Did you know #6

did-you-know…That many consider the 1848 CAL. Quarter Eagle to be the first U.S. Commemorative Coin?  In 1848 at the start of the California gold rush, approximately 230 ounces of gold were sent to the Secretary of War by Colonel Mason, Military Governor of California.  Mason forwarded the gold to the U.S. Mint where it was turned into blank planchets for quarter eagles.  The letters “CAL.” were punched into the struck coins on the reverse side prior to removing the coin from the die.  It is believed that 1,389 coins were struck from this gold, some with proof-like surfaces and all stamped “CAL.” on the reverse.  An MS-68* specimen sold in a Heritage auction for over $400,000 in 2006.  Even a Fine to Very Fine example is listed with a retail value of $25,000-$30,000.

…That there is a specific reason for the reeded edges that we have on our higher denomination coins?  Half cents thru nickels have smooth edges, where dimes, quarters, halves, dollars and our gold coins have reeds on the edge (often referred to as the 3rd side of the coin).  The earliest coins from the new world were generally irregular in size.  Early cob coins (for cobo de barre, or “end of the bar”) were sliced off a crude bar of silver and placed on an anvil with an engraved design beneath it.   A Pistole with an engraved design was placed on top of the piece of silver and struck with a hammer or mallet, imparting the design onto both sides of the coin at the same time.  There was a practice of “shaving” precious metal coins.  Bartenders, shop keepers, and anyone else that handled the coins would “shave” a little silver off the edges.  If one handled many coins, it was possible to collect a noticeable amount of silver and gold shavings.  The coin shape and edges were usually crude and uneven when they were first struck, so it was hard to tell just how much they had been cut down over the years.  Coins eventually were struck in a collar to give them better form, and late 18th century coins sometimes had engraved designs or words on the edge to help prevent this practice.  Eventually we went to the reeded edge design as our country’s final solution to the problem of shaved coins.

…That our earliest U.S. gold coins dated from 1795 into 1807 carried no denomination on them?  The Mint started production of $5 and $10 gold pieces in 1795, followed by $2.50 pieces in 1796.  None of the three denominations carried any written denomination stamped on them.  Gold coins were rare enough that the common citizen rarely had or saw gold coins in the early days of the U.S. Mint.  Most of our circulating coinage up until just before the civil war (1857-58) was produced outside of the U.S., with the most common of the foreign coins being Spanish.  When the Mint started producing gold coins, in relatively small quantities, those that handled gold regularly recognized the denomination by size.  If there was any question about it, the coins were checked for purity and weighed, which was common practice since there were so many different coins and denominations being used at the time.  Today it’s hard to believe that gold coin values were once so well know that they were recognized by size alone.  Have you tried to spend an Ike Dollar at a McDonald’s lately?  They don’t take “foreign “coins…