A little something to contemplate while waiting for the hot dog at ANA
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Mint of the United States

May 12, 1835

Hon. Levi Woodbury

Secretary of the Treasury

Sir:

            Your letter of the 5th referring to a former communication on the subject of more extended issues from the Mint of the smaller denominations of our coin has been carefully considered.

            The whole of our gold deposits may be coined with Quarter Eagles with no other inconveniences than some reduction of the deliveries provided the depositors are satisfied to receive payment wholly in that denomination, which for a limited time, it is possibly, may be the case. As the deposits of gold are not, during the current period, very copious, it may perhaps be on the whole best to suspend entirely the issue of Half Eagles, which, with the approbation of the Department I will direct to be done until a different decision be expedient.

            In regard to silver coin less than half dollars, the question is embarrassed by some difficulty. The great mass of the silver now delivered at the Mint, though of a finer standard then that of the United States, is no ductile enough for small coins. To render it so, requires an expense which the depositors would be unwilling to incur, together with a sensible increase of wastage. This last is sustained by the public, according to existing provisions. The Spanish dollar of former years was suitable for the fabrication of small coins, but the Mexican dollars and the Spanish American dollars in general, which constitute the chief material of our coinage, are not so, though they usually admit of being coined into half dollars without special preparation.

            Under these circumstances the practice has prevailed of employing all Plata Pina and most of the silver coming I bars or pigs, in making small coins, for which these descriptions of silver are suitable without any refining process, and to employ the less ductile for larger coins. Those sources of supply, however, have not been sufficient for the present increased demand for the lower denominations, and I have therefore earnestly recommended to those Banks in New York which evince the most anxiety on this subject, to deposit with us the five franc pieces with an engagement to make such into small coins. The Bank of America in a late deposit of April 2nd, following to some extent the suggestion, sent out of $100,000, about one -fourth in five franc pieces, and the rest in Mexican and Peruvian dollars, the last of which at least they had supposed would answer the intended purpose without any expense in preparation. This however is not found to be so, even for quarter dollars the metal it appears is too refractory. We must therefore restrict the proportions of small coins or incur some loss in rendering the silver more ductile.

            To an application made very recently from the Manhattan Bank, to know how soon $100,000 could be forwarded furnished in Quarter Eagles chiefly, and the remainder in dismes and half dismes, I replied on the 5th instant, offering the same suggestion, and stating that if the deposit were made in five franc pieces we would furnish the coins in about 60 days, and in ninety if the metal required to be refined. I am not yet informed of their decision.

            Under present circumstances, however, it seems to be proper to disregard the increase of wastage, and the expense to be incurred in rendering the metal in question ductile, in those cases where the deposit is required to be in small coins. If you shall be pleased to authorize this, I would recommend that it take effect from the end of this month, this will afford time for some preparation, and will relieve us from a large deposit of the Bank of the United States, consisting of Mexican dollars. In the progress of the proposed measure I will apprize the Department if any inconvenience shall result which shall render an earlier remission of the regulation expedient.

            In regard to the tendency of small coins to leave the United States, I am persuaded that the fact exists to a very sensible extent. Their direction is, I understand, chiefly to Canada, but they go also, it appears, to the Spanish Main. They are expensive coins, and are likely to be imported into places where their character is familiar and relied on.

            Their tendency to enter Canada is much confirmed I doubt no by the effect of a British order in Council of 1825 to which I slightly drew your attention in conversation last winter, and which I first found in your copy of Kelly, a later edition by some years than I had before seen. It appears to me to make silver a legal tender without restriction, at the same rate as it is made a tender to the limited amount of 40 shillings in England – that is, about 6 percent above what may be called its intrinsic value. It is altogether probable that for the purposes of change our disme would pass under the regulation as an English sixpence, which may be stated at 11-1/2 cents. The only correction of this tendency, it would seem, is to be found in reducing the weight of our coins, of denominations below the half dollar as alluded to in my report on the Branch Mints. If reduced, I would recommend the proportion proposed by Honorable C. P White in his reports, viz,: 100 grains for the quarter dollar; dismes and half dismes in proportion. This of course can only be done by Congress. I still, however, incline to the wish to avoid this inequality, if on experiment of the Branch Mint System, it be found that the country can be well supplied with the coins in question, subject to this tendency to go abroad.

            I am very respectfully,

Your obedient servant

Samuel Moore

Edited by RWB
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[MM, if still active, detested long-drawn soliloquies. He would mock me and say things like, I lost you after "your letter of the 5th..." (from the opening line). I hate to have to admit it but I miss him. Problem is, he did not feel my writing measured up to trolling standard. That was a stinging shot!

Great work as usual @RWB! Thanks for sharing that long-winded memorandum.]  (thumbsu

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Poor ductility was caused by impurities in the alloy, usually arsenic or lead.

