Gobrecht Silver Dollars - The Most Misunderstood Coin

Posted on 12/3/2015

The Gobrecht Silver Dollar is a complicated yet fascinating series.

At first glance many would think that the Gobrecht Silver Dollar series would be rather simple to understand. The coins are dated 1836, 1838 and 1839. How hard could that be? It is, however, one of the most complicated and least understood of all United States coinage issues. Even the most basic reason for the coin's existence is questioned by many experts. Many consider this series to be pattern or experimental coinage. This is not true, as more than 1,000 1836-dated coins were struck and many of these clearly entered circulation. Quite a few can be found with extensive wear or damage. This series is indeed very complicated and even most rare coin experts only have a cursory knowledge of them. I will attempt to simplify and explain the many different variations of Gobrecht silver dollars so that you may appreciate and have a better understanding of these great coins.


Gobrecht Dollar Judd-85 Restrike NGC PF 66
Sold $149,500 January 2009

American silver dollars were first struck in 1794, having been authorized by an act of Congress on April 2, 1792. Weight and fineness were specified at 416 grains and .8924 fine silver. The first type of silver dollar struck was the Flowing Hair issue of 1794 and 1795. A 1794 silver dollar recently made international headlines when it was sold at auction for over $10 million. Draped Bust silver dollars were struck from 1795 to 1803. Mintage records for 1804 show that 19,570 silver dollars were struck that year. It was common practice in those days to use dies as long as they were serviceable, and it is likely that all silver dollars stuck in 1804 were actually dated 1803. The famous silver dollars of 1804 were actually struck decades later for presentation purposes.

The production of silver dollars was suspended in the United States starting in 1806. (President Thomas Jefferson’s order to stop dollar production was in 1806, thus dollars were struck in 1804 and 1805!) The demand for American silver dollars was met in a large degree by the Spanish 8 Reales, the equivalent of the US dollar, also called a "piece of eight." These coins circulated in the United States widely and are often found along with American coinage in any shipwreck or hoard find of the period. In 1835 the Director of the U.S. Mint, R.M. Patterson, ordered engraver Christian Gobrecht to create dies based on the designs of Thomas Sully and Titian Peale. After some experimentation, dies were created for the first issue of Gobrecht silver dollars. Gobrecht Dollars fall into three basic categories: circulation and original issues; patterns; and restrikes. The coins are also struck in either a coin turn orientation or a medal turn orientation. This means that when the coin is turned over the eagle is either right side up (coin turn orientation) or upside down (medal turn orientation). To further complicate matters, Gobrecht Dollars are found with two basic die alignments. The die alignment means that when the coin is turned over, the eagle is either flying upward or level. Whew, as I stated earlier, Gobrecht Dollars are a complicated issue!

CIRCULATION and ORIGINAL ISSUES

1836 C. GOBRECHT F. on base, no stars obverse, 26 stars in reverse fields, plain edge 416 grains.
Die alignment: eagle flies upward, coin turn; eagle flies level, coin and medal turn (Alignments I, II, and IV are originals). All alignments are with the uncracked reverse and are obviously originals.
Judd-60

In December 1836 the United States Mint struck 1,000 coins for circulation. The coins weigh 416 grains, which was the standard as enacted in 1792. These coins are dated 1836 with C. GOBRECHT F. ("F" is an abbreviation for the Latin word fecit, or “made it,” and is found on the base of the rock on which Miss Liberty is seated. Most of these coins are struck with the traditional coin turn. These coins clearly entered circulation as many are found in worn condition. High grade examples are scarce and sought after. Quite a few are found damaged, with holes repaired and other signs the coins were used as jewelry for their novelty. Many consider these to be the most desirable Gobrecht Dollars as the coins are very rare for a circulation strike United States coin.

1836 C. GOBRECHT F. on base, no stars obverse, 26 stars in reverse fields, plain edge 412 ½ grains.

In January 1837 the standard weight for silver dollars was lowered to 412½ grains and 600 pieces were struck in March of 1837. This is not Judd-61, as J-61 is the reeded edge example that currently is unique AND is a late state example. However, it is possible that this coin is one of the ones struck in March with the rest melted. This is one theory, as it is a late state of the reverse and the complaint against the J-60 coins struck in 1836 was that they were “too medallic” in appearance. They complained about the “smooth” edge, so it is possible that J-61 was one of the ones struck in March 1837, as its weight is correct!

1839 C. GOBRECHT name removed from base, stars added to obverse, reverse with eagle flying in plain field, reeded edge.
Die alignment: eagle flies level, medal turn.
Judd-104

In 1839 the United States Mint struck 300 silver dollars. Gobrecht Dollars dated 1839 are also found in circulated condition, often with damage as well. As can be seen from the very low mintage, these coins are very rare and quite desirable.

