Distinguishing Dickeson's Dollars:
1876 Dickeson Continental Currency Dollar Imposters
The Dickeson Continental Currency Dollar Copy of 1876 is such a perennial favorite among Hibler-Kappen, So-Called Dollar collectors, that it even has its own restrikes.[i] After all, these medals are the closest most will ever come to owning the prohibitively expensive, 1776 Continental Currency Dollars, upon which they are based. The original Continental dollars were primarily struck in pewter, with just a few in brass and silver; and were smuggled out of New York City as the British invaded.[ii] They start out, in the worst condition, around $20,000. The Dickeson versions of 1876, and their 20th Century restrikes, were made from similar metals and are much more affordable by comparison, at about $1000 for the 1876 and about $100 for a modern version. That said; the 1876 medal in copper, cataloged as HK-853, is actually scarcer than some of the 1776 coins. So elusive is HK-853 that few people have seen one, and it is often confused with its modern restrikes. Some collectors, dealers, auctioneers, and even some expert graders have been fooled by common 1962 restrikes masquerading as rare 1876 originals, primarily due to the lack of accurate, published information on the differences between them.
During the 1876 US Centennial Convention in Philadelphia, Montroville W. Dickeson; 1809 to 1882; capped off his long and illustrious career as doctor, archaeologist, numismatist, and author of the groundbreaking, American Numismatic Manual of 1859, by presenting his own version of the famous Continental Currency Dollar.[iii] These medals were minted by the hundreds in gleaming white metal, HK-854, with just a few handfuls struck in showy red copper, HK-853.[ix] Trial strikes also exist in lead and brass, and a few dozen were struck in silver. Collectors often find the copper version the most aesthetically pleasing, and with an average thickness of about 4mm, they were hefty and substantial works of art. Unfortunately for collectors, the HK-853 is exceedingly difficult to find today.
It should be noted that these Dickeson medals are often incorrectly categorized as “restrikes.” However, Dickeson created a more refined, innovative design than seen on the 1776 Continental Currency Dollar. While mimicking the 1776 issue, his is much more sophisticated in both style and execution; perhaps representing what the original may have looked like had it been coined a century later. Thus, because it is a new design, it is not a restrike, and more appropriately referred to as “the Dickeson Continental Currency Dollar,” or even “the Dickeson Copy,” etc.
Despite the enhancements, Dickeson’s dies maintained a level of rustic craftsmanship, due to a number of delicate, hand-cut features. The wood grain table was hand-engraved, and the letters show numerous re-punched characters. Many of the original Dickeson Continental Dollars were noticeably double struck, as well. Also of note is the hand-engraved rim beading, probably applied in sections with a punch containing several beads, as there is a raised shelf connecting them. The sections must have been meticulously overlapped, end over end, as a doubled image shows on each of the overlapped beads.
However, a study in 1980, by numismatist and Elder specialist, Thomas K. DeLorey, suggests the thick planchets used for these mulings were more similar to the work of Dickeson, “or one of his contemporaries,” than to the documented works of Elder.[vi] DeLorey could not prove they were the work of Dickeson, but he chose to list them “as such only to disassociate them from Elder.”[vii] In other words, Elder did not make them, but Dickeson might not have, either. DeLorey’s general observation was that, “the letter and number punches” for the various mulings were “noticeably 19th century in style,” but also different from those used for Dickeson’s work.[viii]
The old dies were brought back to life by somebody; probably after Dickeson’s time; whether it was someone in the 1880s, or even Thomas Elder. It cannot be forgotten that Thomas Elder did possess at least the obverse die in 1917, and he did strike a muling with it, using a reverse that bore his name and date.
The problem stems from the lack of reliable information on the nuances of these medals, and a detailed analysis is now in order. Popular belief is that the 1961 Bowers and 1962 Bashlow Restrikes can be differentiated from the 1876 Dickeson originals by the presence or absence of a few reliable die scratches around the word CONTINENTAL. Unfortunately, while this works for Bowers Restrikes, it does not always work for those of Bashlow. First, one must accept that, despite misleading assertions made in Bashlow advertising, the evidence confirms that neither the Bowers nor the Bashlow pieces were struck from the original Dickeson dies. Rather, transfer hubs and dies were made from molds of the original dies, before Bashlow donated the original dies to the Smithsonian, where they reside today.
