Currency in Leper Colonies

Leper colonies or houses became widespread in the Middle Ages, particularly in Europe and India, and often run by monastic orders. Historically, leprosy has been greatly feared because it causes visible disfigurement and disability, was incurable, and was commonly believed to be highly contagious. A leper colony administered by a Roman Catholic order was often called a lazar house, after Lazarus, the patron saint of lepers.

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Depiction of A 13-year-old Boy with Severe Leprosy

Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease (HD), is a long-term infection by the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae or Mycobacterium lepromatosis. Initially, infections are without symptoms and typically remain this way for 5 to 20 years. Symptoms that develop include granulomas of the nerves, respiratory tract, skin, and eyes. This may result in a lack of ability to feel pain, which can lead to the loss of parts of extremities due to repeated injuries or infection due to unnoticed wounds. Weakness and poor eyesight may also be present.

Leprosy is spread between people, this is thought to occur through a cough or contact with fluid from the nose of an infected person. Contrary to popular belief, it is not highly contagious. The two main types of disease are based on the number of bacteria present: paucibacillary and multibacillary. The two types are differentiated by the number of poorly pigmented, numb skin patches present.

Leprosy has affected humanity for thousands of years. The disease takes its name from the Greek word λέπρᾱ (léprā), from λεπῐ́ς(lepís; “scale”), while the term “Hansen’s disease” is named after the Norwegian physician Gerhard Armauer Hansen. Social stigma has been associated with leprosy for much of history, which continues to be a barrier to self-reporting and early treatment. Some consider the word “leper” offensive, preferring the phrase “person affected with leprosy”.

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Leper Colony in Crete, Greece, Closed in 1957

Some colonies historically were located on mountains or in remote locations in order to ensure quarantine, some on main roads, where there was hope for donations that would be used for their upkeep. Debate exists over the conditions found within historical leper colonies; while they are currently thought to have been grim and neglected places, there are some indications that life within a leper colony or house was no worse than the life of other, non-quarantined individuals. There is even doubt that the current definition of leprosy can be retrospectively applied to the Medieval condition. What was classified as leprosy then covers a wide range of skin conditions that would be classified as distinctly different afflictions today.

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1921 2 Centavos Leper Coin

Some leper colonies issued their own money (such as tokens), in the belief that allowing lepers to handle regular money could spread the disease. However, leprosy is not easily transmitted by casual contact or objects; actual transmission only happens through long-term, constant, intimate contact with leprosy sufferers and not through contact with everyday objects used by sufferers.

Special leper colony money was used between 1901 and around 1955. The oldest money known was made in 1901 for use in three leper colonies of Colombia, called Agua de Dios, Cano de Loro, and Contratación. Five denominations of coins were issued: 2.5 centavos, 5 centavos, 10 centavos, 20 centavos, and 50 centavos. “República de Colombia 1901” was engraved. These coins were issued after the first leprosy congress in Berlin in 1897. Between 1919 and 1952, special coins were used in a Panama Canal Zone leper colony called Palo Seco Colony. One cent, 5 cents, 10 cents, 25 cents, 50 cents, and one dollar coins with holes in the centers were made in the United States. 

Other countries that minted leper money include the Philippines; in 1913, special aluminum coins were minted, japan; in 1919, special coins were made in Tama Zenshoen Sanatorium,  and Malaysia; in 1936, 5 cents, 10 cents and 1 dollar notes were issued in the Sungei Buloh Settlement. Leper colony money is also known to have existed in Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Korea, Nigeria, Thailand, and Venezuela.

The original reason for leper colony money was to prevent leprosy in healthy individuals.  In 1938, Dr. Gordon Alexander Ryrie in Malaysia proved that paper money was not contaminated with leprosy bacteria, and all the leper colony banknotes were burned in that country. Separating people by placing them in leper colonies still occurs in places such as India, China, and Africa. However, most colonies have closed, since over time it has been determined that leprosy isn’t easily passed along. Leper colony money can still be found sometimes and is an interesting find for collectors while telling a story of our world’s history.

James Longacre

One of the most well known engravers of the US mint during the 19th century was James Barton Longacre. After previous engraver, Christian Gobrecht passed away, Longacre would become the fourth Chief Engraver of the US Mint and coin production. He was born on August 11, 1794 on a farm in Delaware County, Pennsylvania.

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James Longacre, self-portrait at age 12

Longacre’s Mother Sarah (Barton) Longacre died early in his life; his father, Peter Longacre, was the descendant of early Swedish settlers of North America. When Peter Longacre remarried, his son found the home life intolerable, and James Longacre left home at the age of 12, seeking work in the nearby city of Philadelphia. He apprenticed himself at a bookstore; the owner, John E. Watson, took the boy into his family. Over the following years, Longacre worked in the bookstore, but Watson realized that the boy’s skill was in portraiture. Watson granted Longacre a release from his apprenticeship in 1813 so that he could follow an artistic muse, but the two remained close, and Watson would often sell Longacre’s works.

Longacre became apprenticed to George Murray, principal in the engraving firm Murray, Draper, Fairman & Co. at 47 Sansom Street in Philadelphia. This business derived from the firm established by the Philadelphia Mint’s first chief engraver, Robert Scot. Longacre remained at the Murray firm until 1819; his major work there was portraits of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John Hancock which were placed on a facsimile of the Declaration of Independence by publisher John Binns. Also employed at the Murray firm from 1816 was the man who would be Longacre’s predecessor as chief engraver, Christian Gobrecht. Longacre’s work at the company gave him a good reputation as an engraver skilled in rendering other artists’ paintings as a printed engraving, and in 1819, he set up his own business at 230 Pine Street in Philadelphia.

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Declaration of Independence with portraits by Longacre, 1819

Longacre’s first important commission were plates for S.F. Bradford’s Encyclopedia in 1820; an engraving of General Andrew Jackson by Longacre based on a portrait by Thomas Sully achieved wide sales. Longacre then agreed to engrave illustrations for Joseph and John Sanderson’s Biographies of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, published in nine volumes between 1820 and 1827. Although the venture was marked by criticism of the writing, sales were good enough that the project was completed. Numismatic writer Richard Snow suggests that the books sold on the strength of the quality of Longacre’s illustrations. Longacre also completed a series of studies of actors in their roles in 1826 for The American Theatre.


With lessons learned from the Sanderson series, Longacre proposed to issue his own set of biographies illustrated with plates of the subjects. He was on the point of launching this project, having invested $1,000 of his own money (equal to $24,513 today) in preparation, when he learned that James Herring of New York City was planning a similar series. In October 1831, he wrote to Herring, and the two men agreed to work together on The American Portrait Gallery (later called the National Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Americans), published in four volumes between 1834 and 1839. Herring was an artist, but much of the work of illustrating fell to Longacre, who travelled widely in the United States to sketch subjects from life. He again sketched Jackson, who was by now president, as well as former president James Madison, both in July 1833. He met many of the political leaders of the day, who were impressed by his portraits. Among these advocates was the former vice president, South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun. In July 1832, Niles’ Register described a Longacre engraving, “one of the finest specimens of American advancement in the art”.

Longacre had married Eliza Stiles in 1827; between 1828, when their daughter Sarah was born, and 1840, they had three boys and two girls. Sales of the Gallery lagged due to the Panic of 1837; Longacre was forced to declare bankruptcy and travel through the southern and midwestern states, peddling his books from town to town, with his wife and elder daughter managing shipping and finances at home. Later in 1837, he was able to return to Philadelphia and open a banknote engraving firm with partners, Toppan, Draper, Longacre & Co. With great demand for engraving for notes being issued by state banks, the firm prospered, and had offices at 60 Walnut Street in Philadelphia and a branch at 1 Wall Street in New York.

