Collecting United States Pattern Coinage

Posted on 3/23/2017

If you are looking for a collecting challenge, consider US pattern coinage.

The year 2017 is a great time to consider one the most interesting areas of the rare coin market—United States pattern coinage. The first United States pattern coins were struck 225 years ago in 1792. A total of six types of patterns comprised of 13 distinct varieties were issued that year:

1792 Silver Center Cent
1792 Birch Cent (two types)
1792 Half Disme
1792 Disme
1792 Eagle on Globe Quarter Dollar (one of my favorite coins in the Smithsonian Collection)

1792 Judd-8 Pattern Half Disme, NGC AU 55 BN
Ex: Donald G. Partrick Collection

These early issues are among the most desirable and popular coins ever struck by the US Mint. In the summer of 1792, about 1,500 to 2,000 of the half dismes were produced. While these were most likely struck for general circulation, they are still listed as a pattern in most reference books. The 1792 Half Disme is the most available of the 1792-dated patterns; the remaining issues are all extremely rare and seldom offered. All of these 1792 pattern issues have a strong cross-over appeal and are desired by just about anyone with an interest in Early American coinage.

1792 "Eagle on Globe" Judd-12 Pattern Quarter, NGC MS 63 BN
Ex: Donald G. Partrick Collection

The US Mint has produced pattern coins nearly continuously for the last 225 years. Pattern coins are defined as experimental pieces struck to test a new design or composition. These coins reflect “what may have been,” but for one reason or another were not issued. They are also a reflection of the artistic sentiments of the time. The series is full of amazing rarities, including some of the greatest United States coins ever struck. Assembling a complete set of United States pattern coins is an impossible task. There are about 1,500 different United States patterns. This includes every major type and variety. Several unique coins are held by museums including the following that are in the Smithsonian Institution National Numismatic Collection:

1849 Double Eagle - The first double eagle struck from gold out of the California gold fields. Many consider this to be the greatest United States coin.

1877 Fifty Dollar Gold (two varieties) - These two coins were secured by the US Mint in the early 1900s in a trade for a trunk full of patterns. There are no records of what this trunk contained, but it may constitute a large portion of the patterns that are available to collectors today.

1906 Barber Double Eagle - Charles Barber’s answer to the complicated double eagle design proposed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens.

1852 Judd-145 Pattern Gold Dollar, NGC PF 66
Ex: Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society

A few great collections of pattern coins have been assembled over the years, including the one assembled by Dr. Hewitt Judd (author of the standard reference for these coins) and, more recently, by Texas collector Bob Simpson. These collections are amazing, but are far beyond the reach of even well-heeled collectors. Despite the fact that it is impossible to assemble a complete collection of United States patterns, this is a series that should not be ignored. There are several collecting strategies that will make them more accessible and fun to pursue.

  1. Collecting a few great coins. There are some really cool pattern designs that are beautiful, rare and always desirable. These include, but are not limited to the following: 1872 “Amazonian” coinage, quarter dollar thru double eagle; 1879 “School Girl” Silver Dollar; 1876 “Sailor Head” Silver Dollar and 1882 “Earring Silver” Dollar. There are dozens more to choose from and owning just one pattern coin will be an interesting addition to any collection.
  2. Collecting coins as an addition to regular issues. Nearly any series of vintage United States coins was preceded by interesting pattern issues. These are called "Transitional" issues. As an example, if you collect Indian Head Cents, you might want to purchase one of the 1858 patterns. They are all much rarer than the regular issues but can be purchased for prices that are quite reasonable. Last week in Orlando one of the best collections ever assembled of pattern Flying Eagle Cents was sold at auction by Kagin’s, Inc. The catalog will be an important reference source for years to come.
  3. Collect by design. Several issues were struck with the same basic design in multiple years and in many different varieties. The "Standard Silver" issues of the 1860s and 1870s are probably the best examples. Assembling a set of Standard Silver coins would take decades and would be challenging to say the least.
  4. Collecting by denomination. Many collectors like to focus on one denomination and try to find as many as possible. Two cent and three cent patterns are very popular for this reason. Another collecting idea is to assemble an interesting coin from each denomination from half cents to double eagles.
  5. Collecting by metal type. Pattern coins were struck in many different metals including copper, nickel, silver, aluminum, white metal and gold (the gold patterns are all very rare).
  6. Collecting die trials. An interesting addition to your collection of regular issue coins would be to add a die trial struck with the same design, but in a different metal. There are hundreds of these to choose. Some great examples were struck in aluminum in 1868 and 1869. These were produced in significant numbers in every denomination.
  7. Collecting coins from an era. Patterns struck during the Civil War are particularly popular with collectors. These coins are all rare and quite interesting. Many were struck when the Mint was experimenting with the “In God We Trust” motto.
  8. Collecting coins that are considered part of the collecting main stream. These are coins that were struck as patterns, but are listed in standard references. The list includes 1856 Flying Eagle Cents, Gobrecht Silver Dollars and Four Dollar Stellas. These coins have always been super popular and highly sought after.

In one of my recent articles I talked about finding coins with TRUE RARITY. United States pattern coinage fills all of the requirements for this designation. You do not have to worry about a hoard of any issue showing up and depressing prices. Most collectors are excited to find the coin regardless of condition. There is no set Registry condition pressure. I have been buying and selling rare coins for decades and I am always excited to handle a United States pattern. Another great reason to consider this series is the amazing amount of information that is available to modern collectors. The ready access to population reports and auction records makes collecting patterns much easier.

Finally, one of the best reasons to consider pattern coinage is the incredible value they represent. Many pattern coins can be purchased for about the same price as regular issue proof coinage of the same year. The pattern coins are many times rarer and are an excellent value at current levels. If you are looking for a challenge you should give this area of the market a close look. As always, try to find someone to give you good advice and be patient. The search will be worth the effort!

Questions about the rare coin market? Send them to

Jeff Garrett bio

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