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The Twenty Cent Piece

Guest Author - Raymond F. Hanisco

I think it would be a safe assumption to state that most Coin Collectors knew
the Susan B. Anthony Dollar would be a failure, just as the Sacagawea Dollar has
been unsuccessful. The size and weight of the coins replicates that of the
quarter too closely. These examples are not the first time our government
produced coins that replicated another coin in size and weight. It has
been done before, and has failed before. George Santayana said, "Those who
fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them." The U.S.
Twenty-Cent piece (1875-1878) is a great example of a failed coin to examine.
It makes one wonder why the government has not learned from its past mistakes,
or were the politicians, as children, the ones who whined, "Why do I need to
learn history? It's boring!"


Although the founding Fathers of the United States were very fond of, and
considered adopting the decimal system of coinage, the Spanish coinage was
universally accepted around the world, and the U.S. coinage ended up being a
combination of both systems. We find that in the quarter dollar which most
closely replicated the two reales (two-bits), and the disme (later to be called
a dime) representing 1/10 of a dollar. As early as 1791, Thomas Jefferson
proposed the double disme or Twenty-cent coin in keeping with the decimal
system, but Congress realized that the denomination was too close to that of the
quarter, and abandoned the proposition. The same recommendation came to
the table again in 1806, and again it was turned down. When a bill for the
proposal of a Twenty-cent piece resurfaced in 1874, there were strong political
ramifications that had been in the making for years, and this was just the first
step for the Silver Mine Lobby, in Congress, towards having the Silver Dollar
reinstituted.


The Mint Act of 1873 ended the production of the 3
silver piece, the silver half dime and the silver dollar, thereby reducing the
amount of silver needed by the U.S. Mint. Many countries throughout the
world were adopting the Gold Standard, and dumping massive quantities of Silver
on the open market. Silver was cheap. The United States was
preparing to follow suite, but with massive silver strikes occurring in the
Western sections of the United States, the mine owners were not about to sit
back and allow this to happen. After all, it was their money that made a
significant contribution financially to the coffers of the Treasury which aided
President Lincoln in defeating the Confederacy. The U.S. government owed
the mine owners, and they were about to collect on their debt.


Another result of the 1873 Mint Act was an
increase in pricing of common goods by the shopkeepers in the West. Minor
coinage was already in short supply, and with the further reduction of small
denominations of coins, the only way to do business was to decrease the coinage
needed for change, and/or shortchange their customers.


The easy solution of this shortage of minor
coins was for the government to allow the branch mints in San Francisco and
Carson City to produce the needed coinage, but that did not occur until the
early 1900s. In February of 1874, Nevada Senator John Percival Jones
introduced a bill in Congress for the production of the Twenty-cent piece.
He sited the reason for this coinage was to provide merchants with a
denomination of coin which would allow them to lower their prices and/or prevent
them from shortchanging their customers. Being a Senator from Nevada, one
would suspect Jones had a hidden agenda of protecting the interests of the
silver mine owners and his position as a Senator. With Mint Director Henry
R. Linderman supporting the bill, and as a favor to Senator Jones, President
Ulysses S. Grant autographed the bill into law on March 3, 1875.


Either Mint Director Linderman knew the mind of
Congress and could anticipate their every move, or his passion for coin
collecting influenced his decision making, but in 1874, he ordered Philadelphia
Mint Superintendent James Pollack to begin preparing pattern coins for this new
denomination. The first pattern design submitted to Linderman seemed to
replicate the existing quarter, and he ordered additional designs produced, but
in the end, the Treasury policy which favored uniformity of design in coins
produced of the same metal led to a coin that looked very much like the existing
quarter.


Ultimately, the obverse of the coin depicts a
lowered relief of the Sully/Gobrecht/Hughes design of the seated Liberty,
modified by William Barber, the mint's Chief Engraver. It depicts Miss
Liberty seated on a rock with a shield inscribed with the word LIBERTY at her
right foot. She is holding a staff in her left hand topped with a Liberty
Cap. Around the perimeter of the coin encircling Miss Liberty from the 8
o'clock to the 4 o'clock positions are 13 stars, and centered at the 6 o'clock
position is the date. The reverse of the coin bears the design of Barber's
eagle from the Trade Dollar. Along the circumference of the coin's edge
the legends read UNITED STATES OF AMERICA flanked by a single star on each side,
and the denomination of TWENTY CENTS centered at the 6 o'clock position.
To distinguish this coin from the quarter for the illiterate in society, the
edge of the coin was plain, without reeding. Other then a few minor design
differences between the Twenty-cent piece and the quarter, the two coins
differed in size by only 2.3 mm in the diameter, and 1-1/4 grams in weight.
This new coin was a disaster waiting to happen.


Upon their release for circulation in 1875, the
resulting public confusion was immediate and wide spread. The Twenty-cent
piece was extremely unpopular, and the effect Senator Jones claimed these coins
would have on the economy in the West never came to fruition. The new coin
was only issued for circulation in 1875 and 1876 however; proof coins were made
until 1878. A bill was introduced in Congress to repeal the mints
authority to produce the Twenty-cent piece in July of 1876, finally becoming law
in May of 1878. Mint Director Linderman ordered the meltdown of all
Twenty-cent coins on hand, in all of the mint branches, for production of other
denominations. Among the coins melted were 12,359 Carson City 20 pieces,
most of which were dated 1876. It is currently estimated that only 18 of
the 1876-CC 20 pieces are known to have survived.


It makes one think of the wisdom of the founding
Fathers of the United States in their understanding of producing a coin similar
to one that had become entrenched within the social fabric would fail.
Then we examine the failure of the same coin produced as the result of political
manipulation. Why does the government think that production of a similar
size coin to one currently in use will be successful? It is in the
history.

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Content copyright © 2013 by Raymond F. Hanisco. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Raymond F. Hanisco. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Gary Eggleston for details.

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