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questions about pattern coins

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I was reading in one of the most recent coin worlds about how the PNG was saying the ruling the government could take the 1933 double eagles would put pattern pieces at risk of consfication. This made me wonder so I have a few questions. First are patterns monitized and how did they escape the mint? If they escaped the mint just like the 1933 eagles why does the government not care about them?

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First are patterns monitized?


893scratchchin-thumb.gif According to the Coinage Act of July 23, 1965, "All coins and currencies of the United States, regardless of when coined or issued, shall be legal tender for all debts, public and private, public charges, taxes, duties, and dues."


So, yes.


how did they escape the mint?


Many patterns became parts of the collections of those who worked for the Mint. Many of the early engravers up through the 19th Century tucked away pattern coins. Some left the Mint by sale, others through illegal private transaction between Mint employees and collectors, others through release to Congress or other government officials, others by trade for coins that the Mint lacked in the Mint collection (which later became the collection housed at the Smithsonian). There were, indeed, many ways that pattern coins left the Mint. It was not until much later - perhaps the last half of the 20th Century, or at least with the recall of gold - that the Mint became strict and vigilant against the release of pattern coins.


why does the government not care about them?


Because the Mint declared them legal tender. Some would argue that the Act of 1965 is grounds for claiming all extant 1933 double eagles legal to own. (What's odd about this to me is that the two that are currently housed in the National Collection are considered "chattel.")



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There have been several attempts by the Treasury Department to confiscate pattern, experimental and trial pieces from collectors. These began in 1887 with attempts to prevent the sale of coins from Mint Director Linderman's estate and continued sporadically through 1910 when the Treasury Department abandoned prosecution of John Hazeltine, who was accused of selling pattern coins that the Mint Bureau claimed to be government property.


There is an extensive history of pattern and experimental pieces being sold by the Mint to collectors or traded for items needed for the mint's coin cabinet. After 1887 patterns commonly escaped the Mint via members of Congress, and carelessness or general lack of interest in the Director's office. The 1907 pattern coins are an exception as their sale at face value was specifically authorized by President Roosevelt (and not rescinded, but his successors, either....)


In the nineteenth century some patterns were sold for bullion value (such as the Goloid sets including the $4 "Stella"), others were sold in sets at fixed prices, some were made-to-order in non-standard alloys for influential collectors, and many others were simply samples passed around as curiosities and off-metal examples. 1916 was the last "big" year for pattern coins, although examples exist of a few of later date (1922 high and medium relief Peace dollars, 1974 aluminum cent, surrogate coins such as Martha Washington pieces, etc.). Other pattern coins, such as the 1954 Lincoln cent by Jim Fraser, are known to have been made but all examples were reported destroyed.


Philadelphia Mint engraver Charles Barber had a collection of over 200 pattern coins in 1916; there was no question about their legality.


Strictly construed, and this is my personal opinion, pattern and related pieces are not coins. They were not produced for circulation and the designs were not authorized as circulating coin – at best, they are scrap metal, engineering test debris consistent with machine filings, sweeps, cancelled dies and the like.


The 1933 $20 are normal coins about which there is disagreement about their issuance. Their situation is very different from pattern and experimental pieces.


An excellent place to learn about pattern coins is the web site: USPatterns.com. There are hundreds of photos and a huge amount of information about pattern coins and related items on this site. It is one of the best in numismatics!


Hope this is helpful!

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I can understand why some collectors seem to feel patterns and other rarities aren't "coins". But the fact is, under the Coinage act of 1965 they are fully monetized and legal tender. I suppose the law of the United States could be changed to be up to some collector's standards of right and wrong, but of course even then it can't be applied retroactively to make old patterns illegal.

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(The 1965 coinage law reference given near the beginning of this topic is a "legal tender" clause referring only to officially released currency.)


Obviously, the lawyers love to argue legalities of "things", but collectors can enjoy the beauty (or ugliness) of pattern and experimental pieces. They give us a cloudy window on the past and how our predecessors viewed the nation and its ideals. Read through Edmund Morris' biography of Theodore Roosevelt, then go back and look at the Saint-Gaudens and Pratt gold coin designs; absorb a copy of "Woodrow Wilson" by August Heckscher, then look with refreshed eyes at the 1916 silver coin designs by MacNeil and Weinman...


The truly unfortunate part of the story is the refusal of the modern US Mint to give examples of 20th Century patterns to the Smithsonian NNC - a place that can protect the pieces from wanton destruction (such as when Director Andrew ordered over 200 pattern dies, and hubs destroyed in May 1910) and provide access to them for research.


(end of soapbox tirade....)

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