A Classic Pattern Rarity 1836 Gobrecht Silver Dollar C. GOBRECHT F. below base

The Silver Dollars of 1836

One of the most interesting, most curious rarities in the D. Brent Pogue Collection is the 1836 Gobrecht silver dollar with the engraver’s signature, C. GOBRECHT F., in the field of the obverse, below the base of Miss Liberty and above the date.

No silver dollars had been coined for circulation since 1804, the reason being that shortly after they were struck in the 1790s and early 1800s, silver dollars were exported. Accordingly, they served little of their intended use in domestic commerce. The half dollar then became the largest silver coin of the realm.

In September 1835 Christian Gobrecht, a highly accomplished engraver of medal dies and bank-note printing plates, was hired as second engraver at the Philadelphia Mint to help Chief Engraver William Kneass with a heavy work load. Kneass suffered a debilitating stroke soon afterward, at which time Gobrecht became the de facto chief engraver, although this title was not conferred on him until Kneass, who remained in office, died in 1840.

In the summer of 1835 Dr. Robert Maskell Patterson was appointed Mint director by President Andrew Jackson. Among his first ideas was to create a new design for the silver dollar. Thomas Sully, a well-known local (Philadelphia) artist was commissioned to create sketches of Miss Liberty in a seated position, as requested by Patterson. This motif  dated back to antiquity and was used for Roman copper coins circulating in Britain. Titian Peale, another prominent Philadelphia artist, was tapped to create sketches of an eagle for the reverse.

In the autumn 1836 all was set to commence the coinage of Liberty Seated dollars with Liberty on the obverse and a flying eagle on the reverse, called Gobrecht dollars by numismatists today.

The first silver dollar obverse die had the inscription C. GOBRECHT F. in large capital letters above the date and below the base of Miss Liberty. Edgar H. Adams and William H. Woodin stated in United States Pattern, Trial, and Experimental Pieces, (the first book on patterns, published in 1913), that Mint records revealed that just 18 were struck. The source of their information is unknown.

According to tradition, notice of the prominent position of the signature was published in the newspapers (no example of which has been seen), some controversy arose, and the Mint director mandated its removal to a less conspicuous location, that being incised letters on the base of Miss Liberty, scarcely visible. In its final form for quantity coinage, the Gobrecht silver dollar appeared with a Liberty Seated figure on the obverse, name inconspicuously on the base, and with the eagle flying onward and upward on the reverse, amid a galaxy of 26 stars, 13 large and 13 small. At the time there were 25 states in the Union, but it was not long until Michigan became the 26th (in 1837). Striking began in December 1836, with 1,000 coins in mirror Proof format and with plain edge. Notices were sent to newspapers and widely reproduced, as this article in the New York Evening Post, December 16, 1836:

New Coin

A new dollar of our own Mint will soon make its appearance. No American dollars have been coined since 1805. The following is a description of the coin.

The design for the face was drawn by Mr. Sully, that for the reverse by Titian Peale, and both executed by Mr. Gobrecht, the die-sinker. It is intended to adopt the design in other coins. The face of the coin represents a full length figure of Liberty, seated on a rock, with the classic emblem of the pileus or liberty-cap surmounting a spear held in the left hand. The right hand rests on an American shield, with its thirteen stripes, crossed by a scroll, on which is the word Liberty.

The reverse represents the American eagle on the wing drawn accurately from nature; all the heraldic appendages of the old coin being discarded. Over the field are placed irregularly twenty-six stars, the entrance of Michigan, having been, it seems, anticipated.

On December 31, 1836, the first mintage of 1,000 pieces was delivered. Some were distributed to officials (President Andrew Jackson received two), a few no doubt went to the small community of collectors and dignitaries, and most were deposited in the main office of the Second Bank of the United States in Philadelphia. The coins reached the channels of commerce and circulated extensively.

The Name-Below-Base Patterns

No original strikings from the obverse die with name below base are known, but restrikes combining this obverse with a later reverse (showing die cracks) were made in 1859 or not long afterward. This was a time when Mint Director James Ross Snowden dusted off many early dies for regular coins and patterns and began restriking them for sale to collectors. This was done clandestinely, no records were kept, and sales were made by Mint officials to favored dealers, especially to William K. Idler. In time they filtered into the coin market. That at least some specimens of the 1836 name-below-base pattern dollars were not original strikings was not known until revealed by modern research done by John Dannreuther and several others.  Information can be found on the website maintained by Saul Teichman.

Today, all examples are highly prized as strikings, albeit at a later time, from the original obverse die that caused controversy in 1836.

The Pogue specimen of this beautiful and endlessly fascinating rarity was a highlight of our Norweb Collection Part III sale in 1988. Likely, fewer than 20 exist, nearly all of which are in grades below this remarkable specimen. Our earlier description of this coin’s appearance is applicable today:

The toning is indescribably beautiful and is a delicate blend of magenta, electric blue, and gold. This is one of the finest surviving examples of this classic issue. Here is offered a glittering gem Proof, a superb example of one of the most desired of all silver dollar varieties.

Today the Pogue coin is graded Proof-65 by PCGS and is tied with two others as the finest known.

 Special thanks to John Dannreuther who was expecially helpful and supplied much information on Gobrecht dollars and to the website and essays there by Mike Carboneau.


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