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
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
"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
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
Pollock identifies five different 1866 types,
distinguishing them by compositional and edge
Four different 1868 are identified by Pollock in
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