HomeCoinsAmericanaSpotlight on So-Called Dollars 3: America’s Forgotten History

Spotlight on So-Called Dollars 3: America’s Forgotten History

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek ….

Mass murder… domestic terrorism… swastikas… are they really on American medals and tokens?

In the first two installments of Spotlight on So-Called Dollars, we touched on the relationship between so-called dollars and America’s classic commemoratives. In this, the third and final installment, we take a look at some of America’s forgotten history. At one point in time, these people, places, and things were very American, but now only serve to shock and surprise.


Swastikas (HK-895, 457, and 433)

In Asia, the swastika is a symbol of good luck. Before the Nazis, it served a similar purpose in the West. By some estimates, thousands of medals and tokens made before World War II bear the image of the swastika, as well as untold tens of thousands of highway road sides (in Arizona), architectural ornaments, greeting cards, pieces of corporate signage, and other miscellaneous items.

Still, it’s somewhat jarring to see the Neolithic sun symbol in an “American” context. So-called dollar HK-895 (pictured below) is a restrike of a medal designed by Adam Pietz and manufactured by the Mint.


We think the CCAC would not approve of a design like this today.

Adam Pietz’s work, described as a Victory medal, is one of the most attractive so-called dollar designs of the 20th century. It features a classic female head with the word VICTORY on the obverse and an eagle on the reverse, both in high relief. Superimposed on the eagle’s chest are a four leaf clover and a swastika, along with the phrase “GOOD LUCK AND… “. Not many numismatic items feature a wrap-around inscription, so this design choice alone makes the piece truly singular and distinctive.

Pietz’ talent as a sculptor is apparent. It’s a shame that his only coined federal design would be the 1946 Iowa half dollar, which, along with the Booker T. Washington and later Washington Carver half dollars, would close out the classic commemorative era.


The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (HK-908 and 909)



The thematically busy HK-908 (1922)


HK-909 (1924).


The 1910s and 1920s saw the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, bolstered in large part by a three-hour-long motion picture called The Birth of a Nation (1915), itself based on Thomas Dixon’s novel The Clansman (1905). The Klan depicted in D. W. Griffith’s film, however, was far removed from the resuscitated version inspired by the movie. This second Klan was larger and had national political ambitions. During the 1920s, the terrorist organization was at its peak, boasting a membership of over six million Americans. After scandals and government persecution, Klan membership shrank to under 30,000 during the 1930s. By the end of World War II, the white supremacist group’s second incarnation was no more.

The two Klan-related so-called dollars listed in Hibler and Kappen were produced at the height of the second Klan’s influence. Both medals feature the faux-Latin phrase “Non Silba Sed Anthar”, which is purported to mean “not for one’s self but for others”. The dual date 1866-1915 refers to the founding of the first and second Klans. Various symbols and acronyms clutter both sides of both pieces.

From a value judgment standpoint, there’s something detestable about entering this sector of token and medal collecting. Hibler & Kappan’s inclusion of these two pieces may be impolitic, but they do represent a very real if depressing facet of American history.


First Strikes. No, Really… (HK-876 and 876a)


 Does the story of the Denver Mint begin here?

While the term “first strike” may mean something a little different these days, these first strikes are purported to be the actual first pieces struck by the Denver Mint in 1905. Some sources say they were test strikes of new machinery; we wonder if they were struck on equipment used during the St. Louis World’s Fair that was earmarked for Denver. Described by Hibler & Kappen as being roughly the size of a double eagle, these sparse so-called dollars are intriguing and scarce collectors’ items, with true cross-over appeal for numismatists that care about the production of the Denver Mint.


American Murder and Assassination (HK-765 and 766: Carter H. Harrison Memorial)


The World’s Columbian Exposition’s darker history… revealed 


While the Columbian World’s Exposition captivated a generation of Americans and helped launch the country into the 20th century, it also ended in tragedy when Chicago Mayor Carter H. Harrison was gunned down in his home by Patrick Eugene Prendergast. Harrison’s assassin suffered from the delusion that Harrison would reward him with a patronage job for his support in the 1893 mayoral election. No such commission was forthcoming.

This so-called dollar could easily be coupled thematically with the Columbian World’s Exposition medals described in our first installment. Like other so-called dollars, and classic commemoratives for that matter, this piece was part of a fundraising campaign. It signified that the original buyer donated one dollar towards the construction of the Carter H. Harrison Memorial.