In addition to completely changed surfaces, the Bashlow issues, in particular, are actually missing some major details. Bashlow’s transfer dies were heavily polished to remove evidence of the aforementioned die breaks, clashes, and die rust; all of which were preserved on the Bowers issue. DeLorey may have examined the Bashlow hub, firsthand, as he noted that “95% of the die break had been removed” from it.[xviii] A tiny spike can still be seen on the circle, on Bashlow medals.
In summary, the 1876 dies were perfect when the 853s were struck. After 1876, the dies were put back into service with the clashing and die scratches, and heavily polished, refinished surfaces. Next, the Bowers transfers were made in England, closely mirroring the original dies except for an obvious die defect near O. Bashlow’s transfers were made the following year in Philadelphia, and were heavily lapped to remove the original imperfections, along with many fine details in the table lines and rim beading.
[i] Hibler, Harold E.; Kappen, Charles V. So-Called Dollars: An Illustrated Standard Catalog. Tom Hoffman, Dave Hayes, Jonathan Brecher, John Dean Ed. Clifton, NJ: Coin & Currency Institute. Kindle Edition. 1963, 2008. P 164
[ii] Bowers, Q. David. Whitman Encyclopedia of Colonial and Early American Coins: The Only Authoritative Reference on All Pre-Federal Coinage. Atlanta; Whitman Publishing, LLC. 2009. P 238.
[iii]. Bowers, 305. Of Dickeson’s Manuel, Bowers notes that, “Today it remains a classic and is worthy of rediscovery by collectors” (Bowers, 18).
[iv] Bowers, 307.
[v] Bowers speculated of “additional pieces by Elder” (Bowers, 307).
[vi] DeLorey, Thomas K. “Thomas L. Elder: A Catalogue of His Tokens and Medals.” The Numismatist. Vol. 93, No 6-7. June-July. American Numismatic Association, Colorado Springs. Crawfordsville, Indiana. R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co. (1980). p 1622.
[vii] DeLorey, 1623.
[viii] DeLorey, 1622.
[ix] For what it’s worth, this distinctive rim treatment also appears on a muling of Dickeson’s obverse and Thomas Elder’s dated, 1917 reverse.
[x] DeLorey found that this refinishing was probably done to remove some of the clashing that had developed on the well-used dies (DeLorey, 1623).
[xi] DeLorey, 1624.
[xii] Bowers, 306 .
[xiii] Bashlow, Robert. “The Continental Currency Dollar.” The Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine. August 1962. P 2255
[xiv] DeLorey, 1623.
[xv] Bowers, 307.
[xvi] Bashlow, 2255.
[xvii] A detail that DeLorey also asserted (DeLorey, 1623)
[xviii] DeLorey, 1624.
[xix] Bashlow, 2255.
Hibler, Harold E.; Kappen, Charles V. So-Called Dollars: An Illustrated Standard Catalog. Tom Hoffman, Dave Hayes, Jonathan Brecher, John Dean Ed. Clifton, NJ: Coin & Currency Institute. Kindle Edition. 1963, 2008. P 164.
Bashlow, Robert. “The Continental Currency Dollar.” The Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine. August 1962. P 2254-2255.
Bowers, Q. David. Whitman Encyclopedia of Colonial and Early American Coins: The Only Authoritative Reference on All Pre-Federal Coinage. Atlanta; Whitman Publishing, LLC. 2009.
DeLorey, Thomas K. “Thomas L. Elder: A Catalogue of His Tokens and Medals.” The Numismatist. Vol. 93, No 6-7. June-July. American Numismatic Association, Colorado Springs. Crawfordsville, Indiana. R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co. (1980). p 1337, 1622-1624.
Thomas Elder and HK-860 images used with permission from Heritage Auctions.
Special thanks to EZ_E of the NGC forum for supplying original Bashlow advertisements from The Numismatic Scrapbook, in addition to several photographs.