By the 1830’s, the half dollar had unofficially become America’s chief denomination. A Bust Dollar was an unheard-of find in circulation, yet the mint directors of the last decade had been pushing hard to revive the silver dollar. In 1831, Mint Director Samual Moore finally received authorization to begin making dollars, however it was in 1835, when Moore was replaced by Robert Patterson, that the mint took action in creating a new dollar. Not since the 1792 Half Dime had mint officials put so much attention in a coin. Patterson hired Thomas Sully to design Liberty on the obverse. Patterson requested that the design look similar to the figure of Britannia featured on English copper coins. For the reverse, Patterson hired noted painter Titian Peale. Patterson hired then unknown Christian Gobrecht to transfer the obverse and reverse to a die.
The final design for the obverse showed Liberty casually seated upon a rock in a loose dress holding a shield with the word ‘LIBERTY’ incused into it. Gobrecht engraved C Gobrecht F. at the base of Liberty’s portrait. F stood for the Latin word ‘fecit,’ meaning, ‘did it.’ The reverse showed an eagle in flight, which Patterson ordered to look like it was moving “onward and upward” (The eagle of the Gobrecht Dollar reverse is almost identical to that on the flying eagle cent, the only major change is that the eagle on the Gobrecht Dollar is facing upwards at about a 15 degree angle, contrary to the horizontally flying eagle on the Flying Eagle Cent.) It is believed Patterson requested this to symbolize the maturing of America. Surrounding the eagle were 26 stars, one for each state (assuming Michigan would join the Union), and the words “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA – ONE DOLLAR -.”
By 1836, dies were ready for the first strikings in silver. An estimated 18 proofs were struck and distributed throughout Philadelphia. Almost everyone loved the new design, except many were opposed to Gobrecht’s large signature that he placed below the base of Liberty’s portrait. The signature stood out so much that many newspapers wrote that Gobrecht was a “conceited German.” Before any business strikes were produced, the signature was moved onto the base of Liberty’s portrait so that one might not so easily notice the signature.
Business strikes of the 1836 dollars came in December. 1000 coins were minted with the fineness of 89.24% silver; the same from 1792. 600 more coins dated 1836 were minted in March, 1837 with the new fineness of exactly 90% silver. The change was made as a result of the Mint Act of 1837. Along with the minuscule difference in weight, the 2 varieties can be distinguished by alignment. The dollars that were minted in 1836 have a ‘coin’ alignment where the obverse and reverse are aligned on a horizontal axis. The dollars minted in 1837 have the alignment of a medal in which the obverse and reverse are aligned on a vertical axis.
In 1838, a mere 25 coins, all proofs, were minted which did not have the 26 stars on the reverse. The stars had been transferred onto the periphery of the obverse and the number of stars had been reduced to 13, 1 for each of the 13 original states. Because of the change, the dollars were considered patterns.
1839 was the final year of the Gobrecht Dollar. A mere 300 business strikes were struck. All business strikes minted from 1836 through 1839 were intended for circulation, however not a single coin was released. Over the next several decades, only a few Gobrecht Dollars found their way into circulation, however the majority were owned either by the mint or by collectors and stayed in Mint State.
By the 1850’s and ’60’s demand from collectors and dealers for Gobrecht Dollars was booming. Although demand for the dollars far exceeded the mints’ supply, Mint Director James R. Snowden, who was working on the Mint’s own collection, saw the opportunity to fill some of the holes in the Mints’ collection. Snowden used mint dies to create the second rarest restrikes in mint history. In 1858, 1860, and 1867-’68. Snowden created four different varieties of restrikes. They included the 1836 name below base, eagle in plain field with plain edge, the 1836 Name on base with reeded edge, the 1838 plain edge with Gobrecht’s name left out and the 1839 plain edge with Gobrecht’s name left out. Current values for these restrikes vary from approximately $30,000 to $100,000 in PR60.
Today, although the Gobrecht Dollars are not exactly the heaviest collected coins, they are quite popular. Some numismatists consider the Gobrecht Dollar merely one massive pattern for the Seated Liberty Dollar (Although, the Gobrecht Dollar is its’ own series), since they are so similar in design. Other collectors consider them the to be grandfather of the famed and extremely popular Morgan Dollar. This is believed because without the Gobrecht Dollar, which was the first silver dollar to be minted in over 30 years, the revival of the silver dollar and much of its long and illustrious history may have never come to pass.
By William Robins.