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Posted 8/25/17

Distinguishing Dickeson's Dollars:

1876 Dickeson Continental Currency Dollar Imposters

Dickeso Continental Currency Dollar HK-853. Image courtesy DM Rare Coins coin photography service.

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.

1776 Continental Currency Dollar, Obverse
1776 Continental Currency Dollar, Reverse
Images Courtesy of Heritage Auctions
1876 Dickeson Continental Currency Dollar Copy, HK-853
1876 Dickeson Continental Currency Dollar Copy, HK-853
1876 Dickeson Continental Currency Dollar Copy, HK-853, Copper
The Dickeson Continental Dollar Copies were special medals, even in their day, and there seems to be some controversy concerning where the dies went, and exactly how they were used, after Dickeson’s death in 1882. Some have suggested that additional HK-853 mintings took place.[v] All we know for certain is that the obverse die was in the possession of Pittsburgh coin dealer and auctioneer, Thomas Elder, in 1917. Where they were before that is a mystery. Whether or not Elder possessed both dies; and more importantly, whether or not he decided to make any additional HK-853 medals from them, is undocumented. Nevertheless, all existing evidence suggests he did not. For many years, it was believed Elder was responsible for pairing Dickeson’s Continental Dollar obverse die with other reverse designs to strike a series of mulings, as the first documentation of such creations came when they were offered in Elder’s numismatic auctions, in the early 1900s. If he was able of making these, he was capable of making HK-853s as well, if he had the reverse die.

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]
Dickeson Continental Currency Dollar obverse
Continental Confederation reverse
Continental Currency/Confederation Muling. HK-860. Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.
For example, the lettering on the Continental Confederation muling reverse, HK-860, is clearly of different style than the Continental Currency obverse. Another indication that someone struck these pieces after Dickeson’s time can be seen in the large, uniformly machined rim decorations used on the reverse of the same Continental Confederation muling, which was resoundingly different from the hand-engraved rim treatment used on Dickeson’s obverse, with which it was paired. Perhaps after Dickeson’s death, the company that produced his medals sought to profit by quickly realizing new dies from an unfinished Dickeson design sketch; adding a less tedious rim decoration; and pairing the mismatched sides together to strike new medals on Dickeson’s leftover planchets. It is doubtful that Dickeson would have approved of this sloppy coupling, had he intended to associate himself with it.[ix]

Original hand-engraved rim decorations. Click to enlarge.
Machined rim dentils of Confederation reverse. Click to enlarge.
An even stronger indicator that these were post-Dickeson issues is the die emission sequence. It is easy to see that the various post-1876 mulings were struck from an advanced die state. A noticeable obverse die break had developed through the outer circle, just above the C in CONTINENTAL; and die clashing of the sun’s rays appears through the XII on the sundial on all post-1876 issues. Additionally, the coiner, whoever he was, felt it necessary to file down and polish the surfaces to remove rust and imperfections, prior to production, creating impressive Prooflike and sometimes DMPL luster on these various mulings.[x]
Die crack found on all post-1876 issues of Dickesons Continental Currency Dollar
Die clashing found on all post-1876 issues of Dickesons Continental Currency Dollar
Some remnants of this die crack (left) and these clash marks (right) are present on all post-1876 issues

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.