Gobrecht’s death in July 1844 left the United States Bureau of the Mint without a chief engraver. Among those who hoped for appointment were Philadelphia banknote engraver Charles Welsh, and Allen Leonard, who had modeled the Mint’s medal for former president John Quincy Adams. Through the influence of Senator Calhoun, however, Longacre secured the appointment. According to coin historian Don Taxay, Longacre did not attempt to gain the support of Mint Director Robert M. Patterson in seeking the appointment from President John Tyler, and “if Patterson resented the slight, however, he was more annoyed by Leonard’s importunities.”

Longacre was commissioned by President Tyler on September 16, 1844; his was a recess appointment as the post of chief engraver required Senate confirmation, and that body was not then sitting. Tyler transmitted Longacre’s nomination to the Senate on December 17, 1844, which confirmed Longacre without recorded opposition on January 7, 1845. According to numismatist David Lange, Longacre was glad to get the position because engravers were receiving less work due to the advent of daguerreotype photography.

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Franklin Peale

According to coin dealer and author Q. David Bowers, upon appointment as chief engraver, Longacre “found that he had entered a hornet’s nest of intrigue, politics, and infighting, dominated by Franklin Peale, chief coiner since 1839”. Peale sent Mint personnel to work on his private residence, and in addition to his official duties—mostly performed by his predecessor, Adam Eckfeldt, who continued in his work without pay despite his retirement—he had a thriving side business preparing dies for private medals using government resources. Peale controlled access to dies and materials, and was close to Director Patterson; the two men later proved to have been skimming metal from bullion deposits. The remaining Mint officers were cronies of Patterson, and Longacre found himself a loner among them. Walter Breen, in his comprehensive volume on U.S. coins, suggests that Patterson resented Longacre because of the engraver’s sponsorship by Calhoun, whom the director disliked as a southerner.

In Longacre’s first years as chief engraver, no original designs were required for coins. Gobrecht had redesigned every denomination of U.S. coinage between 1835 and 1842, and his successor had time to learn arts necessary for coin production that he had not needed as a maker of print engravings. These arts included coin design, making of punches for design elements, and die sinking. Longacre’s work in the private sector had involved cutting lines into a copper plate which was then used to print reproductions. Patterson wrote in August 1845 to Treasury Secretary Robert J. Walker that Longacre “is a gentleman of excellent character, highly regarded in this community, and has acquired some celebrity as an engraver of copper; but he is not a Die-Sinker. Indeed I do not know that he has ever made an attempt in this art.” By December of that year, the Mint director had written to Walker in praise of Longacre, stating that the engraver had “more taste and judgment in making devices for an improved coinage here than have been exhibited by any of his predecessors. He has shown too that he is quite competent to make the required model from his drawings.”

A number of blunders can be seen among the early coins produced at the Mint under Longacre, though it is uncertain to whom these errors should be attributed. These include the 1844 half dollar struck at the New Orleans Mint (1844-O) with a doubled date, and the 1846 half dollar with the 6 overlying an identical digit, but one which had been placed horizontally. Bowers indicates that Longacre likely delegated such work, although in 1849 he wrote that his daily work was punching dates into working dies. Tom DeLorey, in his 2003 article on Longacre, notes that Peale and his staff often made punches without consulting the Engraver’s Department (headed by Longacre), and believes the chief coiner more likely to be responsible.

Despite the charged atmosphere at the Philadelphia Mint, Longacre avoided conflict with Patterson and Peale until March 1849, when Congress authorized a gold dollar and double eagle or twenty-dollar gold piece, both new coins. By then, Patterson had come to desire Longacre’s departure as he was deemed a threat to Peale’s medal business, and opposed new coins which would require the chief engraver’s skills. According to Richard Snow in his book on Flying Eagle and Indian Head cents, “having an ethical chief engraver threatened their sideline.” The conflict came over the use of the Contamin portrait lathe, necessary in the making of dies both for Longacre in producing the new coins and Peale in his medal business. When Longacre complained that Peale was monopolizing the device, Peale decided to sabotage Longacre’s coin work and have him removed from his position.

In early 1849, according to a letter written by Longacre the following year, the chief engraver was approached by a member of the Mint staff, warning him that another officer (plainly Peale) sought to have the engraving work done outside of the Mint, making Longacre redundant. The outside engraver in question was Frenchman Louis Bouvet, whom Patterson had prepare a design for the half eagle, though it was not adopted. Longacre’s response to the information was to spend much of March 1849 preparing the dies for the gold dollar, at some cost to his health, as he later related. He demanded that Patterson hire assistance for him, but found the director willing only to have work contracted out. Longacre was unwilling to consent to this, as he could not supervise work done outside the Mint (he did get help within the Mint from assistant engraver Peter Filatreu Cross, who worked on the reverse of the gold dollar). Longacre proceeded with work on the double eagle through late 1849, and described the obstacles set in his path by Peale:

The plan of operation selected for me was to have an electrotype mould made from my model, in copper, to serve as a pattern for a cast in iron. The operations of the galvanic battery for this purpose were conducted in the apartments of the chief coiner. The galvanic process failed, my model was destroyed in the operation. I had, however, taken the precaution to make a cast in plaster … From this cast, as the only alternative, I procurred [sic] a metallic one which, however, was not perfect; but I thought I should be able to correct the imperfections in the engraving of the die … this was a laborious task, but seasonably completed, entirely by my own hand. The die then had to be hardened in the coining department; it unluckily split in the process.

When Longacre completed the double eagle dies, they were rejected by Peale, who stated that the design was engraved too deeply to fully impress the coin, and the pieces would not stack properly. Taxay, however, noted that the one surviving 1849 double eagle displays no such problems, and by appearance would be level in a stack. Peale complained to Patterson, who wrote to Treasury Secretary William M. Meredith asking for Longacre’s removal on December 25, 1849 on the ground he could not make proper dies. Patterson that day promised the position to engraver Charles Cushing Wright, effective when Longacre was ousted. Meredith questioned whether a competent replacement could be found; Patterson assured him that one could. Longacre objected to Patterson that Peale was delaying acceptance of revised double eagle dies, the director did not reply in writing, but met with Longacre, told him the administration had decided to terminate him, and that he should send in his resignation without delay. Longacre, after thinking the matter over, did not do so, but instead went to Washington on February 12, 1850 to meet with Meredith. He found that the secretary had been lied to about a number of matters. According to Snow, Longacre did not seek retribution, content to be allowed to continue his work in peace. The double eagle went into production in March 1850, though Patterson complained that the coins did not strike well. The double eagle quickly became the favored way to hold gold, and in the years to come more gold would be struck into double eagles than into all other denominations combined.

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1849 Double Eagle

In July 1851, Patterson retired and President Fillmore replaced him with Thomas Eckert. Peale’s medal business suffered a setback when Adam Eckfeldt, who was still performing the duties of chief coiner, died in 1852. In 1854, Mint Director James Ross Snowden fired Peale after the extent to which he had used Mint labor for private gain became public. Nevertheless, the firing caused considerable press attention, a Senate investigation, and a large demand for compensation by Peale. With these obstacles gone, life at the Mint improved for Longacre.

