USA Coin Album: Some Older Numismatic Books of Interest, Part Three

Posted by David W. Lange, NGC Research Director on 3/15/2011

In this third article of a four-part series, David continues the study of his favorite books on United States coinage that were published more than 10 years ago and may not be known to the current generation of collectors.

One of the areas little understood by most collectors of United States coins concerns those issues of other countries which circulated in the USA and enjoyed legal tender status by Congressional decree. Also little known is which coins of other countries were actually manufactured by U. S. Mints. Though this information has been in print for years, all of the published sources are now long out of print and unfamiliar to the current generation of hobbyists and researchers. These works are the subject of this month’s review of books you should be seeking.

The reasons why the United States Mint was unable to supply the channels of commerce with enough coins to meet the economy’s needs are too numerous to mention here, but the fact remains that most of the silver and gold in everyday circulation was of foreign origin throughout the period of the first mint facility, 1793-1833. Even after a grander structure was opened in that latter year, foreign coins competed side-by-side with USA issues until the eve of the Civil War. This was especially evident in rural areas, where the coins of Europe and Latin America were frequently the only alternative to paper money of dubious worth or a simple bartering economy.

The hardcover book America’s Foreign Coins, by Oscar G. Schilke and Raphael E. Solomon, was published in 1964 by the Coin and Currency Institute. This fascinating book is subtitled Foreign Coins with Legal Tender Status in the United States 1793-1857, and that pretty much explains its content. In addition to several chapters of historical background, the book includes an illustrated catalog of each coin type that formerly enjoyed legal tender status in the USA. The book’s appendix features a complete table of their actual legal tender values as set by Congress in 1793 and renewed in 1816, 1834 and 1843, respectively. The price guide for these coins is, of course, now obsolete, but it provides some help in determining relative rarity. An internet search for this title showed that numerous copies are available, all of them with various degrees of use and with prices ranging from $9.49 to $37.

Once the U. S. Mint had sorted out its domestic role and fulfilled the nation’s need for consistent coinage, Congress granted it permission in 1874 to commence taking coinage contracts from other countries. The first nation to seek this service was Venezuela, for which the Philadelphia Mint produced one-centavo and 2½-centavos coins in 1876. Similar work continued for dozens of nations for more than a century, until the last such contract coinage was carried out in the 1980s. Though not absolutely complete (having been published in 1964), the softcover monograph titled Foreign Coins Struck at United States Mints is quite thorough for the years up to that point. Put out by Whitman Publishing Company, the authors were Charles G. Altz and E. H. Barton.

A brief historical overview leads to a detailed, illustrated catalog that identifies exactly which coins were struck at specific U. S. Mint facilities, and their mintage figures are also included. Where known, each coin’s composition is provided, though no weights are included. The reason this information is so greatly missed has to do with the collecting of United States mint error coins. Among the more desirable of errors are those USA coins struck on planchets intended for some foreign issue then being coined at the same facility. Determining which host planchet was used can be estimated from this book, but knowing its legal weight would be useful in achieving confirmation. Well used copies of this monograph appear on the internet at prices ranging from $5.90 to $14.55, and it is not rare.

A related publication was issued by the U. S. Treasury Department in several editions. This is the softcover book Domestic and Foreign Coins Manufactured by Mints of the United States 1793-1980 (that being the date of the most recent edition). There are no illustrations---just endless tables that are of great usefulness to the researcher. This book fills in the gap from 1964-80 left by the Altz & Barton reference. Also included as an appendix are the complete texts of the Mint Acts of 1792, 1873 and 1965, as well as some lesser legislation pertaining to coinage. I was able to find used copies of the latest edition available at prices from $7.95 to $61.89.

Speaking of coinage legislation, an 1894 Treasury publication reproduced these in their entirety, and this now-rare publication was reprinted in 1990 by Bowers & Merena Galleries, Inc. Coinage Laws of the United States 1792-1894 includes an interesting foreword by David L. Ganz and should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand our nation’s coinage. I found used copies of the reprint online ranging from $5.36 to $56.06! Supplements published in 1897 and again in 1912 brought this reference material up to that date. Of these two, only the 1897 edition has been reprinted, a recent development prompted by print-on-demand services for non-copyrighted material. I found it listed at just $16.98 for a new copy.

David W. Lange's column, "USA Coin Album," appears monthly in the Numismatist, the official publication of the American Numismatic Association.