Description and Analysis

Modern Commemoratives

Description & Analysis

When Congress decided to relocate the seat of federal government from Philadelphia to the newly created District of Columbia in the 1790s, among the structures to be erected was a capitol building where the Senate and House of Representatives would meet. The U. S. Capitol was begun in 1794, and, two centuries later, Congress approved a bill to coin silver dollars in commemoration of this occasion.

This dollar was designed and sculpted by members of the U. S. Mint’s engraving staff. William Cousins’ obverse features an upward looking view of the famous capitol dome. A replacement for the original, more modest dome, this addition was underway when America went to war with itself in 1861. Despite the fact that construction of the dome drew away precious resources needed for the war effort, President Lincoln instructed that work on it continue as a means of demonstrating national resolve and to boost civilian morale. The statue of Columbia atop the dome is surrounded on the coin by thirteen stars, and the inscription “BICENTENNIAL OF UNITED STATES CAPITOL” appears to the left. Statutory mottoes are placed at upper left, with the date of coining at upper right.

The reverse design by John Mercanti is dominated by the arms of Congress. This consists of a Union Shield at center, surrounded by an oak wreath and surmounted by an American eagle which grasps in its right talons the arrows of war and in its left talons the olive branch of peace. Two additional olive branches are seen at the bottom to the left and right of the shield’s pendant. The designer’s initials are seen to the left of the arms, the coin’s mintmark to the right, with statutory legends comprising the balance of the design.

Uncirculated examples were struck at the Denver Mint, while the proofs were produced in San Francisco. In competition with several other commemorative issues that year, the Capitol Silver Dollar shared their mediocre overall sales. The typical ratio of four proofs for every uncirculated coin applied to this issue, as well. Nevertheless, it is among the more attractive entries within the modern commemorative series.