In 1853, Congress authorized a three-dollar piece. In a note found among his papers, Longacre wrote that his task was to make the coin as easy as possible to distinguish from the quarter eagle, which at $2.50 was close in value. Longacre produced a design for a Native American princess, which he made different from Gobrecht’s Liberty design on the quarter eagle with a thinner and wider planchet. At the time, a female Native American was often used to represent America in art, and a depiction of Liberty as an Indian princess was in accord with contemporary practices. The chief engraver wrote to Mint Director Snowden that the three-dollar piece, which went into production in 1854, was the first time he had been allowed artistic freedom in designing a coin. The gold dollar was altered the same year to make the planchet both thinner and wider; Longacre modified his princess design for the gold dollar. For the reverse of the coins, Longacre created a wreath of wheat, corn, tobacco, and cotton, blending the agricultural products of the North and the South.

After a rise in commodity prices, the Mint to sought to replace the large copper cent with a smaller version. Beginning in 1850, a number of pattern coins were struck in attempts

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1857 Flying Eagle Cent

to find a replacement coin. Designs and formats varied; at first, Mint authorities considered an annular, or holed, cent. In 1854 and 1855, much experimentation was done, some with a Liberty Head design as featured on the large cent; others with a flying eagle design adapted by Longacre from the Gobrecht dollar of 1836. Gobrecht’s design said to have been modeled on Peter the eagle, a tame bird which frequented the Philadelphia Mint in the 1830s until it was caught up in machinery and killed; Peter, in stuffed form, was subsequently placed on exhibit at the Philadelphia Mint.

By numismatic legend, Longacre’s Indian Head cent design was based on the features of his daughter Sarah; the tale runs that she was at the mint one day when she tried on the headdress of one of a number of Native Americans who were visiting and her father sketched her. However, Sarah Longacre was 30 years old and married, not 12 as in the tale, in 1858. Longacre himself stated that the face was based on a statue of Venus in Philadelphia on loan from the Vatican. James Longacre did often sketch his elder daughter, and there are resemblances between the depiction of Sarah Longacre and the various representations of Liberty on Longacre’s coins of the 1850s.

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The Civil War brought economic disturbances which resulted in the removal of some coins, including the base-metal cent, from circulation. Paper currency (valued as low as three cents), postage stamps, and private tokens, filled the gap. Many of the tokens were cent-sized, but thinner and made of bronze. Mint authorities took notice that these metal pieces were successfully circulating, and obtained legislation for a bronze cent. Longacre’s Indian head design continued in its place with the new metal; later in 1864 he engraved his initial “L” in the headdress.

In 1865 Congress required the use of “In God We Trust” on all coins large enough to bear the inscription; in 1866, Longacre added the motto to all silver coins larger than the dime and all gold coins larger than the three-dollar piece. He also in 1867 made modifications to the design of the copper-nickel five-cent piece, or nickel as it was coming to be known. In 1865, Longacre engaged British-born engraver William Barber as assistant; William H. Key was also made an assistant in 1864 and remained at the Mint past Longacre’s death.

Some of the coinage which had vanished from circulation during the Civil War and had been exported to South America continued to be used in Chilean trade as nationals found their local coinage valued poorly with the American pieces. In 1866, the Chilean government instructed its representative in Washington to approach the U.S. State Department for permission to have their coinage dies made in America. The Andrew Johnson administration was happy to oblige; Treasury Secretary Hugh McCulloch gave the Chileans a letter of introduction to Longacre in Philadelphia. Longacre was engaged by the Chileans to redesign five silver and four gold coins, and he agreed, so long as permission from McCulloch was obtained for him to accept an outside fee. McCulloch was initially agreeable, but Mint Director Pollock raised objection on the ground that government property should not be used to enable private gain. Eventually, all parties reached agreement that Longacre could do the work at a total cost of $10,000 provided that he brought in an outside engraver to do some of the work under Longacre’s supervision; the chief engraver selected Anthony C. Paquet, one of his former assistants. Resistance at the Mint dissolved with Pollock’s resignation over President Johnson’s Reconstruction policies, and the dies and hubs (from which more dies could be made) were created beginning in November 1866, probably in-house at the Philadelphia Mint. Longacre’s designs for Chile were used until new ones were adopted in the 1890s.

James Longacre died suddenly at his home in Philadelphia on January 1, 1869. A memorial meeting was held at the Philadelphia Mint on January 5, attended by the facility’s employees. The Director of the Mint, Henry Linderman, delivered a speech in praise of Longacre prior to the formal eulogy, which was given by Longacre’s assistant, William Barber, who would be appointed as Longacre’s successor.


Check out coins designed by Longacre and other famous Chief Engravers at our Ebay Shop

Learn More about other Chief Engravers:
Joseph Wright
John R. Sinnock

Blacksmith Tokens

Blacksmith tokens are a form of evasion currency that was in circulation primarily in Lower Canada and Upper Canada along with neighboring areas, such as the northern parts of New York and New England in the mid-1820 to 1830s. They were not, strictly speaking counterfeits, but instead skirted around the laws of the time by being similar to officially circulating coinage, but bearing different legends, or bearing no legends or dates at all, so it could be claimed that they were truly imitating circulating coinage fully. The tokens were designed to resemble worn examples of English or Irish copper coinage, most often with a crude profile of either George II or George III in profile on the obverse and an image of Britannia or an Irish harp on the reverse. They were typically underweight when compared to officially sanctioned halfpenny coinage, but were accepted along with many other unofficially issued tokens due to a lack of sufficient small denomination coinage in circulation at the time.

R.W. McLachlan in an 1885 article about Canadian Numismatics claims the origin of blacksmith tokens:

Previous to 1837, when the lack of specie caused copper change to be accepted in bulk, there lived in Montreal a blacksmith of dissipated habits. He prepared a die for himself, and when he wished to have a “good time” he struck two or three dollars in these coppers, and thereby supplied himself with sufficient change with which to gratify his wishes.

While this description was intended to describe only a specific coin in the series, “blacksmith token” or “blacksmith copper” was the name that stuck, and was soon applied to all of these types of coins. While the rarer blacksmith tokens may well have been struck by a single person by hand, the large numbers of some of the more common tokens in this series suggests that some of them came from more professional minting operations. McLachlan stated that the numerous types of blacksmith tokens available and their quantity meant that they were either struck at several different establishments in quantity, or a large number came from one establishment which operated for several years. More recent research points to the blacksmith tokens being created at various locations in Lower Canada, and possibly in Upper Canada and the United States.

Most examples were issued in copper, with a few examples struck in brass. Due to the deliberately poor nature of the images carved into the dies for these tokens, it is rare for a Blacksmith token to be graded higher than Very Fine, with most examples falling into a Good or Very Good grade. These coins, along with many other underweight copper tokens, were eventually driven out of circulation by the late 1830s as Canadian banks began to issue officially sanctioned copper tokens of the proper weight for their value.

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A typical Blacksmith Token


It is not known how many of these coins were made, as the creators faced possible prosecution if they were discovered. Evidence from hoards suggest that some of the blacksmith tokens were relatively common, and examples of various Blacksmith coppers have been found during archaeological excavations along with other coinage contemporary to the 1830s in the Saint John River Valley in Nova Scotia, on the grounds of Fort York in Toronto, and Place Royale in Quebec City.

Howland Wood published the first comprehensive study of the Blacksmith Token series in an article published in The Numismatist in 1910, titled The Canadian Blacksmith Coppers (published later that same year as a pamphlet of the same name). He noted one characteristic that was common to the series, that they were created specifically to look like worn British half-pence coins. Another common feature to most of the Blacksmith coppers was that their designs were the opposite to that of the original coin being imitated. If the coin was imitating the bust of George III on its obverse, it would face left in the Blacksmith version whereas in the officially issued coinage it would face right. Wood believed that the reason for this was the inexperience of the die cutter, who created the die facing the same way as the original coin being imitated.

