Unique Concave Die Trial For the 1857 Double Eagle

    1857 Double Eagle, Judd-190, Pollock-3158, Unique, PR 63 Brown PCGS. Uniface die trial of the reverse of the regular issue double eagle for 1857. Struck in copper with a reeded edge. This piece is one of the most famous and best researched die trials in all of U.S. numismatics. Its background and what is known of its maker, Dr. J.T. Barclay, make a fascinating story.
    In 1836 Dr. J.T. Barclay proposed to Mint Director Robert Maskell Patterson that he would like to conduct experiments in the Mint that would reduce abrasions on coins and prevent counterfeiting. Patterson replied that his proposed experiments had already been tried by Mint personnel (unsuccessfully), and further denied him permission to the Mint on legal grounds. Twenty years later Mint Director James Ross Snowden expressed concern about the wear and abrasion the country's silver and gold coins were suffering from. Apparently someone in the Mint still remembered Barclay from two decades before, and soon the doctor gained an audience with Snowden. Snowden was receptive to Barclay's suggestions and he was given space in the Mint to conduct his experiments. One of Barclay's suggestions was to use more durable alloys for coinage to reduce abrading in the channels of commerce. Another was to enlarge the diameter of the planchets used to strike coins, and at the same time make them thinner and concave. This would prevent the removal of the central portion of a gold coin and replacement by an equal volume of platinum--a common practice at the time as platinum was less expensive than gold.
    This uniface die trial is the single surviving example of Dr. Barclay's concave planchet idea. The piece was created by sending the planchet through the upsetting mill before and after striking. The result is that the eagle and shield are sharply struck, but the peripheral details are either faint or non-existent. All of Barclay's ideas were rejected by Mint officials. Congress appointed two commissioners to follow his progress, and their report concluded that to produce coinage as proposed by the doctor "...would require the construction of machinery on a scale and at a cost inadequate for regular minting business, and of course not to be attempted in a preliminary experimental inquiry." Barclay left the Mint and his failed experiments were forgotten except by those interested in the history of pattern coinage. The piece itself is finely preserved with even brown color overall with faint traces of underlying reddish and blue iridescence. The planchet used was somewhat porous, and a planchet flake is noted in the left field at 10 o'clock. This is a rarely offered opportunity for the pattern specialist to acquire the die trial that is the only tangible memento of a brief period in the mid-19th century when the Mint was willing to entertain ideas for the improvement of coinage from outsiders.
    Ex: Dr. J.H. Judd; Matt Rothert Collection (B&R, 11/73), lot 1269. (PCGS# 60190)

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    Auction Dates
    August, 1998
    7th-10th Friday-Monday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 2
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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