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September 24, 2018

Thin Planchet 1876 Dickeson Continental Currency Dollar Discovered:

Possible Die Trial HK-854 Changes the Standards for Identification

1876 Dickeson HK-854 Continental Currency Dollar Copy. Thin Planchet Discovery Piece.

We are announcing the discovery of an original 1876 Dickeson Continental Currency Dollar Copy, HK-854, struck in white metal, but on an uncharacteristically thin, 2mm planchet. The Hibler-Kapen, So-Called Dollars book, and other references, have long stated that all original HK-854 medals were struck on planchets ranging from 3.0 to 3.4 mm in thickness. With our piece measuring just about 2.0 mm thick, this information is no longer accurate. We believe this to be a previously undocumented, 1876 Trial Strike from Dickeson’s coiner, and that other thin planchet pieces could exist.

Our first reaction, after hearing of this piece, was to assume it is not really a Dickeson original, but rather some sort of Thomas Elder creation from 1917, or even a Bowers Restrike of 1961-1962. However, both of these theories fall flat, upon seeing the medal. First, while Thomas Elder pieces are often thinner than Dickeson’s, Elder is not known to have used Dickeson Continental Currency reverse dies. In fact, it is unclear whether or not Elder even owned the reverse die, as his various issues all use the obverse, paired with some other reverse. Furthermore, and more importantly, all issues attributed to Elder show an advanced die state. The dies were in bad shape by 1917; with a jagged die break near the C in CONTINENTAL; traces of die clashing around the sundial; a die scratch across the left side of the table; and heavily refinished, unnaturally glossy surfaces. None of these many die markers are seen on our medal. Elder’s dies also show considerably less definition on the wood grain of the table, and a broken upper-left table edge; yet ours shows amazing detail throughout, including a full table outline. Some of the early stages of the Elder issues show Cameo contrast; this was recreated during the refinishing of the dies, and the existence of the aforementioned diagnostics is a tell-tale sign a post-Dickeson restrike.

Post-Dickeson Uses of the Obverse Die

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HK-860 uses a refinished stage of Dickeson's obverse die. NGC currently attributes this issue to Thomas Elder.* This brilliant piece is from freshly polished dies, with noticeably weak table details. All post-Dickeson strikes show: glossy surfaces, die clashing on right side of sundial, die break through circle above C, and die scratch on left side of table (the latter disappears on Bashlow Restrikes).

*Note: NGC currently attributes all post-Dickeson issues to Elder. It is possible some where made after Dickeson but prior to Elder. See our related article for more information: "Distingishing Dickeson's Dollars: 1876 Continental Currency Dollar Imposters."

Additionally, the Bowers Restrikes; produced in England in the early 1960s for his Empire Coin Company; were struck from faithfully reproduced transfer copy dies. They show all the original defects of Dickeson’s dies, in addition to a few new defects that are unique to the transfer copies. The most well-documented of these is a die scratch between the rim and the O in CONTINENTAL. None of these appear on our piece. Also, the Bowers Restrike dies were deeply polished, with high-gloss, mirrored surfaces. Bowers intended and referred to them as Proofs. While technically, they are not Proofs, many will qualify for a Prooflike designation and select few are even Deep Mirror Prooflike. Importantly, the Bowers issues were all struck on uniformly machined, 2.5mm thick planchets; too thick to be our host piece. And, if Thomas Elder’s issues showed weakened definition, the Bowers Restrikes show almost no definition on the table, as well as a thinner rim and smaller, more separated beading. Interestingly, some of the Bowers Restrikes show slight Cameo contrast, likely added back in with either acid etching or light sandblasting of the high points of the copy dies. That said, there is no comparison with our early die state original.