Thomas Elder Dickeson Continental Currency Dollar muling, Obverse
But, even if Elder did make the mulings, he did not strike any HK-853s; again, all post-1876 uses of the obverse die, including Elder’s 1917 medal, show the same refinished surfaces and die breaks, which no known HK-853 exhibits. We have examined, both in person and through auction records, as many HK-853s as possible to confirm that none have either the die breaks or the refinished surfaces. In 1980, DeLorey was also of the opinion that “no Elder strikings from the original reverse die are known.”[xi] Anecdotal evidence that they were not reproduced comes in the very low surviving population of the HK-853, at about a dozen pieces.
Thomas Elder Dickeson Continental Dollar muling, Reverse
1917 Thomas Elder Muling. Note rim decorations similar to HK-860/ Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.
With the Elder debate closed, the actual restrikes came some 85 years after the original 1876 issue, in 1961 and 1962, when the coming Bicentennial created a new popularity surge in patriotic ephemera in America. First, Q. David Bowers’ Empire Coin Company acquired the original Dickeson dies; which were now definitely together and in the famous collection of John J. Ford. Empire then commissioned some 7,200 pieces to be coined in white metal, HK-854A, by John Pinches, Ltd., of England.[xii]
Soon thereafter, the dies were sold to dealer, Robert Bashlow; already known for coining similar reproductions of the 1861 Confederate Cent. In 1962, he hired a Philadelphia firm, August C. Frank Co., to create a second, massive wave of restrikes of the Dickeson Continental Currency Dollar, amid excessive hype. After 2,000 were struck in silver, HK-852A; 3,000 in golden brass, HK-856A; and 5,000 in bronze, HK-853A; Bashlow’s advertisements boasted that his medals were already trading for premiums. And further, he claimed that the mintage figures could never increase because “the dies [had] already been donated to the Smithsonian Institution.”[xiii]
1962 Bashlow advertisement. The Numismatic Scrapebook.
This set quickly becomes a challenge to assemble due to the number of pieces needed for completion, but also because of the risk of mis-identification. In fact, some of the modern restrikes have been masquerading as 1876 originals. In recent years, we have documented several 1962 Bashlow medals that were unknowingly certified as 1876 originals and sold at auction by unwitting dealers, to equally unaware collectors. If all slabbed and catalogued examples of HK-853 could be recalled and re-categorized, the true survival rate would be smaller than population reports and auction records indicate.
DM Rare Coins chart showing 1876 HK-853 Dickeson Continental Currency Dollar and its restrikes.

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.

Bashlow Restrike HK-852A, Silver. S mark shows on reverse.
Note the S near the bottom of the reverse on Bashlow's silver medal, HK-852A. Image courtesy of EZ_E of the NGC forum.
It was long believed that Bowers and Bashlow used the original dies, but in his article, DeLorey confirmed that Bashlow actually made transfer dies, noting that “the transfer hubs are still in numismatic circles, as are at least one copy obverse die and two copy reverse dies.”[xiv] More recently, David Bowers confirmed in writing that both his 7,200 white metal restrikes, and Bashlow’s various issues, were made with transfer dies.[xv] An ounce of common sense tells us that Bashlow must have had more than one set of dies because his silver version displayed a special S mark on the reverse, in the fashion of a mint mark, denoting its silver content. On the Bowers dies, it's harder to tell.

Next, we must acknowledge that multiple dies mean multiple diagnostics. First of all, the defects on the Bowers medals do not match those of Bashlow, proving they are not from the same dies. It appears that all the Bowers Restrikes were coined from a single set of transfer dies, which display several prominent, unique die defects. The most notable of these is a die gouge in the beading above the O in CONTINENTAL, which holds true as a diagnostic of the Bowers issue and does not seem to exist on the original dies. Also, the Bowers Restrike, which was advertised as a Proof, generally comes with gleaming Prooflike surfaces, indicating special preparation of the dies. That said, the Bowers dies faithfully reproduce the classic die break, near the C in CONTINENTAL, and some of the clashing through the XII; which, again, developed at some point after the 1876 runs were completed. Additionally, the Bowers dies also preserve evidence of die rust, and die scratches, as they existed on the originals. It is easy to see how some may think these were struck from the original dies.
As for the various Bashlow pieces, those of golden brass, which he called “goldine” do not resemble the originals in any way. Further, Bashlow’s silver pieces have their distinctive S mark. Therefore, these two metallic compositions can be eliminated from the discussion of diagnostics. Likewise, Bashlow advertisements suggest that some were struck in various other metals as “trial pieces” or trial strikes.[xvi] While these are not specifically documented, at least one silver Bashlow Restrike has been found to be struck over a Peace dollar; another in gold was struck over a U.S. Double Eagle. These overstrikes are likely what were referenced in the Bashlow ads, and again, do not pose any risk of misidentification.
Bashlow Restrike HK-856A, brass. Image courtesy DM Rare Coins coin photography service.
DM Rare Coins displays original packageing from the 1962 Bashlow Continental Currency Dollar Restrike, HK-853A.
The bronze pieces, on the other hand, are more easily confused with the 1876 copper originals. Sometimes the Bashlow packaging even leaves these red coppers with dark streaks and, occasionally, brown patina; making them seem older than they are. Full red specimens are scarce. In terms of diagnostics, the die defect above O, used to identify Bowers Restrikes, is absent from Bashlow’s dies. Instead, collectors have been looking for a die scratch at the rim, between the C and O in CONTINENTAL, as the diagnostic of Bashlow pieces. However, this advice has proven inadequate; the die scratch is actually a die crack that developed after a number of coins were struck from a specific die. Our analysis of high-grade pieces reveals some examples with and without the crack. Additionally, we have observed examples showing as many as three cracks along the word CONTINENTAL.
1962 Bashlow Restrike, HK-853A bronze. Image courtesy DM Rare Coins coin photography service.
It also remains a possibility that more than one set of dies was used to achieve this high mintage, i.e., 5,000 in bronze and 3,000 in brass, but our analysis was not conclusive. We did find evidence that the same cracked dies were used across both bronze and brass, which could indicate that the surviving obverse and two reverse dies, about which Delorey spoke, were the only dies produced.[xvii] This seems the likely case, as we also noticed extensive die polishing taking place after the dies cracked, which indicates that efforts were made to refurbish them along the way.
The same obverse die was used interchangeably on both bronze, HK-853A, and brass, HK-856A, pieces. Early die states of Bashlow's dies show no cracks on right side, and later ones show three or more. Therefore, die lines on the right side are not diagnostic of Bashlow Restrikes.
The previous information is valuable, but frankly, unnecessary. There are much easier ways to tell the differences between the 1876 and 1962 issues. The restrikes actually bear little resemblance to the 1876 originals, in the eyes of seasoned experts, or just anyone who has actually seen the real Dickeson medals. First of all, the intricate details and luster flow lines of the partially hand-engraved, Dickeson originals do not compare to the factory molded appearance and transformed surface texture of the modern, transfer die restrikes.

