Steven Roach 's Blog

06 May 2015

An Introduction to Pattern Coinage - Part 1

| Steven Roach

An Introduction to Pattern Coins - Steven Roach

Of the many areas to study with American numismatics, pattern coinage is a great way to encompass many numismatic topics into one complex study! Which can be broken down into many different specific areas...

  1. What are Pattern Coins?!

  2. They are useful to understand regular U.S. coinage

  3. How they address certain issues of coinage for its era

1. US pattern coins date back to the establishment of the Philadelphia Mint in 1792, and display one or more of the following contents: These coins will either contain a new design element, a new denomination, planchet size (diameter or thickness), planchet shape, planchet edge design (Plain, reeded, lettered, etc.), metallic content, or (as the case with certain 1922 peace dollars) a modified relief. Even though it would be considered a specimen strike (a coin not considered a business strike or a proof coin), some people would suggest that a new test surface format/finish to a coin could be considered a pattern, however this has not been the case for any US coinage yet.

2. To understand patterns is the way to gain a greater depth of regular issued coins; for example, "The Gobrecht Dollar" designed by Christian Gobrecht. The obverse depicts Miss Liberty sitting upon a rock, with a shield, holding a staff containing a phrygian cap. This obverse would find its way onto various silver issues: the '1837-73' half dime, '1837-91' dime, (a modified yet very similar designed obverse, by William Barber) 20 cent piece of '1875-78', the '1838-91' quarter dollar, '1839-91' half dollar, and onto the dollar coin ('1836, 1838-39' for the original Gobrecht Dollar - considered a pattern by some and regular issue by many others) and ('1840-1873' for the regular issue design).

The reverse of the Gobrecht Dollar depicts a flying eagle which would find itself modified as a reverse for other patter issues, even onto the obverse of the cent.

During 1854 and 1855 certain patterns display a flying eagle, they were struck on a large cent planchets, however these coins would be deemed unuseful for circulation. However In 1856 the Flying Eagle Cent resembled a similar obverse, which would be paired with a different reverse; struck on a small planchet. This is one of the many examples a design type was "recycled" and used for a different pattern issues; though more importantly it shows how a pattern design can eventually find its way to normal circulating coinage.

When a pattern design is chosen it is likely that some slight design modification will occur before the coin is struck for commerce, this could lead to more patterns of the same denomination, or even to other denomination. For example, the famous Morgan Dollar's engraver - George T. Morgan - also designed a modified "Morgan Dollar" head for the half eagle (Judd 1577/1578) and the eagle (Judd-1581/1582) denomination; Morgan's design would also find way to the dime, quarter dollar, half dollar, even the Morgan Dollar would find different pattern reverses compared normal business strike Morgan Dollars; it should also be noted that after seven years of production, in 1885, a lettered edge variety was introduced; struck from regular dies, these coins are known to be silver, copper, and aluminum.

3. Money is no stranger to current issues, especially when it involves: war, innovations, or when certain flaws are unnoticed until they are abused. Money is no reason to josh around, unless you are Josh Tatum; Mr. Tatum gold plated the newly minted 1883 Liberty Head Nickels, this was an issue since business would accept them as $5 gold pieces because there was no plain denomination present on the coin (only the roman numeral "V"). In fact the mint halted the production of these coins until the problem was solved. Some of the patterns that arose to fix the issue spells out "Five Cents" but they will also display it's metallic content.

During the Civil War people hoard their coinage, as a result postage currency was printed to replace small coinage. However efforts were made to revive circulating coinage by minting postage currency. The goal was lower the weight of the coin while keeping its pureness. There were many attempts to create the postage currency (Judd-325 - 332) however they never found a way to replace or coincide with postage currency.



Level 4

Thanks for the blog. I am interested in pattern coins but can't afford them.


Level 5


Very fascinating thank you!


Level 6

Patterns are a fascinating series. The collection at ANA is outstanding. There is a need for an updated pattern reference book.


Level 7

I would love to collect them but there very expensive. Thanks for the work there's a lot I didn't know.


Level 7

Thank you for the information on pattern coins. I knew some but not all thanks to you taking time I now know thanks Ally!


Level 5

Great article. Thanks!


Level 5

good info!


Level 5

Good information, Thanks.


Level 3

The Liberty nickel is one of my favorite coins. In doing some research recently for a presentation on the coin, I read the history of the patterns leading up to the introduction of the coin as well as the revision shortly after to add "CENTS". It is a very interesting topic and fun to look at some of the designs that could have been. I'm looking forward to part 2.


Level 4

Thank you for this concise overview of patterns. While it seems that pattern collecting is rather expensive, it certainly is quite interesting to read about some coins that might have been. Alas, in many cases, the non-starters were more attractive than the coins which were eventually selected for circulation. Your post prompted me to investigate patterns, a coin field for which I have only a cursory knowledge. I discovered that there is, not surprisingly, a Society for U.S. Pattern Collectors, www.uspatterns.com. One page which highlights some interesting examples is at: http://uspatterns.com/whatarepatpi.html


Level 6

Great blog. Looking forward to the second part!! Thanks!


Level 5

Nice article. As a Liberty Nickel collector, it is fun to look at all of the related pattern releases.


Level 6

Interesting information. Thank you!

Ian Fenn

Level 5

I look forward to part II

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