By Chris Bulfinch – Numismatist, Stack’s Bowers ……
Given the profusion of (often low-quality) reproductions and forgeries of 1804 dollars, many collectors are wary of any numismatic item resembling the “King of American Coins.” There are, however, numismatically significant reproductions, one of which, an electrotype recreation of the Class II 1804 dollar, is featured as lot 5070 in Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ Global Showcase Auction Rarities Night session.
Around 1860, the United States Mint produced a wide variety of restrikes, fantasy pieces, and other numismatic curiosities for the burgeoning collector market, pieces that were often traded for medals to include in the Mint’s cabinet.
The process was described by Mark Ferguson in an earlier article on CoinWeek:
“Electrotype reproductions of coins are created, first by impressing a coin in a pliable substance, such as wax, which is then coated with graphite or some other material that is able to conduct electricity. Through the electro-deposition process, this material is then plated with a thin coating of copper which is removed and backed with a stronger base metal for firmness. When reproducing a coin this process results in creating a “shell” for one side of the coin which is then mated with one for the other side. They are joined together creating a true-to-life copy of the coin. The telltale sign of this process is a seam around the edge of the reproduction of the coin.”
Mint-produced electrotypes stand as a class all their own. Our cataloger explains:
“[T]his one is very different from most seen as it was made at the Philadelphia Mint. It is therefore an official product, to a degree, though certainly not intended as circulating coin or even within the normal boundaries of expected official Mint business.”
The only known Class II 1804 dollar, itself a fantasy piece, resided in the Mint’s Cabinet for many years before transfer to the Smithsonian in 1923. It was struck in the late 1850s over a Swiss Shooting Thaler (some parts of this undertype are visible on both the original Class II and this electrotype – look inside the rims). Four electrotypes, including the one offered in the August Global Showcase auction, were produced around 1860. This particular piece sold shortly after its production to a California collector identified as “Dr. Spiers.” According to the catalog description from its first auction appearance in 1959, Spiers bequeathed his collection around 1877 to the Society of California Pioneers.
Around 1906, the collection was broken up and Waldo C. Newcomer, a legendary collector and owner of a genuine 1804 silver dollar, purchased this electrotype, which first appeared at auction in New Netherlands Coin Company’s 53rd Sale.
In the 21st century, the piece has come up for auction a number of times, most recently in May 2022; we had the pleasure of handling it in August 2019, in our American Numismatic Association sale.
Our cataloger describes the electrotype’s appearance as: “Mostly light silver-gray on both sides, though the recesses and field areas most protected by the design features have toned deep gray. A few specks of similar toning are noted in the fields and there is some loss of the silvering on the highest points of the design where traces of the underlying copper show through. A few trivial hairlines are noted, and an old scratch passes through the letter U in UNITED, extending to the rim at the lower right of the eagle’s tail feathers. The reverse is stamped COPY beneath the eagle’s talon holding the olive branch.” We assigned it a grade of Choice Extremely Fine.