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.

However, Bashlow did not stop there; the transfer dies were so heavily resurfaced to remove old-time defects that major design elements were also carelessly erased. Nearly all definition of the table-top is missing. In fact, the top left edge is completely gone, causing the sundial to seemingly hover above the ground. Parts of the sun’s delicate rays, as well as much of the fine detail around the rims, are also gone. The shelf-like connectivity of the long, plump beads on Dickeson’s original medals are replaced by small, misshapen, and obviously separated nubs that are so far away from the rims that they seem to be floating in the open fields. This effect becomes more pronounced as the Bashlow dies were further polished, taking away even more of the beading. One should also note that the restrikes have a thin, wire-like rim, which stands in sharp contrast to the thick, squared-off rims of the HK-853. These skimpy beads and wire rims bear no resemblance to the original medals.
The hand-engraved table lines on Dickeson's original dies, which do weaken over time; as seen on Bower's dies; actually disappear on Bashlow's dies. Click images to enlarge!
Additionally, there is an obvious flaw on all Bashlow pieces, which is a true diagnostic. A curved, incuse gouge that interrupts the dentils just left of the date is readily visible on all Bashlow Restrikes, across all metallic compositions. This defect was likely created on the hub during the initial transfer process, or it is another indication that only one obverse die was produced. This flaw is easy to spot and is a true diagnostic of Bashlow’s crude creations.

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.
1) The thick rims and connected beading of the 1876 dies do not compare to the Bashlow transfers. 2) The Bashow dies show a distinct die defect left of the date. 3) The same dies were used interchangeably across both compositions, suggesting these may have been struck to order. 4) Late die states show misshapen beading.
Finally, in differentiating original from restrike, one should not forget the hefty nature of the 1876 copper medals. Auctioned examples of HK-853 have ranged between 3.75mm and 6mm in thickness. Even the 1876 white metal, HK-854 pieces measure in around 3.75mm. The Bashlow and Bowers Restrikes were made on a standard, 2.5mm planchet stock and are much thinner, lighter, and easily discovered imposters.
1964 Bashlow Hub Boyscout Jamboree medal.
The 1876 Dickeson Continental Currency Dollar Copies are both coveted pieces of numismatic history and high-quality, early So-Called Dollar treasures. Yet, because few people have been able to examine original 1876 copper examples, and because there are so many restrikes, misinformation has caused some modern bronze pieces to be confused with copper originals. High demand for representations of the historic Continental Currency Dollar will continue to drive interest in related So-called dollars. For instance, Bashlow’s hub was used again in 1964 to create dies for a Boy Scouts medal, differing from the 1962 version only in its added inscription, 6th BOY SCOUT JAMBOREE ’64, on the obverse, and the word COPY on the reverse. Indeed, perhaps Bashlow was right that his Continental dollars “were big, bold, and impressive;” the silver version contained “more silver than a silver dollar,” after all.[xix] Nevertheless, if the Bashlow Restrikes are large, hefty, and shiny, when considered by themselves, they are actually cheap imitations of Dickeson’s original medals.
Footnotes:

[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.


Bibliography

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.