Not many know this but the earliest dollars like the Gobrecht Dollar were large Spanish silver coins or “pieces of eight” that circulated in America from the mid-17th century through the early 19th century.
These coins came to be known as “Spanish milled dollar” or “pillar dollar” and were valued at 8 reales (reales being a Spanish coin).
Many American Colonies — including Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas, and Georgia — issued their own money as a response to the shortage of coins circulating in America. By 1775, there were more than 1,500 different forms of currency in circulation in Colonial America.
The Continental Congress made several attempts to standardize the monetary system during the Revolutionary War, but eventually abandoned these efforts.
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The First Coinage Act
In 1792, Alexander Hamilton proposed to Congress the idea of establishing a national mint and coining standard for all currency. This led to the first Coinage Act passed by Congress on April 2, 1792.
The Act established that the dollar would be based on a decimal system of 100 cents; authorized construction of facilities for coinage; and provided specifications for certain gold, silver and copper coins.
The new Mint was created as an agency within the Department of State but was run by three commissioners appointed by President Washington. Since then, the U.S. Mint has created some of the most unique and memorable coins in history, including the ever-popular Morgan silver dollar and the Peace silver dollar.
It also created the Gobrecht dollar, a coin that holds historic significance for collectors and historians alike. But what makes this rare coin so special?
Silver Dollars Make a Comeback Through the Gobrecht Dollar
The Gobrecht Dollar was the very first silver dollar coin to be minted by the United States government since the 1806 halt. The original design of the coin was created by engraver Christian Gobrecht.
After nearly 40 years of not having any legal tender silver dollars, Congress passed the Act of January 18, 1837 which authorized a new series of silver coins including a new silver dollar. The new silver dollar had to be designed but there were no funds allocated for the project. Chief Engraver William Kneass suffered a stroke in 1840 leaving him unable to do any work at the time. So it fell on Assistant Engraver Christian Gobrecht to come up with a design for what would become known as the Gobrecht Dollar.
The Gobrecht dollar was minted from 1836 to 1839 by engraver Christian Gobrecht. It is named after him because he designed the obverse and reverse of the coin from. In fact, his design was used on all Seated Liberty dollars until production ended in 1891.
Gobrecht Dollars: History of a Classic Coin Design
The Gobrecht dollar features an elegant portrait of Liberty, facing left and wearing a headdress adorned with a coronet upon which is incised the word LIBERTY.
Her hair is pulled up into a bun at the back of her head; twin locks flow along either side of her face and over her shoulders. Her right arm rests on a shield decorated with stars and stripes while her left hand holds a pole topped with a liberty cap.
The reverse displays an eagle perched on a cloud, with its wings outstretched as if preparing to take flight. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA arcs along the top rim, while ONE DOLLAR is inscribed in an arch along the bottom rim.
Only 1,900 of these coins were ever produced, making them highly sought after by collectors today.