One of my favorite numismatic blogs is Pocket Change, published by the American Numismatic Society. Here's an excerpt from
Matthew Wittmann's September 3, 2015 post on Dana Bickford's pattern coinage. Interesting. -Editor
This past week I have been working on my presentation for the upcoming International Numismatic Congress, which concerns U.S. trade
dollars, the ill-fated silver coin issued in the 1870s for trans-Pacific commerce.
Although the trade dollar was the only one struck for international circulation, there were some interesting patterns dating to this
period of expanding global commerce, perhaps most notably the 1874 ‘Bickford’ $10 coin.
This particular $10 pattern coin was suggested by the seemingly indefatigable Dana Bickford (1834-1909), a businessman and inventor who
had the ear of Henry R. Linderman, the superintendent of the United States Mint.
Dana Bickford’s most notable legacy, at least for numismatists, was the idea for a coin that he proposed to Henry Linderman for the US
Mint in 1874. The genesis of the pattern was detailed in the February 1876 edition of the Coin & Stamp Journal, which reprinted an article
that originally appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on January 31.
The summary version is that Bickford was traveling through Europe in 1873 and experienced all the “difficulties and inconveniences” that
accompanied exchanging for and understanding the “money current” in each of the countries that he visited. (That part of the story checks
out as Bickford lodged an application with the Department of State for a passport in February 1873). The idea he hit upon while traveling
was for a coin that would have its exact composition on its face, as well as its value in terms of each of the major commercial currencies.
Bickford called at the mint in Philadelphia when he returned, and Linderman thought enough of the idea that dies were prepared and a
pattern was struck. The ANS holds a copper specimen (Judd-1374), but it was also struck in aluminum, nickel, and gold.
Bickford’s proposed system of international coinage would allow countries to display their own particular design on the obverse (hence
the Liberty Head), but required that the fineness, weight, and exchange value of the coin be expressed on the reverse. Although struck in
copper, this was supposed to be a $10 gold coin or Eagle with a weight of 16.72 grams. The indication that it was .900 fine meant that it
contained 15.046 grams or .48375 troy ounces of pure gold. Six cartouches circle the reverse with the value of the coin in US dollars
($10), British pounds (£2.1.1), German marks (41.99), Danish kroner (37.31), Dutch gulden (20.73), and French francs (51.81). The UBIQUE
inscription stands for ‘ubiquitous,’ implying that the coin was good everywhere.
Although this was likely an impossible scheme to implement in practical terms, the coin was an intriguing idea in theory. Beginning with
the formation of the Latin Monetary Union in 1865, there were a series of international monetary conferences and related efforts to create
a more uniform and stable global currency system. The big problem for Bickford’s proposed coinage was that although the price of gold was
relatively steady, not all nations were on a gold standard. A drop in the price of silver during the 1870s destabilized the currencies of
those countries on a silver or bimetallic standard by dramatically shifting the gold price of silver. This in turn led to fluctuations in
exchange rates that would have been impossible to keep up with in terms of minting and circulating coins.
Despite the fact that Bickford’s patterns were never put into production, he could not seem to let the idea go. In 1897, he issued a series
of bimetallic “Republican International Dollars” in the same vein as the earlier pattern coins, with exchange rates for the Russian rouble and
Japanese Yen helpfully added. Although this particular specimen was a model made with brass and aluminum, the intention was that the actual dollars
would contain gold and silver.
Bickford rather optimistically expressed the hope, which is inscribed on the obverse, that “This Combination Coin Will When Adopted be
Good in All Nations / Heal All Differences Between Gold & Silver Men / and Fully Settle All Financial Questions.”
To read the complete article, see:
Bickford’s International Pattern Coin, 1874
Wayne Homren, Editor
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