Gobrecht Silver Dollars: The Most Understood U.S. Coin

Why I chose the Gobrecht Silver Dollar Series

I was recently challenged to write about what I considered to be the most misunderstood U.S. coin. Based on my experience, I chose the Gobrecht Silver Dollar series. At first glance, many would think that this 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 U.S. coinage issues. Even the most basic reason for the coins existence is questioned by many experts. Many consider this series to be pattern or experimental coinage. This is not true, as more than a thousand 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. 

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 once made international headlines when it was sold at an 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 for as long as they were serviceable, and it is likely that all silver dollars struck 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 U.S. 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 Reale, also called a piece of eight, the equivalent of the U.S. Dollar. These coins widely circulated in the U.S. and are often found along with American coinage in any shipwreck or hoard finds of the period. In 1835, the Mint Director, R.M. Patterson, ordered engraver Christian Gobrecht to create dies based on the designs of Thomas Sulley and Titian Peale. After some experimentation, dies were created for the first issue of Gobrecht silver dollars. Gobrecht silver 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).


CIRCULATION and ORIGINAL ISSUES 

1836

  • Judd-60
  • C. GOBRECHT F. on base
  • No stars obverse
  • 26 stars in reverse fields
  • Plain edge
  • 416 grains
  • Die alignment-eagle flies upward - Coin Turn

In December of 1836, the U.S. 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 repaired holes and other signs that the coins were used as jewelry for their novelty.

1836

  • C. GOBRECHT F. on base
  • No stars obverse
  • 26 stars in reverse fields
  • Plain edge
  • 412 1/2 grains
  • Die alignment-eagle flies upward - Coin Turn
  • In January of 1837, the standard weight for silver dollars was lowered to 412 ½ 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. 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
  • Judd-104
  • 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

In 1839, the U.S. Mint struck 300 silver dollars. Gobrecht silver 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

  • Judd-84
  • C. GOBRECHT name removed from base
  • Stars added to obverse
  • Reverse with eagle flying in plain field
  • Reeded edge
  • Die alignment- eagle flies level - Coin Turn

This issue was struck in very limited numbers and is considered a pattern. The 1838 Original Gobrecht silver dollars are among the rarest of the dollars struck from 1836 to 1839. All examples known are proofs and are generally seen in high grades.

RESTRIKES 

After Large Cents were eliminated in 1857, there was a tremendous increase in the number of coin collectors in the U.S. Collectors attempted to buy as many different dates of the discontinued Large Cents as possible. Many moved to more advanced numismatic pursuitsgiving coin collecting 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 1850's was in Philadelphia. The U.S. 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 previously mentioned, the famous 1804 silver dollars were created in this manner. The Restrike 1804 dollars were created this way, but the Originals were struck in1834 and 1835 under official orders, so they are Novodels – coins struck from dies similar to the Originals, as the head punch and eagle punch are original, but the lettering, stars, and numerals are from 1834. The 1804 Proof 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 silver dollars must have been quite popular with this new band of coin collectors as quite a few were produced in the 1850 to 1870s. Exact dates and mintages of production are unknown. Rarity of these special coins is gained by knowledge of known examples. Almost all known sestrike Gobrecht silver dollars are from a cracked reverse die. The crack is tiny, but it's one of the diagnostics of the re-strike issues. 

1836

  • Judd-58
  • C. GOBRECHT name below base
  • Stars in obverse field
  • Plain edge
  • Die alignment- eagle flies level - Medal Turn
  • 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

  • Judd-63
  • C. GOBRECHT name below base
  • No stars obverse
  • 26 stars in reverse field's
  • Plain edge
  • Die alignment- eagle flies level - Coin Turn

These are among the most commonly-seen Gobrecht dollars and are found in Choice condition on occasion. 

1838

  • Judd-84
  • C. GOBRECHT name removed from base
  • Stars in obverse fields
  • Reverse with eagle flying
  • Reeded edge
  • Die alignment- eagle flies level - Medal Turn

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. 

1839

  • Judd-104
  • C. GOBRECHT name removed from base
  • Stars added to obverse
  • Reverse with eagle flying
  • Reeded edge
  • Die alignment- eagle flies level - Medal Turn

There were perhaps 150-200 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. 

Hopefully, the information I've shared will give readers a clearer picture of this incredibly misunderstood U.S. coin. Anyone who has a chance to own one of the great coins now 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 more much to be discovered!