CoinWeek Podcast #39: Q. David Bowers Discusses the 1964 Morgan Dollar
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Q. David Bowers is the most prolific numismatic writer in the hobby’s history – he’s also the breaker of numismatic news this month – as he and Whitman have just announced the discovery of hubs and galvanos that were made up to strike Morgan dollars and Peace dollars… in 1964!
Hobbyists were already familiar with the fact that the United States Mint struck Peace dollars in 1964. In fact, several hundred thousand were made at Denver but never released. Up until now, no one outside of the Mint was aware that the possibility existed that new silver dollars struck in 1964 might bear the classic George T. Morgan design.
In this episode of the CoinWeek Podcast, CoinWeek Editor Charles Morgan talks to Q. David Bowers on the discovery and asks what else is stowed away at the Mint, undiscovered.
The following is a transcript of Charles’ conversation with Mr. Bowers:
Charles Morgan: So Dave, it seems that this week you’ve been making some news regarding recent discoveries at the United States Mint?
Q. David Bowers: Well we went there as a research group. It’s interesting… we did see undiscovered, unknown to us, what you would call hubs or hub dies… not working dies that were either used to make working dies for 1964-dated Morgan dollars, or else someone thought about it enough to make steel cylinder hubs – that took a while to do – and also for Peace dollars for 1964. And these were completely unknown to me and of course, I’ve been to the Mint 101 times in my life, but I think these had just been recently discovered; a lot of things have not been checked.
They have two very fine archivists–professional archivists, not numismatic archivists–who are working on the Mint’s things. We gave them, Whitman sent them some books, including the Judd book, so they can help identify some patterns and things that were never used … in forms of galvanic, not coins … so Whitman have [sic] tried to help out as much as we can and we try to help the Mint in any way, shape or form. But this was a very nice discovery and it was sort of spectacular. We weren’t expecting it, and it was really neat.
Charles: Did you get to closely observe the specimens?
Bowers: Yes, I actually touched them. Well, I was two inches from them. These were right in front of us. They weren’t at a distance, they were in a container face up and Dennis [Tucker, publisher at Whitman] took some pictures of them. We could have spent all the time we wanted to with them.
Charles: Was it your impression that these were done up anew? I mean, these weren’t from the 1921 Morgan dollar master hubs.
Bowers: No, these were of the older design, which was supposed to have been destroyed. They also have other archival hubs and things that I didn’t know that they had – and I don’t think they know they had. They probably haven’t been completely cataloged yet. But the Mint did, in its infinite wisdom, make backups in case they needed to use them so that they didn’t have to start all over again. But in 1964, and I have seen no documentation of this and there is probably documentation somewhere, but not sorted, there must be something saying, “OK, person A, will you make up hubs for a 1964 Peace Dollar and 1964 Morgan dollar? We don’t know what we are going to do, but it’s easier to use an old design”, or something like that, you know?
Charles: I mean is it your impression that, they wouldn’t have gone into production of Morgan dollars without authorization from Congress allowing that?
Bowers: Well, I suppose the Mint could have. You have to make working dies, and then you have to put them in a coining press. I mean the Mint makes, all the time, makes trial impressions of things to see how they look. Whether this was done, I don’t know, but I know in talking to Frank Gasparro, who was a good friend of mine for many years, he never mentioned these. Of course, I didn’t ask him about them, but if it was something that was important and Frank Gasparro was there at the time. He was an assistant and of course Gilroy Roberts was the Chief Engraver at the time. And I did not know Gilroy Roberts. I had met them. But I think if they had been important and they had actually made some and held them in his hands and so forth that he would have known about it, or he would have mentioned it because I certainly had asked him 101 different questions over the years.
So, my guess is these were made up on a routine basis with the idea that they wanted to make up more silver dollars, and no silver dollars had been made since 1935. And there was a call for them – like in the Las Vegas casinos and things. So they wanted to do that and of course in 1964 they did make silver Kennedy half dollars and silver everything else… But then, as you probably know from reading Vern Miller and the Denver Mint and everything, the Denver Mint actually did make them, but then the international price of silver was going up almost every week, so they said “OK, we’re not going to release them”. And the dies to make the 1964 Peace dollars in Denver would have been made in Philadelphia and the “D” stamped in individually.
And at that time Michael Iacocca was the person who stamped the mint marks in and he would have done that for the working dies – but I just never thought to ask.
Charles: Did you get a sense, looking at the Peace dollar hub, what the 1964-D Peace dollar might have looked like?
Bowers: These are hubs and master dies. There were, if I remember correctly, there were two sets. One in relief and one in intaglio. These were definitely not working dies. Of course they wouldn’t have had “D” mint marks because the hubs wouldn’t have had “D” mint marks. But working dies would have been able to have been transferred from these and made.
And we know at least one pair of working dies was used in Denver.
