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Martha Washington and Experimental Coin Trials

A PCGS Trueview image of a Martha Washington pattern. Image: PCGS.
A PCGS Trueview image of a Martha Washington pattern. Image: PCGS.

By Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez for PCGS ……
It’s not just the nation’s Founding Fathers who have appeared on our nation’s money. Some of our Founding Mothers have, too! And one of the most revered of these figures is none other than Martha Washington, whose husband George was the first president of the United States. Martha Washington was the first First Lady of the United States and pioneered this ambassadorial role as there was generally no precedent for the role, she being the first in a long line to come.

Martha Washington first appeared on the 1886 $1 Silver Certificate and was later memorialized on the 2007 $10 First Spouse Gold Coin. But her likeness is also seen on many pattern coins the United States Mint has produced since the mid-1960s.

These experimental coins utilize a bust of Martha Washington on the obverse. This helps the coins from being confused as legal tender circulating coinage (none of which she appears on) while closely approximating the design parameters of other circulating coins that showcase the heads of other famous Americans.

In the book United States Pattern Coins by J. Hewitt Judd, editor Q. David Bowers expounds on the point that the Martha Washington “fantasy designs were prepared with no relation to current coinage motifs, in the present instance to avoid creating ‘rarities’ by using regular dies.” While Martha Washington appears on the bust of these experimental pieces, Mount Vernon, the Virginia home of the Washingtons, is showcased on the reverse. The date “1759”, seen on the obverse of these patterns, refers to the year she married George Washington.

The Martha Washington patterns emerged around 1965, when the U.S. Mint began experimenting with copper-nickel clad compositions in the historic transition from striking 90% silver dimes, quarters, and half dollars with debased planchets. The Martha Washington patterns were also made in preparation for many other U.S. coins, including the creation of new dollar coinage in the late 1990s with the retirement of the denomination’s Susan B. Anthony design.

When available to collectors, many of these Martha Washington pattern coins are worth thousands of dollars. One of the most recent prices realized for one of these patterns is $15,600 USD, hammered for a 1965-vintage copper-nickel half dollar pattern minted graded PCGS MS67.

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For more information from PCGS, click on the image below.

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