The reverse of many of these coins featured an image of Britannia who faced the opposite way from the original, though Wood notes that when the reverse featured a harp, it faced the same way as it did on the Irish regal coinage it was imitating. Most of these regal imitations were created using copper, though he notes a few that were done in brass. Though Wood had no conclusive proof, he thought the regal imitation Blacksmith tokens were created in the first quarter of the 19th century, noting a particular specimen that had been struck over a George IV half-penny of 1825, so clearly not struck before that date, and was likely struck sometime soon after that date. This has been further corroborated in more recent times with the discovery of a Blacksmith token that had been struck over an Upper Canadian token dating to 1820.

Research continues in this area, the most recent contribution being by John Lorenzo who has done extensive X-ray fluorescence studies of various Blacksmith tokens in order to determine their metal composition. Some of his discoveries including finding that the die axes described for some varieties in existing coin catalogs should be considered approximate and suggests that there are at least four major “families” of Blacksmiths whose production are linked based on the dies that were used.

The “BITIT” blacksmith tokens (Wood 33) is considered to be the most common of the Blacksmiths series, and one of the most controversial in numismatic literature. The obverse contains the profile of George III with what Wood described as a “large pug nose”, while the reverse has a seated Britannia holding a shamrock. Unlike most Blacksmith tokens, this coin features a legend on both sides, with the tops of the letters obscured by excessive die polishing, possibly done on purpose.

There has been considerable interpretation as to the reading of the legend of the token, as the missing top portion of its letters supports different readings. McLachlan interpreted the inscription on the obverse as saying “GLORIUVS III VIS”, though some numismatists contemporary to McLachlan suggested that the “VIS” should instead be read as “VTS”, which is claimed to be an abbreviated, Latin version for “Vermont”. McLachlan refuted this claim, saying that he had “little doubt that this piece was struck and issued in Canada as an imitation of a George III copper”. This argument has been picked up again in more recent numismatic studies, with one article affirming that an example graded as Fine reveals the “I” should be read as “T”, supporting the “VTS” reading. An off-center strike of this Blacksmith token in the collection of the Bank of Canada Museum where the top portion of the supposed “T” ought to be more visible, but is not, contradicts this reading.

Wood thought that the obverse legend read “GLORIOVS III VIS”. A more recent article claims that several high-grade examples of the coin reveal a weak serif and cross-bar on the “L”, and that the first “O” is thinner than the second, suggesting that the initial word of the legend should be read as “GEORIUVS” instead. The legend on the obverse has been interpreted as reading as the nonsensical “BITIT”, though one study claims that the “I” and “T” are instead an “R” and “I”, making the word read “BRITI” instead, a short form for “BRITISH”.

In his comprehensive listing of Blacksmith tokens, Wood included this in his “Miscellaneous and Doubtful” series, suggesting that it might be an imitation regal coin created in England, but sharing the common Blacksmith token characteristic of the regal bust facing the opposite way. While McLachlan clearly thought that this coin was issued in Canada and was relatively plentiful, it is notable that it was not included in Breton’s Illustrated History of Coins and Tokens Relating to Canada, possibly because he thought it was a British import. While American numismatist John H. Hickcox believed the coin to have come from Vermont, the majority consensus of other mid-19th century U.S. Colonial numismatists omit the coin in their listings. While the provenance of this coin is still debated, examples of this coin appearing in the hoard McLachlan described and archaeological finds in locations in Upper Canada, Lower Canada and New Brunswick establish that it circulated in Canada.

Silver Cobs

In the mid-1500’s, additional silver deposits were discovered in the colonial territories and there was a pressing demand to export it to Spain. Starting in the reign of Philip II, the mints produced irregular coinage called cobs. Instead of rolling out a bar of silver into a sheet of a specific thickness that could then be cut into smooth round planchets; a bar of silver was simply cut into chunks of the appropriate weight. These small sliver clumps were then treated as if they were finished planchets and got hammer struck between crude dies. The size, shape and impression of these cobs were highly irregular but they were the proper weight, cobs were quite thick and disfigured with large cracks. The uneven clumps made poor planchets and it was common for only a small portion of the image on the die to be impressed on the silver. If a cob was overweight the minter simply clipped a piece off, further disfiguring the coin. During the seventeenth century a few full sized finished coins called “royal or presentation strikes” by present day collectors were also produced but it was only the crude cob that was mass produced.

With intention of easily being able to ship to Spain, these crude but accurately weighed cobs were produced. In Spain the cobs would be melted down to produce silver jewelry, coins, bars and other items. Cobs also circulated as coinage, with many cobs making their way to the English colonies where they were used both as coins in commerce and hoarded for their silver content. The cobs’ unusual shape and sizes made it quite easy for colonials to clip off some silver and then pass the coin off at full value. Furthermore, because of their crude design it was easy to make lightweight counterfeit cobs using the clipped silver. Many clipped and lightweight Spanish cobs were melted down in Boston to make the Massachusetts silver coinage.

Cobs were produced in denominations of one, two, four and eight reales under Philip II Coin2 (1)(1556-1598) and Philip III (1598-1621). A half real cob was added under Philip IV (1621-1665). Cobs continued to be produced through the reigns of Charles II (1665-1700), Philip V (1700-1724 and 1725-1746), Louis I (1725), Ferdinand VI (1746-1759) and Charles III (1759-1788). The obverse of a cob displays the crowned Hapsburg shield with the mintmark and assayer initial to the left and the denomination to the right of the shield. The legend, although frequently missing from the planchet, was some variation of the name of the king with DEI GRATIA (By the Grace of God). The reverse displays the arms of Castile and Leon within a quatrefoil design. Starting in the seventeenth century most cobs were dated but this information was added to the obverse legend and was usually not picked up in the stamping of the coin.

The first mint in the Americas was established in Mexico City in 1535. A royal decree authorized Herman Cortes to “melt, cast, mark, and put aside the royal-fifth”  of the precious metals taken from the Aztecs; he set up the foundry in the palace of Axayacatl. The Casa de Moneda was officially established when the Queen of Spain signed the Viceroyalty of New Spain into existence on May 11, 1535. The mint began operations in April of 1536.

British colonists were usually prohibited by law from minting coins (with a few exceptions), and colonists often found themselves using Spanish coins. During the Revolutionary War, the new nation tried to implement paper currency, which quickly collapsed. (For fans of the musical “Hamilton,” this is referenced when the young aide-de-camp sings, “Local merchants deny us equipment, assistance, they only take British money, so sing a song of sixpence.”) Spanish dollars continued to be used as reliable currency; when cut into eight pieces, each 1-real piece was referred to as a “bit.” The United States established its own currency in 1792, with the creation of the US Mint, but the terms “two bits, four bits, six bits, a dollar” have remained in our vocabulary for over 200 years.

Dating and locating a cob can be difficult. If an assayer’s initials are present and the mint Coin1 (1)is known then some dating parameters may be determined, as the dates of appointment are available for many assayers. Also, particular details on the obverse shield differ for each ruler so some examples without other clues can often be dated to a specific king, if the shield is distinct. If the mintmark is missing the reverse cross may assist in identifying the mint. Such as, a Jerusalem cross with a ball at each extremity denotes the Mexico mint. A variety of other specific details may assist in making attributions; consultation of regional studies may allow one to narrow the possibilities, especially if a coin can be assigned to a specific time period.