HK-707: The Gnaden Huetten Massacre Bicentennial


So-called dollars were frequently used as good luck charms.

The Gnaden Huetten Massacre so-called dollar is strange for a few reasons. For starters, it celebrates a massacre – quite an odd topic for a bicentennial commemoration. Secondly, the reverse features a four leaf clover and a horseshoe along with the inscription GOOD LUCK. Not only is it something of a non sequitur, but it also seems mockingly disrespectful of the victims of the massacre. Finally, there were actually TWO Gnaden Huetten Massacres, believe it or not. The one commemorated here took place on the evening of November 24, 1755, when Native American warriors, incited by the French during the French and Indian War, attacked and burned a village of Moravians. Eleven missionaries were killed, alongside Christian Munsee Lenape Indians.

A second, unrelated Gnaden Huetten Massacre occurred in 1782 in Ohio, also involving the same ethnic Moravians and Munsee Lenape Indians. In that massacre, 96 people were murdered.


The War Begins (HK-11 and 11e)



The country begins to tear itself apart. 


Two months before Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as the 16th president, students from the Citadel fired the first shots of the Civil War at a steamship sent to resupply federally-controlled Fort Sumter. A month after Lincoln’s inauguration, Col. James Chesnut, Jr. opened fire on the fort itself, taking it a day later. Charleston’s high society watched the exchange and celebrated the first Confederate victory. Little did they know that they were drinking to their ultimate ruin, and the eventual loss of 850,000 American lives.

This privately-issued medal marking the beginning of the war is an important contemporaneous artifact of the North’s psychology entering into the war. The reverse inscription reads as follows:


From this, one gets a strong sense of the shock and indignation felt by northerners at the onset of war. The piece also serves as a poignant reminder that, once upon a time, America’s fate looked precarious and uncertain.

The Fort Sumter so-called dollars come with two reverse die varieties (the second features a federal eagle and the inscription ONE FLAG AND ONE UNION NOW AND FOREVER) and three metal compositions for each variety. They are all quite scarce, with less than 20 of each known to survive. If we were putting together a Civil War Era set of federal issue coins and tokens, this piece would be high on our “covet” list.




Collecting so-called dollars is an intriguing and diverse area of study. One of the great things about numismatics is how it extends the reach of the past into the present, allowing us priceless windows into the American experience. Whereas federally- issued coins are meant to seem uniform and timeless for various reasons, medals in the so-called dollars series were made to remind people of specific moments in time. Some were created to honor great achievements. Some were created to make a buck. Some are just as quirky and individualistic as the people who made them. Each deserves time in the spotlight.



Pioneering Woman: Nellie Tayloe Ross is well-known as the Director of the U.S. Mint from 1933 through 1953. Lesser known is the fact that she was also the first female governor in United States history, having been elected to govern her home state of Wyoming in 1922.

$106.745: If you added together one specimen from each U.S. coin denomination struck between 1793 and the present (excluding bullion coins), then this is your total face value. The third digit to the right of the decimal represents the half cent piece, of course. [I get $46.645. That leaves $60.08. That’s a nice, divisible number, so what am I missing? Are you counting the half union? That still leaves $10.08…]

Such Is Fame: Having the honor of appearing on the Lynchburg commemorative half dollar even though he was still very much alive, Virginia congressman and Secretary of the Treasury Carter Glass was one of dozens of men in the running to be the presidential candidate at the 1924 Democratic National Convention. From the first ballot through the 103rd, Glass was a potential nominee. Eventually the party went with John W. Davis, who lost to Calvin Coolidge. Famous enough to be on the obverse of a commemorative, and important enough to be president, he is best remembered today for that coin and for the Glass-Steagall Act. That is, when he’s remembered at all…


© 2014 Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker


About the Authors: Charles Morgan is a member of the American Numismatic Association, the American Numismatic Society, the Numismatic Literary Guild, and the Richmond Coin Club. He has served as a Red Book Pricing Contributor for the 2014 and 2015 editions. Together with his co-author Hubert Walker (ANA, NLG), he has written numerous articles for publication online and in print, including two 2013 NLG award-winning articles for CoinWeek.com.

Want to know what we’re up to? Follow Charles on Twitter.


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