would soon be required, so they were limited to thirteen, the number of the original states.
In 1840 the silver dollar, which had not been coined since 1803, (or perhaps 1804) was restored, and Christian Gobrecht produced for it the figure of Liberty seated to right, which was on all the silver coins until 1878. The moderately graceful figure was a refreshing innovation and somewhat of an improvement on what had gone before. But conservativeness prevented the adoption of the powerful flying eagle which Mr. Gobrect engraved for the reverse of his dollar, made in the years 1836, 1838, and 1839. On the patterns just referred to Mr. Gobrecht represents the bird in flight amid a cluster of twenty-six stars of varying magnitude, the number being equal to the states of the Union.
Patterns for a new design of the large copper cent were prepared in 1855 with an eagle in flight for the obverse. In 1856 another pattern of a cent with a flying eagle, the piece being of smaller size. In the following year this "flying eagle" cent was regularly issued. The new piece weighed only 72 grains, while the oldest cent weighed 264 grains. The law which authorized the cent of reduced size also prescribed that it should consist of 88 per cent copper and 12 percent nickel. This type was issued for two years, when it was replaced by the Indian head cent, similar to the 1909 type. In 1849 the double eagle was authorized and James B. Longacre was the engraver at the time. In 1854 the three dollar gold piece was added. This bore the same head as the three cent nickel, issued in 1865. The silver dollar discontinued in 1904 was first issued in 1878 and was the work of Mr. George T. Morgan, and the half dollar, quarter and dime were the last revision of the types of the silver coins.
The latest creations for the devices of the gold coins are by two eminent American sculptors, the late Mr. Saint-Gaudens and Mr. Bela L. Pratt, of Boston. They depart in many ways for the established traditions of coins, a fact which explains much of the sharp criticism which has been urged against them; for of their power and artistic beauty there can be no question. The One-Cent of 1909 with the splendid head of Abraham Lincoln, presents a new feature for the coins of the United States. A pattern two cent piece with the portrait of Washington, was produced in 1863, and a pattern of the five cent piece with a bust of Lincoln was submitted in 1866, but neither were adopted, but the sentiment aroused during the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Lincoln, proved stronger that the long standing prejudice and the coin in question was the result. The latest coin struck at the mint is the five cent nickel piece bearing the head of an Indian chief on the obverse and a Buffalo on the reverse. The piece has met with criticism as had always been the case when a new type of coin was issued, but undoubtedly it is an improvement over the five cent piece with Liberty head. The government has issued several commemorative pieces which are familiar to the public. These include the Columbian Half Dollar and Quarter, the Lafayette dollar, the Jefferson and McKinley gold dollars, and the Lewis & Clark Dollars, the most recent issues being in 1904 and 1905.
AMERICAN TOKENS AND PRIVATE COINS
At two periods since the nation began to coin money there has arisen a stringency of small coins, which made it necessary for business firms to supply their wants by the issue of copper tokens redeemable in legal money by the firms which issued them. The first period to witness such an issue came in 1837 when many business houses had prepared for their use copper and brass tokens to the size of the large copper cent. The types of these tokens then, as usually, were of two principle classes, the one strongly political, with devices and inscriptions giving vivid expression to the partisan slogans of the day, while the other simply bore the advertisement of the merchant who issued them. Again, in 1863, the dearth of small coins gave rise to an enormous issue of these tokens, at that time again in the module of the current small bronze one cent piece. These pieces are commonly known as "Civil War Tokens" and "merchants cards," the former bearing types of political character, the latter, as in 1837, having simply the names of business firms and advertisements. Thousands of business firms throughout the Northern States resorted to the use of copper tokens, issued in their own names; on the other hand, many of the so-called "Civil War Tokens" possess a general character and were evidently produced in quantities and sold wherever there was a demand for them. The business of making these small tokens seemed to be a very good one for the few die sinkers who turned them out.
Of an entirely different character are the private issued gold coins which were struck in Georgia and North Carolina, and also in the West after the discovery of Gold in California and Colorado. The first privately issued gold pieces which really went into circulation as coins were struck by Templeton Reid, an assayer, who in 1830 established himself near the gold mines in Lumpkin Co., Ga., and converted the gold from the mines into a coin form. The examples of Mr. Reid was soon followed by a Mr. Bechtler at Rutherfordton, N.C.
There can hardly be any reason of necessity for either of these enterprises, since neither community was beyond the reach of assay offices, where gold could have been disposed of. But in the case of the far west the Government connived at the irregularity, regarding it as necessary under the circumstances. In fact, the government opened negotiations with the firm of Moffatt & Company with a view of having that company coin gold for the Treasury of the United States, but the decision to establish a mint at San Francisco rendered that arrangement unnecessary. The production of gold coins of a private character in the West was very extensive, and carried on by a large number of mining companies and banking establishments.
The pieces thus issued ranged in denomination from one dollar to fifty dollars. While, as a rule, the form of this gold is the normal one of the usual coin, and in many cases the devices of the national coins were employed with legends suitable to the private character of the issuer, yet a few abnormal shapes are found among them. Thus an octagonal piece of the value of $50 was issued by Augustus Humbert, a United States Assayer; and of simpler form, the bar or ingot, with appropriate inscription attesting the fineness, weight and value, and finally the name of the firm or assayer guaranteeing the correctness of the figures was issued by Moffatt & Company, and by F. D. Koehler, the State Assayer of California-(Dr. T. L. Comparette in Mint Catalogue.)