The Silver Age of Arcade Games

If you’ve never been inside a traditional arcade, it could be hard to distinguish one from a Dave & Buster’s. Authenticity is a hard nut to crack, but there are a few hallmarks of the video game arcade of days gone by: first, they have video games. Lots and lots of video games, and (usually) pinball machines. They’re dark (so that you can see the screens better), and they don’t sell food or alcohol. There’s no sign outside that says you “must be 21 to enter.” These are rarely family-friendly institutions, either. Your mom wouldn’t want to be there, and nobody would want her there, anyway. This is a place for kids to be with other kids, teens to be with other teens, and early-stage adults to serve as the ambassador badasses in residence for the younger generation. It’s noisy, with all the kids yelling and the video games on permanent demo mode, beckoning you to waste just one more quarter.

The first popular arcade games included early amusement-park midway games such as

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An electronic pinball machine

shooting galleries, ball-toss games, and the earliest coin-operated machines, such as those that claimed to tell a person’s fortune or that played mechanical music. The old Midways of 1920s-era amusement parks provided the inspiration and atmosphere for later arcade games. In the 1930s the first coin-operated pinball machines emerged. These early amusement machines differed from their later electronic cousins in that they were made of wood. They lacked plungers or lit-up bonus surfaces on the playing field, and used mechanical instead of electronic scoring-readouts. By around 1977 most pinball machines in production switched to using solid-state electronics both for operation and for scoring

In 1971 students at Stanford University set up the Galaxy Game, a coin-operated version of the Spacewar video game. This ranks as the earliest known instance of a coin-operated video game. Later in the same year, Nolan Bushnell created the first mass-manufactured game, Computer Space, for Nutting Associates.

In 1972, Atari was formed by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney. Atari essentially created the coin-operated video game industry with the game Pong, the first successful electronic ping pong video game. Pong proved to be popular, but imitators helped keep Atari from dominating the fledgling coin-operated video game market.

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Space Invaders

Taito’s Space Invaders, in 1978, proved to be the first blockbuster arcade video game. Its success marked the beginning of the golden age of arcade video games. Video game arcades sprang up in shopping malls, and small “corner arcades” appeared in restaurants, grocery stores, bars and movie theaters all over the United States, Japan and other countries during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Space Invaders (1978), Galaxian (1979), Pac-Man (1980), Battlezone (1980), Defender (1980), and Bosconian (1981) were especially popular. In 1981, the arcade video game industry was worth $8 billion. By the late 1980s, the arcade video game craze was beginning to fade due to advances in home video game console technology. By 1991, US arcade video game revenues had fallen to $2.1 billion.

Sega AM2’s Hang-On, designed by Yu Suzuki and running on the Sega Space Harrier hardware, was the first of Sega’s “Super Scaler” arcade system boards that allowed pseudo-3D sprite-scaling at high frame rates. The pseudo-3D sprite/tile scaling was handled in a similar manner to textures in later texture-mapped polygonal 3D games of the 1990s. Designed by Sega AM2’s Yu Suzuki, he stated that his “designs were always 3D from the beginning. All the calculations in the system were 3D, even from Hang-On. I calculated the position, scale, and zoom rate in 3D and converted it backwards to 2D. So I was always thinking in 3D.” It was controlled using a video game arcade cabinet resembling a motorbike, which the player moves with their body. This began the “Taikan” trend, the use of motion-controlled hydraulic arcade cabinets in many arcade games of the late 1980s, two decades before motion controls became popular on video game consoles.

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Street Fighter II

In the early 1990s, the arcades experienced a major resurgence with the 1991 release of Capcom’s Street Fighter II, which popularized competitive fighting games and revived the arcade industry to a level of popularity not seen since the days of Pac-Man, setting off a renaissance for the arcade game industry in the early 1990s. Its success led to a wave of other popular games which mostly were in the fighting genre, such as Pit-Fighter (1990) by Atari, Mortal Kombat by Midway Games, Fatal Fury: King of Fighters (1992) by SNK, Virtua Fighter (1993) by SEGA, Killer Instinct (1994) by Rare, and The King of Fighters (1994–2005) by SNK. In 1993, Electronic Games noted that when “historians look back at the world of coin-op during the early 1990s, one of the defining highlights of the video game art form will undoubtedly focus on fighting/martial arts themes” which it described as “the backbone of the industry” at the time.

3D polygon graphics were popularized by the Sega Model 1 games Virtua Racing (1992) and Virtua Fighter (1993), followed by racing games like the Namco System 22 title Ridge Racer (1993) and Sega Model 2 title Daytona USA, and light gun shooters like Sega’s Virtua Cop (1994) and Mesa Logic’s Area 51 (1995), gaining considerable popularity in the arcades. By 1994, arcade games in the United States were generating revenues of $7 billion in quarters (equivalent to $11.6 billion in 2017), in comparison to home console game sales of $6 billion, with many of the best-selling home video games in the early 1990s often being arcade ports. Combined, total US arcade and console game revenues of $13 billion in 1994 ($21.5 billion in 2017) was nearly two and a half times the $5 billion revenue grossed by movies in the United States at the time.

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A Sega Master System

Around the mid-1990s, the fifth-generation home consoles, Sega Saturn, PlayStation, and Nintendo 64, began offering true 3D graphics, improved sound, and better 2D graphics, than the previous generation. By 1995, personal computers followed, with 3D accelerator cards. While arcade systems such as the Sega Model 3 remained considerably more advanced than home systems in the late 1990s, the technological advantage that arcade games had, in their ability to customize and use the latest graphics and sound chips, slowly began narrowing, and the convenience of home games eventually caused a decline in arcade gaming. Sega’s sixth generation console, the Dreamcast, could produce 3D graphics comparable to the Sega NAOMI arcade system in 1998, after which Sega produced more powerful arcade systems such as the Sega NAOMI Multiboard and Sega Hikaru in 1999 and the Sega NAOMI 2 in 2000, before Sega eventually stopped manufacturing expensive proprietary arcade system boards, with their subsequent arcade boards being based on more affordable commercial console or PC components.

Arcade video games had declined in popularity so much by the late 1990s, that revenues in the United States dropped to $1.33 billion in 1999, and reached a low of $866 million in 2004.The gap in release dates and quality between console ports and the arcade games they were ported from dramatically narrowed, thus setting up home consoles as a major competitor with arcades. Furthermore, by the early 2000s, networked gaming via computers and then consoles across the Internet had also appeared, replacing the venue of head-to-head competition and social atmosphere once provided solely by arcades. The arcades also lost their status as the forefront of new game releases. Given the choice between playing a game at an arcade three or four times (perhaps 15 minutes of play for a typical arcade game), and renting, at about the same price, exactly the same game—for a video game console—the console became the preferred choice. Fighting games were the most attractive feature for arcades, since they offered the prospect of face-to-face competition and tournaments, which correspondingly led players to practice more (and spend more money in the arcade), but they could not support the business all by themselves.

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Dance Dance Revolution

In the 2000s and 2010s, arcades have found a niche market by providing games that use special controllers largely inaccessible to home users, such as dance games that have a floor that senses the user’s dancing. To remain viable, arcades also added other elements to complement the video games such as redemption games, merchandiser games, and food service, typically snacks and fast food. Referred to as “fun centers” or “family fun centers”, some of the longstanding chains such as Chuck E. Cheese’s and Gatti’s Pizza (“GattiTowns”) also changed to this format. Many 1980s-era video game arcades have long since closed, and classic coin-operated games have become largely the province of dedicated gamers and hobbyists. In the 2010s, some movie theaters and family fun centers still have small arcades.

