Gobrecht Dollars 1836-1839 Coin Guide
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The United States Mint had ceased striking silver dollars in 1804.
Although the denomination was the "flagship" monetary unit in
U.S. coinage, demand for it came mostly from bullion depositors, and few
dollar coins circulated in the beginning of the 19th century. Much of each
year's mintage was either melted domestically or exported.
By the 1820s and '30s however, two successive Mint directors, Samuel
Moore and Robert M. Patterson, had advocated reviving dollar coinage.
Although Moore obtained authorization to do so in 1831, it wasn't until
Patterson replaced him in 1835 that preparations finally got under way.
Not since the 1792 half dismes were struck had so many Mint and other
government officials taken such a keen interest in the production of a new
Mint Director Patterson, ambitious to make an artistic statement, hired
artist Thomas Sully to make sketches of a full figure of Liberty-along the
lines of the allegorical figure Britannia seen on English coins. Patterson
retained noted painter Titian Peale to fashion the eagle for the reverse
and instructed newly hired Second Engraver Christian Gobrecht to translate
the designs to metal. Gobrecht's design was a composite of both Peale's
and Sully's works, as well as his own ideas. It was a masterful work and
received immediate acclaim. President Jackson and his Cabinet reviewed
Gobrecht's sketches on October 17, 1835 and were favorably impressed.
The final design featured the figure of Liberty seated on a rock,
draped in a loose-fitting gown-suggesting statuary from Hellenistic
Greece. She is looking over her right shoulder, her right arm supporting
the Union shield. Her left arm holds a long pole with a Liberty cap on
top. The entire central device stands alone on the obverse with no stars
or lettered devices, only the date below, giving the coin a medallic
quality, with Liberty a solitary, cameo figure. A naturalistic eagle in
flight adorns the reverse, the bird rising "onward and upward"
as Patterson ordered, a position intended to symbolize the unbounded
optimism that Americans had for the nation's future. The eagle flies amid
a field of 26 large and small stars, representing the thirteen original
states and the thirteen admitted to the Union since 1789 (anticipating
By November, 1836 all was ready for trial strikings in silver. A small
number (presumably 18 pieces) of the new dollars were distributed in
Philadelphia. Reaction was almost universally positive, with one
exception. Patterson had ordered Gobrecht to place his name on the new
coin. He did so by inscribing C. GOBRECHT F. in small letters in the field
beneath the figure of Liberty-the 'F.' standing for FECIT, Latin for
"He made it." Gobrecht was criticized as a "conceited
German" and vilified in the local press. Patterson solved the problem
by having Gobrecht move his name to the base of the figure of Liberty,
visible only if one looks carefully at the coin. The eighteen or so pieces
struck with his name below the base are considered patterns and are very
Regular production of Gobrecht dollars began sometime in December of
1836. The 1,000 regular issue dollars of 1836 were struck at the old 1792
standard fineness of .8924. The same date was used for the 600 coins
minted in March, 1837, but these pieces were produced from planchets .900
fine-as authorized by the Mint Act of 1837. So close in weight, the two
issues are easily differentiated by alignment: the 1837 dollars have a
medallic alignment-the obverse and reverse are aligned on a vertical axis,
while the 1836 coins have a horizontal, or coin, alignment. All original
dollars dated 1836 will show the eagle flying "onward and
upward," while the restrikes made in the 1850s and '60s will have the
eagle flying horizontally. The approximately 25 coins made in 1838 are
considered to be patterns, with thirteen stars around the periphery of the
obverse replacing the stars on the reverse fields. Only 300 dollars were
struck in 1839 with Gobrecht's design, and all were intended for
circulation. These coins, like the 1838 patterns, have reeded edges.
Throughout the 19th century Gobrecht dollars were very popular with
collectors. In the late 1850s, demand far exceeded the available supply.
Mint Director James Ross Snowden, desirous of expanding the Mint's
collection of coins during his tenure, decided to take advantage of this
situation. Funds were not available for outright purchase of coins, so
Snowden used Mint dies to create numismatic curiosities such as the Class
II and Class III 1804 dollars, "transitional" half dimes and
dimes, and Gobrecht dollar restrikes. He would then trade these restrikes
and fantasy coins to local collectors for rare coins lacking in the Mint
collection. These restrikes were made from 1858 through the summer of 1860
and again in 1867-68. Actual numbers made are unknown, but it is estimated
that the total number of restrikes may exceed the original mintage.
All Gobrecht dollars were struck in the Philadel-phia Mint and have a
proof finish, even the regular circulation issues of 1836 and 1837. This
is a unique phenomenon in U.S. numismatics-the only series of coins
intended for circulation struck as proofs. Counterfeits are virtually
unknown, perhaps because of the proof surface, which is very difficult to
duplicate. The design first begins to show friction on Liberty's knees and
breasts and on the highpoint of the eagle's breast on the reverse.
Traditionally given the status of regular issue coins, Gobrecht dollars
are actively pursued by type collectors. The most commonly encountered
issue is the plain edge 1836-dated restrike with name on base and starry
reverse. These restrikes comprise more than two-thirds of the Gobrecht
dollars offered at auction in recent years, and they exist in a wide range
of grades from heavily circulated to gem condition. Date collectors
occasionally attempt completion of a three-piece set of coins with the
dates 1836, 1838 and 1839, but very few collectors undertake the challenge
of a complete set of Gobrechts. Such a set would be virtually impossible
to assemble because of the several obverse/reverse mulings made by Mint
Director Snowden in the late 1850s.
Beginning in 1837 Gobrecht's Seated Liberty design was adopted on all
U.S. silver coins from half dime through dollar. The reverse with its
naturalistic eagle was dropped for the quarter, half dollar and dollar
denominations in favor of a revision of John Reich's heraldic eagle of
1807. The obverse design, only slightly modified from Gobrecht's original
concept, was used on the dollar until 1873.
Diameter: 39 millimeters Weight: 1836 Original: 26.96 grams Others:
26.73 grams Composition: 1836 Originial: .8924 silver, .1076 copper
Others: .900 silver, .100 copper Edge: 1836 Plain; 1838-39 Reeded Net
Weight: 1836 Original: .77351 ounce pure silver Others: .77344 ounce pure
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Bowers, Q. David, Silver Dollars and Trade
Dollars of the United States, Bowers and Merena Galleries, Wolfeboro, NH,
1993. Bowers, Q. David, The History of United States Coinage As
Illustrated by the Garrett Collection, Bowers and Merena Galleries,
Wolfeboro, NH, 1979. Breen, Walter, Walter Breen's Complete Encylopedia of
U.S. and Colonial Coins, F.C.I./Doubleday, New York, 1988. Julian, Robert.
W., "The Gobrecht Dollars of 1836-1838," Legacy Magazine,
November-December, 1988. Pollock, Andrew W., United States Patterns and
Related Issues, Bowers and Merena Galleries, Wolfeboro, NH, 1994.
Coin Information Provided Courtesy NGC.