1961-1962 Bowers Restrike, HK-854A

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1876 Thin Planchet HK-854

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In sharp contrast to these later issues, inspection of our thin planchet piece reveals a much earlier strike from new, 1876 dies. The engraving is fresh and sharp and the frost over the Cameo devices is heavy, thick, and clean. Additionally, the original pieces, like this one, show a thick, squared-off rim, which is found on no other restrike. Also, the fields show the unmistakable, original orange peel-textured mirrors seen on so many vintage, 1870 era tokens and medals. This is in contrast to the highly polished and refinished surfaces of the various restrikes.  The 2 mm edge of this thin planchet looks roughhewn, filed down to size, and distinctly 19th Century; compared to the smoothly machined edges of the standard 2.5 mm Bowers Restrikes.

This thin HK-854 is, in fact, an earlier die state than the copper HK-853 in PCGS MS65, used extensively in our related article. That piece is over 3mm thick and unquestionably an 1876 original. Yet, the engraving on

it is slightly less distinct than our thin HK-854, due to mild die wear. Likewise, the Cameo contrast is gone from the 853, as are the mirrored, Prooflike surfaces. In particular, the fine details of the table top are slightly less distinct. It is interesting to note that NGC has graded 11 Prooflike HK-854 pieces; or roughly half the total certified population; but that none of the copper HK-853s have graded PL. This could indicate that the Copper medals were struck after the White Metal pieces. If true, this would further help to place our discovery piece in the good company of earlier strikes from Dickeson’s original dies, as our discovery piece, too, resides in an NGC Prooflike slab. It is also possible that not enough 853s survive in order to prove, one way or another, the exact order of production.

Comparison Between 1876 HK-854 Thin Planchet Discovery Piece & known 1876 HK-853
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All things considered, the evidence points to this piece being an early die state of Dickeson’s original issue. Perhaps it was put more succinctly by renowned medals dealer, Richard Gross, who exclaimed, “You have a Dickeson! There is nothing quite like the original,” when he examined pictures of this discovery piece.

Ok; so we have a Dickeson, but why is it only 2mm thick? Being that it is an early die state, we surmise it could have been an experimental strike or a Die Trial, used to test the design and equipment. The planchet of our piece appears to be slightly wavy, as are many of the mid-19th Century tokens, which were similarly thin and often buckled under the pressure needed to strike up the design. On a dollar-sized piece that is made too thin, one also runs a greater risk of not striking up the design properly, and there is some minor weakness here. Dickeson’s coiner most likely saw the result of using a thin planchet very quickly, and decided to go thicker, and thicker, with the planchet stock. Perhaps most of the thinner pieces were destroyed at the time, explaining both their pronounced rarity and also how they remained unnoticed, until today.

While this is a new discovery and presumably quite rare, its existence should not come as a total surprise. In the process of researching the Dickeson issues, we found planchet irregularities to be the norm. Until now, the White Metal, HK-854 pieces were known to range from 3 to about 3.4 mm in thickness, and the Copper, HK-853s can range anywhere from 3mm to 6mm thick, based on what was offered by Stacks in the Ford sale. Why not presume a 2 mm planchet could also exist?

In actuality, we know very little, with certainty, about the production standards of Dickeson’s coiner. The state of the dies between striking the HK-854s and HK-853s seems to corroborate the original mintage guesstimates given by Bowers, of "a few hundred" and "a few dozen," respectively; but today, these medals are R6 and R7 (Bowers, 307). NGC has graded just 21 HK-854s and even fewer HK-853s. The number of both compositions, certified at PCGS, can be counted on one hand. If hundreds were made, there are clearly many coins missing, and because our collective understanding of these issues is based only on the small quantity of known survivors, there are likely still things we can learn about these medals.

More examples are surfacing as time goes by. Who knows how limited the availability was when Hibler and Kappen published their thickness standards years ago. It may even be the case that more of these are going under the radar because they are not thick enough to match the HK description for number 854. The present specimen is no more than about 2mm thick, but it is clearly an original HK-854 Dickeson Continental Currency Dollar Copy of 1876. No reference guides, just our own extensive research, ultimately put us in front of this currently unique piece. Keep your own eyes peeled; more anomalies are out there.

Die Progression of Dickeson's Continental Currency Dollar Obverse

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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

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, 307.

Special thanks to Heritage for permission to use their images of HK-860.