Pattern coins were made as test coins during their developmental stages. They represent where our coinage might have gone and where our circulation issue coins come from. They might also represent the birth of a new issue, or an experiment with a new alloy.
You might also say some pattern coins are the evidence of seamier practices of mint officials, who produced coins for their own benefit. Mostly however, pattern coins are misfits. They usually are the coins never produced for use in commerce.
Pattern coins can be categorized as:
True Patterns: are used to test a design with the intention of using the coin for circulation.
Experimental Pieces: are usually variations of a coin, i.e. planchet thickness or diameter, shape or composition, etc.
Regular Die Trial Pieces: are regular issue coins struck in a metal other than used in their circulating variety. They are used for press setup or trying a new way to strike the coin. They are also used as inexpensive samples for study.
There have been many metals used in pattern coins. Some of them are: copper, copper-nickel, aluminum, brass, bronze, gold, nickel, lead, pewter, tin, steel, zinc and silver. The trial pattern can be struck on both sides of the coin, or on just one side. If it is struck on just one side, it is known as a “splasher”.
Pattern coins are beautiful, rare and historically significant. They are real bargains when you consider their actual rarity. Pattern coins are an important part of the coin development process, and are rarer than any regular issue coin.
There were no pattern dollars for many of the years between 1794 and 1885. But some years such as 1873, there are many pattern examples following the demonetization of silver and putting the US on a gold-only standard.
1873 was a rich year for patterns, because the Coinage Act of 1873 provided for a revamping of US coinage. The Trade Dollar was authorized by Congress and the half dime, 3 cent piece and 2 cent piece were eliminated.
Very few people are either aware of, or interested in these specimens. Because sales are so infrequent, there are no reliable price guides for them.
Pattern dollars prices fluctuate with the coin market, but generally with less volatility. Pattern silver dollars cost from $2000 for lower grade “common” coins, to well over half a million for MS-65, 1794 Flowing Hair dollars.
There are very few experts in this field. Probably the first and most preeminent was J. Hewitt Judd. J. Hewitt Judd has established the rarity for each pattern coin from 1794 until 1885. Then he assigned a number to every pattern silver dollar the US Mint explored during that time.
This was the era for pattern coins, as the US Mint became the nation’s largest coin dealer. It goes without saying, the US Mint has probably made more money than any business in this country!
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