I mean, there must be some record somewhere that they made, as I said before, 20 pairs of working dies for each mint, or something. I don’t know. And also, this is pure speculation, but in 1962, -three and -four and so forth, and I was pretty much there when they did that. Silver Dollars were used in Las Vegas at the gaming tables, okay. And toward the end of 1963 and 1964, most of the silver dollars at the gaming tables were 1921s. Because they were the ones that had no or insignificant numismatic value. Dealers when they said they want to buy a bag of 1,000 silver dollars, they almost always say, except 1921 Morgans.
My guess would be that sensing a demand from the casinos and not really realizing that the price of silver would go up beyond face, the logical place to have made them would have been in Denver because it is closer to Las Vegas. You know, the San Francisco Mint wasn’t making coins then. So maybe Denver is the only Mint that got working dies, I don’t know. I think Dennis and I will try to find that out, but on the other hand, if the papers haven’t been organized and sorted, then we will have no way of finding them until the archivists, maybe in their regular line of business, come across them.
The Mint has a tremendous amount of correspondence – and I have seen a lot of it myself, you know, between engravers like Weinman in 1916 and Brenner that has never been published. It is not necessarily numismatically dynamic but it goes back and forth, typically to say, “we are looking at the models today” and “are you coming to Philadelphia today to check them out” and things like that. Everything in carbon copy.
But what they had in 1964, I don’t know.
Charles: So set up the story, why were you at the Mint when you discovered the 1964 Morgan dollar working hubs?
Bowers: Dennis and I made a policy of visiting–there are four operating mints at the moment–of visiting them all, with official permission. Detailing all of their operations, photographing things, taking notes, and so forth. Sort of archiving for Whitman Publications, which is quid pro quo because a new book is at the press now [that] is all about the Mints and what each Mint does and how it is. There has never been a book like this; I wrote it. It will tell not only how these mints started and will also go into private Mints, like the U.S. Assay Office of gold and the one up in Oregon. It’s all about Mints public and private that made circulating coins. And there will be a wealth of information about the mints that has never been in print before in any single publication. About what they do and how they move things around and how certain things are packaged in San Francisco and others someplace else. There’s a lot of detail.
And I’ve been doing this for quite a few years, going back into the 1960s. I used to go to the Mint under Donna Pope, and Mary Brooks, the former Mint Directors. I went with cameras and took notes on, for example, the design of the Susan B. Anthony dollar and the Eisenhower dollar. I published a lot of this stuff already. I was one of, maybe the only person in numismatics that packed up–and sometimes I took a cameraperson with me and took prints to actually document things.
Any number of people went to, say, first strike ceremonies or something. But I was very interested in, for example, I used to know Mike Iacocca and I remember Mike once said he put mint marks on coins and he said, “Would you like to put a mintmark on a Roosevelt dime reverse?” And I said Oh, sure. And I punched it in by hand and I said I should have put it in the wrong position or put it upside down or something. I was just kidding.
Charles: So when you made this discovery, of the 1964 Morgan and Peace dollar materials, what was going on that day?
Bowers: We were on a trip to the Mint. I don’t remember if we went to take pictures of the coining floor or not. One of the things that I wanted to do was to look at some of the archival material that I had looked at earlier but didn’t have a chance to look at it in detail and also to photograph, because they have tons of stuff. You know, it was one of the number of trips I have made to the mints over the years, but it wasn’t because we thought we were going to find anything special.
Charles: So how did these things get brought to your attention and what was your emotional reaction to seeing these 1964-dated pieces of history?
Bowers: When looking around, here again, we helped the archivists identify things, like, this is by Charles Barber or something, you know. I don’t remember exactly, but they might have said, “Hey we have some other things that aren’t classified over here.” Because we went to a separate room and we went there and I had not been there before. But when going there, they would not have said, “Well, we have things that you have not seen that you will be amazed at.” They just said, “We have some more things over here.”
It was very low key.
And we pointed out to them, the archivists, when they got to these to write them up and photograph them and so forth, that we’d be happy to help them with some technical information. Ideally, for the Mint and the Mint history, if they ever put this on the Internet or something, it would be nice to know, for them to know, what was going on. You know the archivists, who are professional archivists like you would find when you call for professional archivists by looking or asking a museum for a reference, or something, are not numismatists. They are very fine ladies, but they are not numismatists. So we were trying to help them out, giving them information to the extent that they were ready to receive it. They were not ready, at that time, to drop everything and start making notes over here because they were still back in their main area, because they had hundreds and hundreds of things.
Charles: So at what point did you realize that you were looking at something remarkable?
Bowers: Well, I mean I’ve seen a lot of stuff remarkable early on. Going back a number of years, I remember in the 1960s and so forth seeing a model for a half dime, a silver half dime to be made during World War II, with a Franklin design on it. Sort of like the later Franklin half dollar, because they didn’t want to use nickel. And I’m also the editor of the Judd pattern book. But, you know, the pattern book, I mean ideally someday… we now have in print Judd version 10… but for version 11, we might have in coordination with the Mint staff, we are going to illustrate a number of galvanos and plasters of unaccepted designs. Did you get my book on Small Dollars?