Worldwide, arcade game revenues gradually increased from $1.8 billion in 1998 to $3.2 billion in 2002, rivalling PC game sales of $3.2 billion that same year. In particular, arcade video games are a thriving industry in China, where arcades are widespread across the country. The US market has also experienced a slight resurgence, with the number of video game arcades across the nation increasing from 2,500 in 2003 to 3,500 in 2008, though this is significantly less than the 10,000 arcades in the early 1980s. As of 2009, a successful arcade game usually sells around 4000 to 6000 units worldwide.

The relative simplicity yet solid gameplay of many of these early games has inspired a new generation of fans who can play them on mobile phones or with emulators such as MAME; Pac-Man in particular sold over 30 million mobile downloads in the United States by 2010. Some classic arcade games are reappearing in commercial settings, such as Namco’s Ms. Pac-Man 20 Year Reunion / Galaga Class of 1981 two-in-one game, or integrated directly into controller hardware (joysticks) with replaceable flash drives storing game ROMs.

In the Japanese gaming industry, arcades have remained popular through to the present day. As of 2009, out of Japan’s $20 billion gaming market, $6 billion of that amount is generated from arcades, which represent the largest sector of the Japanese video game market, followed by home console games and mobile games at $3.5 billion and $2 billion, respectively. Despite the global decline of arcades, Japanese companies hit record revenue for three consecutive years during this period. However, due to the country’s economic recession, the Japanese arcade industry has also been steadily declining, from ¥702.9 billion (US$8.7 billion) in 2007 to ¥504.3 billion ($6.2 billion) in 2010.

In the Japanese market, network and card features introduced by Virtua Fighter 4 and

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Gundam Pod Machines

World Club Champion Football, and novelty cabinets such as Gundam Pod machines have caused revitalization’s in arcade profitability in Japan. The reason for the continued popularity of arcades in comparison to the west, are heavy population density and an infrastructure similar to casino facilities. Former rivals in the Japanese arcade industry, Konami, Taito, Bandai Namco Entertainment and Sega, are now working together to keep the arcade industry vibrant. This is evidenced in the sharing of arcade networks, and venues having games from all major companies rather than only games from their own company.

In the US, excitement surrounding the traditional arcade remains strong today. Amusement centers and arcades have spread around the country, though they’re a different beast than they were 50, 30 or even 10 years ago.

Home console gaming and its massive surge in innovation changed the scene. You also can find games in cafes and coffee shops, giving gamers a space to play modern entertainment.

The video game industry is seeing a huge boom in consoles like the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One introducing games that people also play at arcades. Next on the horizon for the future of arcade games, lie with vintage arcade games and the current state of the VR industry.

Virtual reality will deliver truly immersive experiences, allowing players to step into the shoes of an adventurer or race car driver. They’re not just looking at a screen simulation. They’re in the cockpit. We will see the technology deployed in arcades, too, an exciting next step for devoted gamers:

In 2014, Facebook bought the VR company Oculus for $400 million in cash and 23.1

Oculus Rift Development Version

Oculus Rift Headset

million shares of the social network.  This massive investment highlights the potential for the technology. With the likes of the PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and many others, virtual reality will soon enter a heyday..

While we can’t go and enjoy arcade games in a smokey dark room with all of our friends anymore; the arcade industry has adapted well over time. New technology will continue to push forward a love and excitement for games.  Video games are widely enjoyed with at home consoles, the trend of ‘barcades’ and family-friendly centers like Chuck E. Cheese will keep the love of gaming with friends at an out-of-home establishment at all time highs. We might have already lived out the golden age and renaissance of arcades but we are here for the silver age.

For a timeline of arcade games check out the infographic below provided by M&P Amusement:

Evolution Of The Arcade - Part 1Evolution Of The Arcade - Part 2Evolution Of The Arcade - Part 3Evolution Of The Arcade - Part 4Evolution Of The Arcade - Part 5Evolution Of The Arcade - Part 6Evolution Of The Arcade - Part 7Evolution Of The Arcade - Part 8Evolution Of The Arcade - Part 9

The evolution of gaming timeline from M&P Amusement.

 

Carrying Around Cash in A Wheelbarrow

World War One officially ended when Germany signed the Treaty of Versailles on June 28th, 1919.  Fighting had essentially ended with the Armistice of November 11th, 1918. One of the main provisions of the treaty forced “Germany to accept the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage.” Article 231, later called the “War Guilt Clause” required Germany to disarm, give up territory, and pay reparations amounting to 132 billion marks, equivalent to $442 billion US dollars in 2018.  Because Germany could not pay with gold or currency backed by reserves, they ended up printing more paper money causing massive inflation.

 

GermanInflationMarks (2)The price of one gold mark in German paper currency at the end of 1918 was two paper mark, but by the end of 1919 a gold mark cost 10 paper mark. This inflation worsened between 1920 and 1922, the devaluation of the paper mark rose from 15 to 1,282 paper mark. In 1923 the value of the paper mark had its worst decline. By July, the cost of a gold mark had risen to 101,112 paper mark, and in September was already at 13 million. On 30 Nov 1923 it cost 1 trillion paper mark to buy a single gold mark.  In the month of October 1923 alone, Germany experienced 29,000% hyperinflation, a mark that has only been surpassed three times in history.

 

Because of the speed and amount of inflation, the Reichsbank created larger and larger currency denominations.  The largest pre-war denomination was 1000 Mark and was worth about $238 US Dollars. 10,000 Mark notes were created in early 1922.  100,000 and 1 million Mark followed in 1923. At the peak of inflation in October of that year, a 100 trillion mark was introduced, and it was only worth approximately $24 US Dollars.  At the time it was said that Germans would carry their cash in wheelbarrows just to pay for groceries because they needed so much of it to purchase anything and kids would play with it, using stacks as large building blocks and using it to make kites.  

 

Germany began rebuilding their economy under Gustav Stresemann, leader of the GermanInflationMarks (3)German Peoples’ Party, through international diplomacy and investment.  The reparations repayment schedule would be modified and the US would loan Germany large sums of money that helped stabilize their economy.  This is when the new Rentenmark was introduced as a replacement currency.  One Rentenmark was equivalent to 1 trillion papiermarks.  By limiting the amount of credit and the amount of the new money in circulation, the economy and inflation was brought under control throughout the late 20’s, only to be faced with new challenges with the crash of the US Stock market that effected all of Europe, and then the rise of Hitler leading into WWII.

The Kings and Queens of Numismatics

Coin collecting has a long history of being the hobby of Kings and Queens. We all know royalty and the privileged classes collected but who actually was a collector? Check out our list below for a peak at some of the most famous coin collectors in history.

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Caesar Augustus 63 BC – 14 AD

Augustus was a Roman statesman and military leader who was the first Emperor of the Roman Empire, controlling Imperial Rome from 27 BC until his death in AD 14. According to Suetonius, he gave “coins of every device, including old pieces of the kings and foreign money” as Saturnalia gifts.

 

 

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Alfonso V of Aragon
1396 – 1458

Alfonso was the King of Aragon, Valencia, Majorca, Sardinia and Corsica, Sicily, and Count of Barcelona from 1416, and King of Naples from 1442 until his death. He was one of the most prominent figures of the early Renaissance and a knight of the Order of the Dragon. He had a collection of ancient coins which had been discovered in Italy and carried them with him in an ivory cabinet

 

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Pope Paul II 1417 – 1571

Paul II was Pope from 30 August 1464 to his death in 1471. He collected ancient coins, and had about a hundred gold and a thousand silver coins. It was said that he “was able at a glance to tell where an ancient coin came from”

 

 

 

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Ferdinand II, Archduke of Austria 1529 – 1595

Ferdinand was ruler of Further Austria including Tirol. The cabinets in which he stored his coins are today kept in the Vienna Coin Cabinet and at Ambras Castle.

