Bruce W. Smith submitted this question about U.S. aluminum coinage patterns. Can anyone help? -Wayne Homren, Editor
Because I collect aluminum type coins of the world, pre-1900 aluminum medals and medals relating to the aluminum industry, I purchased Kevin Flynn’s recent book Experiments in Aluminum Coinage (2013) to check on the earliest American coins struck in aluminum. All of them, of course, are patterns.
The earliest coin listed by Flynn is an 1855 half dollar struck with regular dies for that coin but with a plain edge. Listed as Judd 175 (Pollock 202), the only known example of this coin is held by Princeton University. The earlier catalog of United States pattern coins by Adams and Woodin (1913), lists an 1851 small size one cent coin with a seated liberty design struck in aluminum and also in other metals. For some reason, Judd lists these coins under 1854 but says he can find no record of one struck in aluminum. I am sure that the 1851 one cent (if it exists) and the 1855 half dollar were not struck in the 1850’s.
There was simply not enough aluminum in the world at that time for the U.S. Mint to be making patterns in aluminum. However, beginning in 1863 the Mint began a long flirtation with aluminum, using the metal to produce many trial strikes with regular dies and many patterns. Such coins were struck almost every year from 1863 through 1885, with about a hundred different pieces all together.
After 1885, as the metal became cheap, the Mint lost interest. The next aluminum coin was an 1890 Indian cent struck from regular dies and then, in 1896, pattern one and five cent coins. Afterwards, no U.S. coins were struck in aluminum by the Mint until 1974.
While looking into this subject, a lot on eBay caught my eye — a 10-cent token from Parmelee, Webster & Company of New York City dated 1868 and inscribed “Pure Aluminum”. The eBay lot (370935912076), however, was clearly struck in copper. The token, which has a nice portrait of General U. S. Grant on the obverse, is part of a set listed by the late Russ Rulau as NY243, which is known struck in silver, copper, brass, nickel, tin and aluminum. This token is most commonly seen in silver and copper; the aluminum piece seems to be the rarest. This piece, which may actually be a medal advertising the company, is one of the earliest aluminum numismatic items made in America.
While researching the company, I found the following online (from the Annual Report of the American Institute of the City of New York for 1869):
“Dr. Dubois D. Parmelee exhibited some medals struck from pure aluminum manufactured by Parmelee, Webster & Co. at Hunters Point, Long Island. Dr. Parmelee stated that [it had been] only a few weeks since [he] made the first pound of aluminum reduced in America, and had recently cast a single bar weighing five pounds, which is now at the U. S. Mint at Philadelphia for the purpose of experimenting on coinage.”
This suggests that the “medals” may have been the Parmelee, Webster & Co. “tokens” and that this company was the first in America to make a significant amount of aluminum. If this is true, then where did the U. S. Mint obtain the aluminum it used in 1863 and the years following?
To read the complete eBay lot listing, see:
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