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J425/P497 Struck Over an 1840-O Quarter
by William Bierly
March 3, 2004


“What year was it really struck?” For the vast majority of coins this is an irrelevant and perhaps silly question. Just look at the date dummy!! Of course there are famous exceptions. For example the dollars dated 1804 were made decades after 1804, and only painful research has revealed the likely actual years of their manufacture.

The discovery of an 1865 pattern quarter struck over an 1840-O quarter may shed light on a series of pattern coins where the actual date of striking has long been a question. This is the series of Civil War era coins related to the adoption of the motto “In God We Trust”. As for regular issue coins, the motto first appeared on the 1864 Two Cent piece, and then was adopted on the regular Quarter, Half Dollar, Dollar, Half Eagle, Eagle, and Double Eagle denominations in 1866. However pattern coins with “In God We Trust” actually were struck on 1863 dated Two Cent pieces, 1863, 1864, and 1865 dated Quarter, Half, and Dollar denominations, and on 1865 dated Half Eagles, Eagles, and Double Eagles in copper. These coins are called “Transitionals” as they are made/dated in years before they were adopted for regular coinage.

It was long assumed that all of these “In God We Trust” patterns were truly struck in the same years they were dated, but as research evolved, it was generally concluded that the 1863 and 1864 dated pieces were probably struck in later years, perhaps in 1868 or 1869 by mint employees for sale to collectors. Die characteristics and die rust on the reverses of the 1863 and 1864 Quarters tend to reinforce this conclusion. However it was still widely believed that those dated 1865 actually were from 1865. In fact the 1949 Red Book even included the 1865 “In God We Trust” Half Dollar as a regular issue.

Then in 1977 one of these 1865 transitionals, an 1865 “In God We Trust” Dollar (listed as Judd no. 434 in one of the standard pattern references, United States Pattern, Experimental and Trial Pieces by J. Hewitt Judd) appeared in the Fairfield Collection sale. The cataloguer, Bowers & Ruddy, noted that the coin was over struck on an 1866 dollar! The coin was bought by Harry Bass Jr. and today resides in the Bass museum at the ANA in Colorado Springs. The eminent numismatic scholar Walter Breen summarized the impact of this discovery in his Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins published in 1988:

"For generations the silver and gold coins (of 1865) were accepted as true transitional issues . . . but in recent years their status has been flung into doubt because of a single silver dollar dated 1865 with motto, over struck on another dollar dated 1866."

Breen concluded that all of the 1865 “In God We Trust” pattern denominations were likely struck in 1866 or later, largely it seems based on the evidence of this coin.

Fast forward to the late 1990’s when closer inspection of the coin revealed that it was not struck over an 1866 dollar but rather over an 1853! So Breen’s evidence has been nullified and the question of whether the 1865 coins are “true transitionals” or later date productions remains open.

All of this background highlights the significance of the discovery of another of the 1865 pattern series over struck on an earlier coin. In this case it is a Quarter (Judd 425) struck on an 1840-O Quarter. The coin, housed in a PCGS Proof 65 holder, was acquired by the author as an upgrade to another Judd 425 in his collection. Upon close examination it was evident that an 1840-O quarter had been used as the planchet for the pattern.

It is clear that the person minting the coin placed the older quarter in the press so as to have it in alignment with the pattern die. (This was also true of the Fairfield/Bass dollar discussed above.) However the placement of the quarter was off by a few degrees and the alignment is therefore slightly rotated. As a result a ghostly image of the 1840-O coin can be seen beneath the 1865 overstrike. The digit 1 of the 1840 appears well in front of the 1 of the 1865 date. The digit 8 of the original coin date is also in front of and partially under the overstrike 1. The 5 is under the 8 and the 0 beneath the 6 of the overstrike. Other elements of the 1840-O quarter design are also visible including the stars and central figure of Liberty, all rotated to the same degree. The reverse shows the same effect with the mintmark “O” and features of the eagle clearly visible. Of course the “In God We Trust” motto does not appear in the underlying image, as it was a “no motto” coin.

While the coin certainly does not prove the 1865 transitionals were definitely struck in 1865, it importantly does not disprove it either. Obviously if it were over an 1866 or later dated coin, the case for a later striking would be proven. Other sources of evidence, including a letter dated December 15, 1865 from Mint Director James Pollock to Secretary of the Treasury, Hugh McCulloch, point to the probability that these coins were made in 1865. In his letter Pollock references enclosure of pattern coins: “…I now forward to you specimens in copper, of the Double Eagle, Eagle, and Half Eagle (gold coins) and the Dollar, Half dollar, and Quarter Dollar (silver coins) with the motto “In God We Trust” on the reverse of each coin, for your approval or otherwise as required by law.” Pollock does not specifically state that the coins are dated 1865 (they could in theory be dated 1866 if the 1866 obverse dies had been prepared by mid December of 1865). But it is clear they were definitely made in 1865. It is reasonable to believe they were also so dated.

There is also the possibility that some were struck in 1865 and others later. The most recent rarity estimates for the coin in silver (Judd 425) are about a dozen known. Estimates in copper (Judd 426) are also for about a dozen pieces. Of the 7 or 8 pieces in both silver and copper that the author has been able to see, all appear to be from the same dies. They also show no signs of die rust or significant die polishing. So if there are “earlier” and “later” strikings they may be indistinguishable from one another.

An obvious mystery is why someone would use an old quarter as a planchet for this striking. It might be presumed that a mint employee “unofficially” used his own quarter and kept the pattern as a souvenir or sold it into the numismatic marketplace. This is a likely explanation. But we should also think about the letter from Pollock to the Treasury Secretary. He indicates that the patterns he forwarded were in copper and that upon the Secretary’s approval he would “at once” provide patterns in gold and silver as normal for the denominations. We might imagine that as the copper specimens were being produced no silver planchets were at hand and the mint employees/officials were anxious to see how they would appear in silver and on the spot used coins from their pockets. Since a Dollar and now a Quarter have been found, the question comes up as to whether one of the pattern “In God We Trust” Half Dollars of 1865 might also exist as an overstrike. Imagine overstrikes discovered of all three silver denominations! Pattern collectors please check any 1865 “In God We Trust” Judd 429’s that you might have!!

At the distance of nearly a century and a half from the events, we can study the coins and the archives, speculate, and at times reach conclusions. But part of the fascination of pattern coins is contained in the ongoing mysteries about the times of and reasons for their being made. Walter Breen likewise said about the 1865 “In God We Trust” transitional patterns: “Whatever their actual time and occasion of manufacture, these coins will remain prized as great rarities”.