 

 

 

Geldorp, George, 1595-1665; Henry, Prince of Wales (1594-1612)

 

Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales 1594 – 1612

Henry was the elder son of James VI and I, King of England and Scotland, and his wife, Anne of Denmark. He purchased Abraham Gorlaeus’ collection.

 

 

 

 

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Frederick I, Duke of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg 1646 – 1691

Frederick I was a duke of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg. His diaries reveal that he “enjoyed making an inventory of his coins and arranging them in order”.

 

 

 

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Thomas Jefferson 1743 – 1826

Jefferson was an American Founding Father who was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and later served as the third president of the United States from 1801 to 1809. He often acquired contemporary European issues through his travels abroad

 

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John Quincy Adams 1767 – 1848

Quincy Adams was an American statesman who served as a diplomat, minister and ambassador to foreign nations, and treaty negotiator, United States Senator, U.S. Representative (Congressman) from Massachusetts, and the sixth President of the United States from 1825 to 1829. His collection was auctioned by the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1971.

 

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Prince Philipp of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha 1844 – 1921

Philip was the second prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and lord of Csábrág and Szitnya. His collection was auctioned in 1928.

 

 

 

 

 

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Oscar H. Dodson 1905 – 1996

Dodson was a rear admiral in the United States Navy, who served during World War II. He kept a collection of ancient Greek coins with him while serving on board the USS Hornet in 1942.

Seafarers Silver Trays

Anyone that has been to our warehouse knows that we have coins everywhere.  But Tim has also accumulated years and years worth of other collectibles, antiques, and goods.  And every once in a while, he’ll pull something out of the stash, and this time it was two different silver serving trays.  Engraved onto the trays were pictures of a boat, a name, and a date. And that’s where I come in. It was time to learn more about these silver trays.  

Vireo Ship Platter

Vireo Ship  Platter

Throughout time, sailors and seafarers have asked for protection from the mighty seas for their ships and their crews.   Whether it was the early Greeks asking for the blessing of Poseidon, or the Romans with Neptune, ship launchings usually included ceremonial processes.  Wine was drank and poured over the vessel, shrines were carried on board, and prayers were said. It wasn’t until more modern times that our current tradition of sponsorship of Naval vessels started to take shape.

Many of the traditions that we use today were passed on from the European navies.  The first American warship with a record of christening was the USS Constitution, “Old Ironsides” in Boston on October 21, 1797.  Her sponsor, Captain James Sever, USN, stood on the weather deck at the bow. “At fifteen minutes after twelve she commenced a movement into the water with such steadiness, majesty and exactness as to fill every heart with sensations of joy and delight.” As Constitution ran out, Captain Sever broke a bottle of fine old Madeira over the heel of the bowsprit.

The tradition of women being the sponsors of ships didn’t happen until many years later.  In 1827 it was recorded that the sloop-of-war “Concord” was “christened by a young lady of Portsmouth.”  The first woman to be identified as sponsor was Miss Lavinia Fanning Watson, daughter of a prominent Philadelphian.  She broke a bottle of wine and water over the bow of sloop-of-war Germantown at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 22 August 1846. As time passed the christening, testing, commissioning and decommissioning of a ship became a more formal procedure with some standardized rules and guidelines that are still done today.  

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Norwegian minesweeper KNM Lagen (M950) being built at Bellingham Shipyards c1954.  Launched in the same year as the Warbler and Vireo.

Bellingham, WA, from its earliest days, was only accessible by boat and has a long maritime history.  Of particular consequence was Bellingham Marine Railway Co. which was a boat repair business going back to the early years of the 20th century. Later it became Bellingham Marine Railway and Boatbuilding Co. in 1921 when they built a new facility on the west side of Whatcom Creek waterway, on Squalicum Creek.  It was owned by O. I. Thorsen and J. G. Brown, who were joined in 1928 by A. S. Nilsen, of Nilsen & Keletz, the Seattle shipbuilders. In 1941, it became Bellingham Shipyards when it merged with Bellingham Iron Works and was owned by Archibald Talbot. They built minesweepers for the US Navy, and also started the Bell Boy Boats line before eventually closing in 1963.  But during its heyday in WWII, Bellingham Shipyard was the largest privately owned shipyard in the country and one of the biggest producers of ships for the US Navy.

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USS Warbler Ship Platter

Bellingham Shipyard continued to make naval minesweepers beyond WWII and  into the 50’s which were some of the last wooden ships produced for the US Navy.  Why wood you ask? Because many mines were magnetic and wooden boat wouldn’t attract them.  Two such ships produced were the USS Vireo and the USS Warbler. Both were sponsored by Bellingham locals.  Mrs. Millard “Minnie” Wahlstrand along with Mrs. S.A. Blythe were named co-sponsors of the USS Warbler, which launched on June 18, 1954.  Steward Blythe was the son of Arthur J. Blythe, who founded Blythe Heating and Plumbing. While Mrs.Katheryn Blythe is the only sponsor listed in the Ships of the United States Navy and Their Sponsors the tray clearly has Mrs. Millard Wahlstrand engraved on it.  Minnie’s husband Millard was also plumber likely working for Blythe Heating and Plumbing as well possibly explaining why there were co-sponsors.  Ms. Marvin Olsen, Rena, was named the sponsor of the Vireo. Marvin was one of the principle partners in the Bell Boy Boat company, which was a division of the Bellingham Shipyards Company.  They were one of the first boat builders to feature fiberglass in their hull designs. As sponsors, Rena and Millie were most likely involved in the keel laying ceremony where they etched their initials in the keel.  They were prominently featured in the christening ceremony where they broke a bottle of champagne over the bow of the ship. It was customary to present the sponsor with a small gift at the launching as well. The silver trays pictured above may have been the gifts given to both Minnie Wahlstrand and Rena Olsen.  The sponsors may have also been involved in the decommissioning ceremony when the each boat left the US Navy, since it was encouraged that the donors participate in the entire life of the boat. Often times a small inconsequential piece of the boat such as a nameplate, was gifted to the sponsor when the ship was decommissioned.

