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Oliver Christian Bosbyshell – U.S. Mint Figure Profile

Oliver Christian Bosbyshell: Chief Coiner and Superintendent of the Philadelphia Mint. Born January 3, 1839 in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Died August 1, 1921 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Career: Register of Deposits (Philadelphia Mint): May 4, 1869 – September 30, 1872; Assistant Coiner (Philadelphia): October 1, 1872 – December 14, 1876; Chief Coiner (Philadelphia): December 15, 1876 – February 1885; Superintendent (Philadelphia): November 1, 1889 – March 31, 1894.

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Oliver Bosbyshell.
Oliver Bosbyshell. Image: Public Domain

Oliver Christian Bosbyshell was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi. His father, also named Oliver Christian Bosbyshell, died shortly after his birth. After his father’s passing, Bosbyshell’s mother, Mary A. Whitney, returned with her son to her family home in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, where they lived with her father, Lebbeus Whitney.

At the age of 15 in 1854, Bosbyshell took a job working for the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad. Later, he studied law under F.W. Hughes. Bosbyshell would eventually served as the eighth Chief Coiner of the Philadelphia Mint from December 15, 1876 to February 1885. He then served as the fourth Superintendent at Philadelphia from November 1, 1889 to March 31, 1894.

Sometimes said to be the first Union soldier wounded during the American Civil War (allegedly, he was hit by a thrown object during the Baltimore Riots on April 17, 1861), this claim is dubious. He did see action at the battles of First Bull Run, Antietam, Second Bull Run, and Fredericksburg. His service in the war is most likely the reason he was sometimes referred to as “Colonel” later in life.

Bosbyshell left the front on a temporary leave of absence on June 24, 1863, to marry Martha Ellen Stem. After returning, Bosbyshell fought in the Battle of the Crater on July 30, 1864 in Petersburg, Virginia. Martha died in 1914.

Bosbyshell’s post-war career at the United States Mint began on May 4, 1869, when he took a position as Register of Deposits at the Philadelphia Mint. A few years later, he was promoted to Assistant Coiner on October 1, 1872, and appointed Chief Coiner on December 15, 1876 after A. Loudon Snowden was appointed Postmaster of Philadelphia. Four years after the end of Bosbyshell’s service as Chief Coiner, President Benjamin Harrison appointed him as the Superintendent of the Philadelphia Mint on November 1, 1889 – a position Bosbyshell served in until March 31, 1894.

Some pattern coins sold to numismatist Harold P. Newlin are said to have originated from Bosbyshell. Author Q. David Bowers says that Bosbyshell is responsible for the illegal striking of earlier-date pieces for financial gain and personal satisfaction. Also, numismatist Don Taxay says that Bosbyshell warned Mint Director Henry Linderman against the use of the goloid alloy (which contains about 87% silver) due to the fact it was nearly indistinguishable in color to the 90% silver coinage of the time. He also warned against “wicked coiners”–an ironic statement if Bowers is correct.

1804 Class III Restrike. Rosenthal Specimen. Image: American Numismatic Society.
1804 Class III Restrike. Rosenthal Specimen. Image: American Numismatic Society.

Bosbyshell was also involved in the sale of a Class III 1804 dollar between collectors Isaac Rosenthal and James Ellsworth. He vouched for the coin in a letter to Ellsworth, stating: “This dollar has been subjected to the most severe scrutiny in the Mint, and all of the experts are entirely satisfied that it is a genuine dollar from 1804.”

The authenticity of the coin was further corroborated by Mint Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber and Mint Curator Robert A. McClure.

Bosbyshell later worked for Fidelity Mutual Life Insurance Company out of Philadelphia: as Director in 1884; as Vice President in 1887; and as Treasurer in 1894. He served on the United States Assay Commission in 1898. He died at his home in Philadelphia after suffering a stroke on August 1, 1921.

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Smith, Pete. “Bosbyshell Claimed Historic First”, The Numismatist. November 1993. Print.

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CoinWeek Notes
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