"Plata Pina" was silver derived from mercury amalgam such as used in the patio process (see From Mint to Mint for description). It was a common way to extract gold and silver in South America.

This might indicate a correlation of several coin factors between small denominations and silver bullion sources.

 

Edited by RWB
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I would love to see some wealthy philanthropist underwrite the cost of a program to do elemental analysis on hundreds, if not thousands, of pre-1853 U.S. gold and silver coins. Obviously so long as the required gold or silver content was there they did not care very much what else made up the alloy, with the exception that the alloy in the gold coinage had to include some silver up to 5% of the gross weight.

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On 8/16/2022 at 5:16 PM, CaptHenway said:

I would love to see some wealthy philanthropist underwrite the cost of a program to do elemental analysis on hundreds, if not thousands, of pre-1853 U.S. gold and silver coins. Obviously so long as the required gold or silver content was there they did not care very much what else made up the alloy, with the exception that the alloy in the gold coinage had to include some silver up to 5% of the gross weight.

...just curious, of what value would the resulting information obtained be to the hobby?...how would the resources used be justified to obtain this inconsequential information?....

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I wonder if the comments about the ductility of the silver alloys and the unsuitability of some of them for striking smaller silver coins wasn't a small lie on the Mint's part to justify them striking mostly the more efficient Half Dollars? Two Half Dollars had to cost less to manufacture than ten Dimes or 20 Half Dimes.

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The document's from the first 20 years of the 19th century suggest that delivery time for halves was several weeks shorter than for any other silver denomination. By requesting halves, depositors got their cash sooner rather than later. I'll pull up a couple of examples. Here's a quick one ----

April 27, 1829

 The wish of depositors generally is to have their bullion coined with the least practicable delay, which is most effectually accomplished in the larger coins. An attention to their accommodation has been at all times deemed important, since the Government sends no gold or silver to the Mint. It was in this view, specially enjoined in a letter of the 13th June 1805, Mr. Mr. Jefferson to my predecessor for his guidance. The coinage of dollars was, however, suspended in 1806 by direction of the President under date of May 1 of that year, founded on a suggestion from the former U.S. Bank, that dollars were more liable to be exported than half dollars. This was referred to in the annual report of January 1, 1827 with an expression of an opinion in favor of this policy. Under the influence of these considerations, the determination [or] what coins shall be executed from time to time, devolves on the Director of the Mint, and is regulated with reference to the pressure of the supply of bullion, and the state of the machinery at any given time, the denominations less than half dollars being reserved for periods of a less copious supply.

[Sam Moore to N. Sanford, MC]

Edited by RWB
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On 8/16/2022 at 5:13 PM, RWB said:

The document's from the first 20 years of the 19th century suggest that delivery time for halves was several weeks shorter than for any other silver denomination. By requesting halves, depositors got their cash sooner rather than later. I'll pull up a couple of examples. Here's a quick one ----

April 27, 1829

 The wish of depositors generally is to have their bullion coined with the least practicable delay, which is most effectually accomplished in the larger coins. An attention to their accommodation has been at all times deemed important, since the Government sends no gold or silver to the Mint. It was in this view, specially enjoined in a letter of the 13th June 1805, Mr. Mr. Jefferson to my predecessor for his guidance. The coinage of dollars was, however, suspended in 1806 by direction of the President under date of May 1 of that year, founded on a suggestion from the former U.S. Bank, that dollars were more liable to be exported than half dollars. This was referred to in the annual report of January 1, 1827 with an expression of an opinion in favor of this policy. Under the influence of these considerations, the determination [or] what coins shall be executed from time to time, devolves on the Director of the Mint, and is regulated with reference to the pressure of the supply of bullion, and the state of the machinery at any given time, the denominations less than half dollars being reserved for periods of a less copious supply.

[Sam Moore to N. Sanford, MC]

I wonder how effective the discontinuance of striking dollar coins was in discouraging the export of coined silver. I understand that if both dollars and half dollars were available in unlimited supply the exporters would choose dollars because they were faster to count, but once American dollars became unavailable you could hardly expect importers/exporters to simply give up doing business. If they had to ship twice as many half dollars as they would have dollars, why not?

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The Mint letters say that Asian markets greatly preferred the Spanish dollars in both content and size. For those reasons, when US dollar coins ceased, halve (of equal content) did not replace them, Small denominations were seldom exported except to Canada where a dime was worth 11-1/2 cents.

Also, the Bank of the United States noted that Mexican dollars were selling at a 7% premium because they contained residual gold. (Letter Dec 11, 11831 to Moore from Pres. Bank of US.)

I've noted Asian trade as a possible topic for FMTM-2.

Edited by RWB
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