Monday, April 13, 2009

Coin Monday: Pattern Recognition

April 13, 2009
Posted by John

One of the most exotic realms of American numismatics is pattern collecting. In this case, the term “pattern” refers to a coin – most often a mock-up of a proposed design – sometimes in the metal that would be used in actual production (such as a silver dollar being struck in… wait for it… silver), sometimes in a different metal (the same silver dollar design struck in copper). To borrow from the poetry of Robert Frost, all but a handful of patterns represent the road not taken, coins that could have been but never were.

Today’s feature, offered in our April 2009 Central States auction in Cincinnati, is part of the second case. In the most commonly used reference on patterns, originally written by Dr. J. Hewitt Judd, it is listed as Judd-1609, though few collectors would recognize it just from hearing the number. The name the numismatic community has given this pattern is far more evocative: it is a “Schoolgirl” dollar, struck in copper.

In 1878, the silver dollar (as opposed to the Trade dollars struck by the Mint for overseas commercial use) returned to production after a five-year hiatus, and new motifs of a Liberty head and heraldic eagle, prepared by British-born engraver George T. Morgan, replaced Christian Gobrecht’s Seated Liberty design. His dollar design, now named for him and generally praised today, was dismissed or attacked by various commentators. Both George T. Morgan and then-Chief Engraver William Barber worked on a number of possible replacement designs.

In the end, none of them were adopted; Morgan’s broad, vaguely matronly head of Liberty was the face of the silver dollar until 1921. Still, the engravers’ efforts led to some of America’s most beautiful and desirable pattern designs, including the Schoolgirl.

This 1879-dated design by Morgan shows a young woman with her hair tied back and a band over the top of her head identifying her as Liberty. She wears a close-fitting necklace, traditionally described as a strand of pearls. On the other side is a defiant eagle, perched with body turned and wings spread. The defiant eagle motif would be used much later, in 1915, as part of the design of the Panama-Pacific Exposition quarter eagle.

The Schoolgirl design was struck in three metals: silver, copper, and lead. The lead impression is unique, while the silver and copper pieces are both very rare; the silver examples are slightly more available today. Among copper representatives, only a handful have survived without their surfaces turning partly or completely brown; this is one of the few to retain its full original color.

This Schoolgirl dollar is just one of dozens of prized patterns to be found in our Central States auction. In fact, we have two Featured Collections dedicated to patterns, the Van Treuren Collection and the Lemus Collection, or Queller Family Collection Part Three. Looking through them, as well as patterns from our many other consignors, offers often-startling insight into both the coins America has made and all that might have been.

1 comment:

  1. I bought the Liberty Quarter eagle which holds the distinction of keeping the same design for the longest time in American history for gold coins.

    Gold Quarter