PATTERN ISSUES

1838 C. GOBRECHT name removed from base, stars in obverse fields, reverse with eagle flying in plain field, reeded edge.
Die alignment: eagle flies level, coin turn and eagle flies level, medal turn.
Judd-84

This issue was struck in very limited numbers and is considered a pattern. The 1838 original Gobrecht Dollars are among the rarest struck from 1836 to 1839. All examples known are Proofs and are generally seen in high grade. Only 20 to 30 examples are known and I know of only a single Original—the Smithsonian example, although there has to be others, as the 1851 Roper sale had one.

RESTRIKES

After Large Cents were eliminated in 1857, there was a tremendous increase in the number of coin collectors in the United States. Collectors attempted to buy as many different dates of the discontinued Large Cents as possible. Many moved to more advanced numismatic pursuits, and coin collecting had its first boom. The American Numismatic Society was formed in 1858 and by 1859 rare coin auctions were a regular occurrence. One of the centers of the numismatic world in the 1850s was in Philadelphia. The United States Mint employees from that era would occasionally dust off old dies and strike rarities to meet the demand of the new collectors. A tidy profit could be made by creating a new rarity or re-striking an older issue. As mentioned above the famous 1804 Draped Bust Dollars were created in this manner. (The Restrike 1804 dollars were created this way, but the Originals were struck in 1834 and 1835 under official orders, so they are "Novodels"—coins struck from dies modeled after the dies used for the Originals. The head punch and eagle punch are original, but the lettering, stars, and numerals are from 1834. (The 1804 Proof Gold Eagle is a Restrike, as it was struck from original dies, both obverse and reverse.) The coins are indeed Mint issues, but were struck as special orders for collectors. Gobrecht Dollars must have been quite popular with this new band of coin collectors as quite a few were produced in the 1850 to the 1870s. Exact dates of production and mintage figures of these are unknown. Rarity of these special coins is gained by knowledge of known examples. Almost all known Restrike Gobrecht Dollars are from a cracked reverse die. The crack is tiny, but are one of the diagnostics of the Restrike issues.

1836 C. GOBRECHT F. on base, no stars obverse, 26 stars in reverse fields, plain edge 412.5 grains.
Die alignments: eagle flies upward, coin turn, eagle flies level coin and medal turn (Alignments I, II, and IV are originals). All these alignments are with the uncracked reverse and are obviously originals.
Judd-60

The restrikes for Alignment III are actually quite rare, with less than 20 coins known. There was not as much for demand for restrikes of these due the relatively large mintage of the 1836 originals.

1836 C. GOBRECHT name below base, stars in obverse field, plain edge.
Die alignment: eagles flies level, coin turn and eagle flies level medal turn.
Judd-58

Judd-58 Gobrecht Dollars are very rare and extremely popular. Most are found Proof 60 or higher in condition. All known examples are Restrikes with cracked reverse die.

1836 C. GOBRECHT F below base, no stars obverse, no stars in reverse fields plain edge.
Die alignment: eagle flies upward, medal turn and eagle flies level coin turn.
Judd-63

Judd-63 is extremely rare one of the most valuable of the series. The coins are struck in Alignment III and according to the Judd book, were struck around 1876.

1838 C. GOBRECHT name removed from base, stars in obverse fields, reverse with eagle flying in plain field, reeded edge.
Die alignment: eagle flies level medal turn and coin turn (Restrikes are Alignment III only).
Judd-84

These are virtually identical to the original Judd-84 issues, but are found with tiny die breaks on the reverse. These are very popular as the most difficult year of the Gobrecht Dollar issues.

Researchers have found these tiny die breaks on originals, so these are from hardening or when they were first struck. The Restrikes have heavier die cracks (obvious under slight magnification, while the Originals require 15X or higher, and they are not seen on some Originals that are not fully struck).

1839 C. GOBRECHT name removed from base, stars added to obverse, reverse with eagle flying in plain field, reeded edge.
Die alignment: eagle files level coin turn and eagle flies level medal turn.
Judd-104

There were perhaps less than 100 of this issue struck in the 1850s and 1860s. Most seen are high grade and are extremely popular issues. These are virtually identical to the original Judd-104 issues, but are found with tiny die breaks on the reverse. Most of the Alignment IV coins are originals (eagle flies level, medal turn) and Restrikes are much rarer (perhaps 50 or so were struck. Interestingly, they only started restriking 1839s after they became more expensive than the 1838s!).

SUMMARY

Hopefully this information will give readers a somewhat clearer picture of this incredibly misunderstood coin. I would like to thank my friend John Dannreuther for his help on the subject. He has spent a great deal of time studying this issue. John and two other researchers will be publishing more information about Gobrecht Dollars next year in The Numismatist. You can expect more discoveries to be made in this perplexing series.

Anyone who has a chance to own one of these great coins will more fully appreciate their complex story. Great coins are defined by the stories attached to them, and Gobrecht Silver Dollars are a fascinating series with a great story that is only now being fully understood.

Questions about the rare coin market? Send them to wmr@ngccoin.com.

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