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The USS Warbler and Vireo moored side by side

The USS Warbler (AMS-206)  was “laid down” on the 15th of October, 1953.  It was launched in June of 1854, as shown on the silver tray, and then redesignated to MSC-206 on February 7, 1955 and then commissioned on the 26th of July, 1955 at the Naval Station in Tacoma, WA with LTJG James S. Efelt in command.  It then operated out of Long Beach for the next year before departing to Sasebo, Japan with its sister ship, Whippoorwill, also from the Bellingham Shipyards. It stayed in that area for the next 14 years with the Mine Division 32, participating in training exercises with neighboring navies.  It was then sent to Vietnam where it was used for “Operation Market Time” patrols off the coast. Here it patrolled for boats carrying arms and munitions to the Viet Cong in South Vietnam. Because of the Warblers size, it was adept at patrolling where larger destroyers couldn’t go, but was better armed than the smaller patrol boats.  It was used to board junks, and crew would inspect their cargo, and check their destination. By the end of the Vietnam Conflict, the Warbler was issued 7 engagement stars for its participation in “Operation Market Time.”
The Viero (AMS-205) was laid down on September 14th, 1953 and had it’s launch ceremony on April 30th of the same year and was redesignated as MSC-205.  After a trip to Seattle to complete it’s tests and trials, the Viero was commissioned on June 7th, 1955 and was sent to San Diego for shakedown training.  Eventually the USS Viero would also end up in Sasebo, Japan and serve in the region for the next 14 years. The first 8 were running peacekeeping missions, including minesweeping exercises with other local navies.  Eventually, the Viero would also end up in Vietnam in 1964. It also participated in patrols that were a part of Operation Market Time. After an overhaul in Sasebo in 1966, the Vireo was involved in its first bit of actual live enemy fire.  After the Coast Guard ship, Point Grey took .50 cal machine gun fire from a trawler, the Viero and Brister were called in for support. The enemy trawler was forced aground, and it was decided that US forces would try to salvage it by towing it but when the Point Grey approached, it took heavy fire from the shore.  Both the Vireo and the Point Grey responded with fire from the 20mm guns. The Point Grey retreated under covering fire from the Viero, and air strikes were called in that eventually destroyed the trawler. The Viero won the Navy Unit Commendation and her commanding officer won the Bronze Star Medal.

In July of 1970 the Viero and Warbler were recalled to Long Beach, and were transitioned into a Naval Reserve training ships.  The Viero was decommissioned on October 1st, 1970. In July 1975, her name was struck from the Navy list and on October 1st, she was transferred to the Fijian Navy, renamed Kula, and was eventually discarded in 1985.  The Warbler was decommissioned on the same day as the Viero and was also sold to the Fijian Navy in 1975, was renamed the HMFS Kiro. She served until 1995 when she was decommissioned and destroyed the following year.

I can only guess as to where exactly the silver trays fit into the story, but they served as a link between the past and present.  It gave us the opportunity to learn a little about Bellingham’s past, it’s importance in the shipbuilding industry, and to get a look at some of the traditions of sponsorship of Naval vessels that are still used today. Check out a close up of the inscriptions below and let us know what you think!

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How Mexico’s Remarkable Peso Revolutionized the World

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

 

In honor of the holiday, let’s take a moment to learn about and celebrate Mexican coins.

 

Both pesos and dollars originated in the Spanish dollar of the 15th-19th centuries. The word “peso” was originally used to refer to pesos oro and pesos plata (gold and silver weights, respectively.) In fact, the literal translation of peso is “weight.”

 

Peso was the original name of the legendary Spanish “pieces of eight” coins issued in Mexico, sometimes called Spanish dollars. Each peso was valued at 8 reales; the escudo coin was worth 16 reales. These coins were widely circulated in the Americas through the mid 1800’s; America accepted them as legal tender prior to the Coinage Act in 1857, and Canada did the same until 1854. The first American dollar coins were not minted until 1792, and their value was set to approximately match the Spanish dollar.

 

The first decimation of the peso occurred in 1863, with the issue of centavo coins, each valued at one hundredth of a peso. The first peso denomination coins were issued in 1866, though reales denominated coins were still issued until 1897.

Peso_Mexicano_1921

 

The gold content of the peso was cut nearly in half in 1905, but the silver content was unchanged until 1918, while other coins were debased. Silver coins, except for the 1 peso, were limited to token issues, and several varieties of centavos were issued in bronze, nickel, and other metals.

 

CaballitoOne of the most striking of Mexican coins was created during this period: the Caballito. It bore the Mexican coat of arms on the obverse with its now-familiar eagle and snake motif, with the legends, “Un Peso” and “Estados Unidos Mexicanos.” The reverse showed a woman on horseback reaching out a hand as if in proclamation, and the date. These stunning coins, minted in .903 silver, were minted from 1910 through 1914. After 1918, all silver coins declined in both weight and fineness, culminating in the last minting of silver 100-peso coins in 1977.

 

In 1993, a new currency was introduced: the nuevo peso. The new peso, written as N$ and designated MXN, equaled 1000 of the original MXP pesos. The Bank of Mexico began introducing bimetallic coins in 2003. There are 32 coins in this series: one for each Mexican state, and one for the Federal District. Each coin bears Mexico’s coat of arms on the obverse, with the state’s coat of arms on the reverse. They are rare in circulation, but remain a popular novelty coin. Collectors have been encouraged to acquire full sets, but as the coins are high in price, this has not been as successful as hoped. The coins also have a bullion version, with a gold outer ring instead of the aluminium bronze of the standard coins.

 

AUPeso.jpgMexican bullion coins are available in several weights, in both .999 fine silver and fine gold. On one side, a winged Victoria strides across a landscape, with the volcanoes Popocatépetl and Iztaccihuatl in the background. The coat of arms of Mexico is shown on the other side. Newer versions show Victoria at a different angle, and the Mexican coat of arms on the reverse is surrounded by other coats of arms from Mexican history.

 

Today, the peso is third most-traded currency from the Americas, the most traded Latin American currency, and the eighth most traded currency in the world. It served as the model for multiple world currencies, including the Straits dollar, Hong Kong dollar, Japanese yen, and Chinese yuan, largely due to the trade and influence of the Spanish empire. 19th century Siam briefly used the Mexican peso as legal tender, when an unexpected flood of foreign trade caught the government mints by surprise.

 

According to Collectors Weekly, “Of the coins from the early days of the Republica Mexicana, escudos and reales minted in the 1820s are in particularly high demand. […] Other Mexican coins of note include round lead centavos issued by the state of Durango in 1914 and rectangular copper Oaxacan centavos from 1915.”

 

Mexican coins are among the most popular in the world, and are an excellent starting point for beginners, as well as a good investment for more experienced collectors.

 

Image and share your Mexican coins with us through the Lookzee app to celebrate Cinco de Mayo with us! Now available on Google Play Store and App Store.

The Fate of the Guggenheim Treasure

 

One of the most legendary families of early 20th century America left behind a treasure worth millions of dollars, and no one has found it…yet.

 

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The Guggenheim Museum

The Guggeinheim family came to America in the mid-1800s, and the family rapidly became one of the wealthiest in the world. Involved in the mining and smelting industries, they were also known as philanthropists and patrons of the arts. Today, the family interest, Guggeinheim Partners, oversees $200 billion in assets.

 

In September of 1903, a tugboat pushed the barge Harold past the Statue of Liberty; the barge was loaded down with nearly 8,000 silver-and-lead bars. The metal was bound for the Guggenheims’ smelters in New Jersey. But during the passage of the Arthur Kill strait, the Harold tipped, sending most of the metal bars tumbling into the murky waters. Somehow, the deckhands aboard the barge never noticed the missing cargo; the loss wasn’t uncovered until the ship docked the next morning. A salvage mission recovered most of the cargo, though the salvage company director called the deckhands the “dumbest skunks I ever had to do with.” Around 1400 bars are still unaccounted for, and could be worth up to $20 million today.

 

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Arthur Kill Strait

Rumors of the treasure have surfaced from time to time. A story goes that a local Native American was fishing in the strait when his eel trident snagged on one of the lost ingots. More recently, Ken Hayes of Aqua Survey tried to locate the treasure. An early sweep of the area revealed 255 possible targets, but no guarantees that any of them were the missing silver. Hayes’ attempts to find the treasure have been met with discouragement from locals (who believe a local should be the one to find it) as well as fellow treasure hunters looking for an easy tip off to the location of the silver.

 

To date, neither Hayes nor anyone else has found a single silver bar, much less all $20 million worth. But it may be only a matter of time until the Guggenheim Treasure resurfaces.