Charles: Yes, I got the book at the ANA Show. Which is where I first saw that you had found the 1964 dollar. It was great.
Bowers: Well if you look at that, you will see a lot of stuff, like proposals for Susan B. Anthony dollars, that were never used, different reverses and different Eisenhowers. A whole bunch of stuff that has never been published before is in there. And that’s the kind of thing that they have more of. I mean, if I were to, uh, I suppose write a book on commemoratives or something, I could find unadopted commemorative designs – and there any number of designs for medals, which is a little bit beyond my expertise. But there are many medal plasters and things of medals that I never knew existed. Maybe they never did exist.
Charles: I mean, it truly has the potential to be an art museum, when you think about it.
Bowers: Well, it’s not set up yet as a museum. When they were planning to do that, they did open their visitor center a few years ago, and you could come in and see some nice things. You know, I don’t know what their plans are. I mean it’s a government agency, and whether they would plan to have, for example, galvanos in their visitor center as a changing exhibit, I don’t know.
You also have to ask how many people are interested. I mean numismatists are interested, but if 100,000 people visit the Philadelphia Mint visitor center, how many people would even recognize the name of Charles Barber. I don’t know. But they would probably go by what’s most popular. Like when the Smithsonian Institution cleared out the National Numismatic Collection at one time they wanted to put in audio animatronic baseball figures like Babe Ruth. What are people interested in? Depending on the leadership of the Mint and the Treasury Department and their budget, you know, they could do a lot. Or they could partner with the National Numismatic Collection, but there’s not enough room. It’s a small facility. So I don’t know.
If they asked me or asked Whitman, we would like to mount an exhibit, an educational exhibit, we’d say, “Yes, we are at your service absolutely free of charge” and do that, but we don’t know what their plans are. I mean, you really know as much as I do, at this point.
Charles: It’s amazing when you think about what’s there… and what remains there undiscovered by the outside world.
Bowers: There have been many “Eureka!” moments in looking through galvanic and things. Oh my gosh, I didn’t know that they made this. Well, the Small Dollar book, all those things – like putting Eisenhower instead of Susan B. Anthony on the dollar. They made galvanos of that with the 11-sided inside thing – and no one knew that before, we published it for the first time. Anyone interested in modern dollars, will say, “Hey, isn’t that neat?”. And there are pictures of Sacagawea with and without initials in the book. And in an ornate blouse and in a non-ornate one. And if someone had motivation… well, put it this way, if I had a month to spend down there with a camera person and a note taker and there was a market for the book, you could put out a 500-page book on interesting Mint proposals, trivia, things that never were, whatever.
Charles: Well it is certainly an amazing discovery when you consider that no coin in contemporary American collecting is as mainstream and coveted as the Morgan dollar. And to discover something so recent, and yet still unknown, is quite exciting.
Bowers: The Morgan dollar by any evaluation is the most popular early numismatic series. It’s probably not as popular as modern Lincoln cents. But any older numismatic series… it outshines Barber coins, Liberty Seated coins, Indian cents, you name it… and also because they are available in nearly 100 different basic varieties, most of which are available in Mint State. You know, they are immensely popular.
The Guide Book of Morgan Dollars, which is about to come out in its fifth edition, or whatever it is, you know, countless thousands of copies have been sold. If it had been a Guide Book of 20 Cent Pieces or something, then probably half of the first printing would still be in storage, you know.
So, Morgan dollars are very, very popular. So anything having to do with Morgan dollars is much, much more popular than something having to do with half dimes or whatever.
Charles: Well, I’m pretty sure that the upcoming edition of the Bowers Guide of Morgan Dollars is going to be a great seller, [no small] part of which will be due to this discovery.
Bowers: We really appreciate your interest, by the way. It’s really remarkable how interested you are to scout out stories and track things down. You are a real asset to numismatics on your own.
Charles: Well, I’m flattered you’d say that. Thank you. And thank you for bringing this story to our attention and spending some time as our guest on the CoinWeek Podcast.
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Oh, what might have been! I’m very much looking forward to seeing more information about these incredible almost-coins, as well as finding out about other proposed WWII coins such as a revived 2¢ piece, Bakelite cents, and more.
On minor quibble: the expression “Whitman _have_” rather than “Whitman _has_” isn’t technically an error. Although it sounds odd to our American ears, the use of a plural verb to refer to a company or other organization is common in British usage. The underlying logic is that the company, etc. is made up of multiple people and therefore is considered to be plural. The same idea shows up to a slight extent here when referring to small groups; e.g. the dichotomous use of phrases such as “the couple IS going to dinner / … ARE going to dinner”, both of which seem to be acceptable on this side of the Pond.