My Coin’s Story: 1849 Sitting Liberty

December 18, 2014 By ekr

**Every day this week we will highlight submissions from the My Coin’s Story Young writing contest. Young Numismatists were asked to write a historical fiction story based on a favorite coin. The winners will be revealed on the blog on Friday, Dec. 19. 

By Yisrael Tuchman

I was just about to leave Grandpa’s study when I noticed that his drawer was open. The drawer he always kept locked. I couldn’t resist peeking, and what I saw there was a minor disappointment. I was expecting something from his army days such as his gun, uniform, or medals; instead there was just a plain wooden box with a removable glass lid. Inside was an old dollar surrounded by plush red velvet. It was an 1849 Sitting Liberty dollar, about AU58, with the start of a light green toning around the edges. The most remarkable detail though, was a large round hole extending from the right side of Liberty’s shield cutting off the letters R, T and Y from the word liberty and continuing up to Liberty’s left knee. The hole then goes around to her right leg with only a bit of the bottom of her robes remaining. 


I turned around to find Grandpa staring at me. “Would you like to know the story behind that coin?” he asked. I nodded wordlessly, my face still red from the embarrassment of being caught looking at something private. He gingerly picked up the box and motioned that I should follow. He sat me down by the dining room table and put the box between the two of us. Carefully he slid off the glass lid, gently picked up the coin, cleared his throat and began to speak.


“It was a dreary day and the chill seemed to creep into our very bones. The rain had stopped the previous morning, but the remaining fog swallowed the sun and didn’t allow the mud to dry.  We were chasing the Confederate forces west from our last skirmish at Five Forks when Lieutenant Crowley informed us that our regiment would be separating from the rest of the Union’s forces with hopes of trapping the rebs at a town called Appomattox. The next day and a half was torturous; we had to march doubly fast and our uniforms were as clean as mud. When we arrived at Appomattox we spent the rest of the day strategically concealing our cannons and preparing for battle. At dawn the next day the first rebel scouts were spotted. Shortly thereafter, we started firing at the stunned rebs. By midday a vicious battle ensued. Through the smoke of gunfire and the sound of men screaming, I felt a sharp pain in the left side of my chest. The world went black.


“I woke up to find a young nurse leaning her concerned face over my bed. She informed me that the bullet wound was shallow and the doctor had managed to save me. If the bullet had gone another inch deeper though, it would have penetrated my heart. She then picked up the 1849 dollar I had in my breast pocket. The coin now had a large hole straight through the bottom of Liberty and her shield.” 


When Grandpa completed the story he let me hold the coin, albeit carefully. I put my little finger through the hole imagining the bullet that punctured the silver.  I handed the coin back to Grandpa who put it in the box and slid the lid back on. We stood up and walked out of the dining room, he went to put the coin back in its drawer and I went home to our corner house three blocks away. 


I quickly became preoccupied with my daily life and forgot all about the coin until one day about three years later in 1932 Grandpa died. One morning he just didn’t wake up. In his will he left me the contents of the top drawer of his desk. The next day I went downstairs to his study (due to the depression we had to sell our house and move in with Grandpa who’d saved enough money to avoid selling his own home) and opened the top drawer. Inside was the plain wooden box with the removable glass lid. I looked inside and saw the 1849 dollar with the hole through the lower half of Liberty and her shield, next to the dollar was a small round bullet. I picked up the bullet and inserted it into the hole in the dollar, it was a perfect fit.


Many years passed, and on December 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor was bombed. Early in 1942 I got my draft notice, and among the items I brought to the army was the 1849 dollar. I thought of how it saved Grandpa all those years before and hoped it would serve as a good omen for me as well.  In November of 1942 I got deported to Oran to help the British defeat Rommel in Africa, after which we went up to Italy through Tunisia. I had a couple of close calls such as the time when I was on a mission with eleven other men and they all got killed while I emerged unscathed. Or the time when we were running under heavy enemy fire and I tripped over a rock and fell. That night when I removed my helmet I saw a bullet had struck where my head had been not a moment before.  I do not know why I remained unscathed while my battalion was destroyed, or why I tripped at that moment and the bullet struck my helmet, but in both those instances I was carrying the 1849 dollar in my pocket.                                                                      


As the years go by I often consider getting the coin encapsulated by a third party grading service, but I refrain from doing so because I don’t know if grading services except damaged coins, and it somehow ruins the legacy of the coin to have it encased in plastic. So I will retain the coin in its wooden box until I bequeath it to a grandchild of my own. 

Return to top