I am told that I am an American coin. That the woman adorning my obverse symbolizes liberty and that the eagle gracing my reverse represents freedom, two fundamental American ideals. Sometimes I wonder though… I wonder if I can represent something so distinguished, when I am just a copy. Everything about me is fake. I may look American, but I am Swiss—a Swiss Shooting Thaler from 1857. This is the story of how I became an American; how I became one of the world’s most famous coins; how I became the Class II 1804 Silver Dollar.
It was 1858. I had traveled to America in the dark, dirty suitcase of a United States mint employee. He had gone to Europe on vacation and met me just two days before he left his hotel to return home. I was to be a gift for his supervisor, a man named Theodore Eckfeldt. I had always wanted to see how the United States minted its coins. Little did I know that by the end of my trip, the minting process that had once fascinated me would change me forever.
I cannot remember much of what happened—my memories were literally stamped out of my mind by the die press. I remember arriving in America, being presented to Eckfeldt, and being placed in the top drawer of a desk. Hours passed until I was freed from that pitch, black box. Eckfeldt’s large, calloused hands grabbed me and stuffed me in his dingy pocket. I don’t know if a coin has ever told you this, but we hate pockets. They are crowded and cold and always full of lint. I’ve been in a lot of pockets in my lifetime, so when I tell you Eckfeldt’s pocket was bad… it was bad. Thankfully, after two agonizingly slow minutes, we arrived at our destination. This is when events really began to blur together for me. I remember a series of excruciatingly painful steps designed to wipe away any trace of my Swiss heritage, culminating in the striking of the 1804 design onto my once perfect surfaces. Over and over again the metal pillars clamped down on me, pressing tighter and tighter until I blacked out from the pain. When I awoke, I was no longer a Swiss Shooting Thaler.
It was the white, bright light of the lamp hanging over my head that woke me. I looked up to see two men, one of whom was Eckfeldt, peering down at me through some kind of lens. They kept turning me, front, back, front, back, scrutinizing my every detail. Eventually, Eckfeldt placed me on a velvet cushion in a box (a much more comfortable location than his pocket), and closed the lid of the container. When I once again saw the light of day, we were in a home. I looked around; Eckfeldt was to my right, opening the lids of several other boxes. When my eyes finally adjusted, I was shocked by what I saw—eleven other coins, all bearing the 1804 design. They sat in their display cases and stared out at the world before them, a world that was thrust upon them, a world that had ripped away their lineage. That night, as Eckfeldt slept, we spoke to one another. We compared our tales and, bit-by-bit, we came to understand what had happened to us. It was not until many years later that I realized the story we had puzzled out that first night was, in fact, the truth.
Day after day, week after week, we traveled from store to store as Eckfeldt tried to sell us. One by one, my friends disappeared, passed on to another collector. In the end, there were only six of us. However, it was not Eckfeldt who would rip those remaining coins from my life—it was the United States Mint.
We had just gotten home from a coin store. Eckfeldt had been unable to make a sale, and so as he removed us from his briefcase, we radiated happiness. Then came a stern knock on the door. Before Eckfeldt was able to open it, the door crashed to the floor. Policemen poured into the house surrounding our captor and driving him to the ground. I looked to my companions. They sat there, eyes open, mouths agape. This was the last time I saw them.
Over the next several months, I was kept in a vault. Cut off from the outside world, I only learned of my friends’ untimely demise after it was too late. They were gone and I was alone. Soon I was moved to the Smithsonian Museum. That is where I reside today. I am the only Class II 1804 Silver Dollar in the world. I was saved from the melting pot. I sit atop a cushion, behind bulletproof glass. I should consider myself lucky. Each year, thousands of visitors travel great distances to get a glimpse of me. They know I am priceless. They know I am unique. They know I look American, but do they know I am actually Swiss?