U.S. Coin Price Guide

Coin Collecting

Buy Coin Supplies

Abraham Lincoln on private purported patterns
By Paul Gilkes

Researchers agree they are not from U.S. Mint
Private purported "patterns" dated 1866 and 1868 with a Roman numeral III bear a portrait facing right of a bearded Abraham Lincoln.

Images courtesy of National Numismatic Collection, Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. Two examples of the 1866 Lincoln private pieces, possible patterns for a gold $3 piece, are shown above. The top example, thick compared to the second piece, is in copper with a plain edge. The second piece appears to be silvered brass, with a coarse reeded edge. The two pieces were donated to the National Numismatic Collection by Stack's.
Two prominent engravers have been credited with the designs for the pieces.

It is uncertain whether they were intended to represent 3-cent coins or $3 coins, since the reverse design bears a III but no other representation of a denomination.

Researchers generally agree that the pieces were not struck by the Mint, although some suggest a Mint origin for some of the dies.

According to United States Patterns and Related Pieces by Andrew W. Pollock III, the Lincoln visage on the private patterns is credited as the work of Boston medallist Joseph H. Merriam, who was active as a diesinker, letter cutter and engraver in the 1850s and 1860s.

Merriam issued a number of store cards advertising his services.

David E. Schenkman penned a detailed look at Merriam's store cards and his somewhat mysterious life in the April 1980 issue of the American Numismatic Association's journal, The Numismatist.

According to Katherine Jaeger and Q. David Bowers in 100 Greatest American Medals and Tokens, Merriam was in business in Boston from the early 1850s through at least 1870.

Merriam fabricated punches for letters and numbers, made dies and also sold a line of seal presses used for embossing seals and other lettered devices on paper.

About 1860, according to Jaeger and Bowers, Merriam entered the realm of producing medalets for the numismatic trade.

Merriam also produced campaign medals for Lincoln's 1860 and 1864 political campaigns for the presidency.

"Merriam may also have been the first U.S. token manufacturer to make extensive use of modular dies," according to Bowers. "The dies Merriam employed for Civil War tokens and sutlers' tokens had removable circular sections that could be replaced with others to change a part of the description, such as the denomination."

The Lincoln 'patterns'

The obverse of the 1866 pieces bear the date below the portrait and god and our country inscribed above. The 1868 examples are similar in design; they lack the god and our country motto on the obverse.

The reverse features a Roman numeral iii centered, encircled by an oak and laurel wreath joined at the bottom by a ribbon and at the top by a six-pointed star. The reverse design "is said to have been made for the production of pattern three-cent pieces [in 1867], although this is doubtful," according to Pollock.

Rare Coin Company of America in its Aug. 4 and 5, 1978, auction offered two of the Lincoln pieces – one 1866 piece in gold with a plain edge, and the other, also in gold, dated 1868 and with a reeded edge.

Rarcoa's lot description for the gold, plain edge example states that "the reverse die was cut in the Mint by James Longacre in anticipation of a pattern striking of three-cent pieces in 1867, and, although the die was never used for that purpose, it somehow found its way outside the Mint with this specimen being the result."

Pollock explains that a 3-cent die trial is known that closely resembles the reverse used with Merriam's obverses.

Pollock also notes, however, that some numismatists believe the pieces were intended to represent $3 coins. He catalogs the items as $3 pieces.

Pollock identifies five different 1866 types, distinguishing them by compositional and edge differences.

Four different 1868 are identified by Pollock in his book.

United States Pattern Coins, Experimental & Trial Pieces by J. Hewitt Judd, edited by Q. David Bowers, with Saul Teichman as research associate, references the 1866 and 1868 pieces on Page 317 under "Appendix C: Pieces Not of Mint Origin."

© 1992-2018 DC2NET™, Inc. All Rights Reserved