A pattern coin
is a coin
A coin is a piece of hard material that is standardized in weight, is produced in large quantities in order to facilitate trade, and primarily can be used as a legal tender token for commerce in the designated country, region, or territory....
which has not been approved for release, produced for the purpose of evaluating a proposed coin design. They are often off-metal strikes, to proof
Proof coinage means special early samples of a coin issue, historically made for checking the dies and for archival purposes, but nowadays often struck in greater numbers specially for coin collectors . Many countries now issue them....
standard or piedfort
A piedfort or piedforte , is a coin often exactly twice its normal weight and thickness. The name derives from a French word meaning "heavy foot"...
s. They are collected or studied by many coin collectors
Numismatics is the study or collection of currency, including coins, tokens, paper money, and related objects. While numismatists are often characterized as students or collectors of coins, the discipline also includes the broader study of money and other payment media used to resolve debts and the...
because of their sometimes highly elaborate designs.
The first English coin we can surely identify is a Groat, originally worth fourpence. This piece, an example of which was illustrated and sold in the Dodsley Cuff sale of the mid-19th century, had crowns in place of the usual three pellets in each quarter of the reverse.
Patterns are particularly identifiable and exist in larger numbers from the reign of Elizabeth I
Elizabeth I was queen regnant of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death. Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana, or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty...
onwards. The experimental base metal issues of all coinage prior to the mid-18th century have been well preserved.
Boulton's mint in Soho
Soho Mint was created by Matthew Boulton in 1788 in his Soho Manufactory in Handsworth, West Midlands, England. A mint was erected at the manufactory containing eight machines, driven by steam engine, each capable of striking 70 to 84 coins per minute....
produced prodigious quantities of patterns, which were supplemented by Taylor some fifty or so years later from the same dies.
A die is a specialized tool used in manufacturing industries to cut or shape material using a press. Like molds, dies are generally customized to the item they are used to create...
Early United States patterns
After the Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence was a statement adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American colonies then at war with Great Britain regarded themselves as independent states, and no longer a part of the British Empire. John Adams put forth a...
was signed on July 4, 1776, discussion arose over what sort of currency
In economics, currency refers to a generally accepted medium of exchange. These are usually the coins and banknotes of a particular government, which comprise the physical aspects of a nation's money supply...
should be adopted in the United States. During the next 16 years, a variety of different coin designs from over the world were common. In this period, a relatively large amount of different pattern coins were created, proposed for use in the newly found states. However, none of these designs were used by the general public.
In 1792 the United States Mint
The United States Mint primarily produces circulating coinage for the United States to conduct its trade and commerce. The Mint was created by Congress with the Coinage Act of 1792, and placed within the Department of State...
opened in Philadelphia. In that year several more patterns were created, including the half dime
The half dime, or half disme, was a silver coin, valued at five cents, formerly minted in the United States.Some numismatists consider the denomination to be the first coin minted by the United States Mint under the Coinage Act of 1792, with production beginning on or about July 1792...
, then known as a "half disme". It is believed that ca. 1,500 pieces were struck as patterns, and that these patterns themselves entered circulation during the next decade.
Over the next 40 years, more patterns were created but there is little information currently known about these pieces. Technically, these coins were not patterns but rather off-metal strikes, with the coins struck in a different metal than those destined for general use in circulation. An example is an 1807 Half Eagle, or five dollar gold piece struck in copper.
Mid-19th century United States patterns
Starting in 1836, more patterns were created by the United States Mint in Philadelphia. These consisted of several types of patterns, which can be grouped into the following categories:
- Real pattern coins for proposed coinage
- Off-Metal Strikes
- Transitional Pieces
- Fantasy Pieces
Transitional pieces are patterns dated before coins with the new design officially went into circulation. These were often produced during final stage of the pattern process, used to present the newly-adopted design to the public. One famous example is the 1856 Flying Eagle cent
The Flying Eagle cent is a United States coin that was minted from 1856 to 1858. The coin was designed by James B. Longacre. The Flying Eagle was the first small-sized cent coin minted in the US, replacing the earlier large cent. The obverse of the coin depicts an eagle in flight, a unique subject...
, although that coin has been commonly and incorrectly believed to be regular issue due to its high mintage for collectors.
Fantasy pieces include many struck in the 1860s and 1870s as patterns and sold to numismatists for the sole purpose of raising cash for the mint. This practice ended in the 1880s.
From time to time the U.S. Mint experiments with new coinage, such as when silver
Silver is a metallic chemical element with the chemical symbol Ag and atomic number 47. A soft, white, lustrous transition metal, it has the highest electrical conductivity of any element and the highest thermal conductivity of any metal...
was removed. At that time the practice of using dies with Martha Washington
Martha Dandridge Custis Washington was the wife of George Washington, the first president of the United States. Although the title was not coined until after her death, Martha Washington is considered to be the first First Lady of the United States...
for trial strikings began, since they would not be confused with "real" circulating money. Because they do not resemble money, no restrictions exist on the sale of Martha Washington pieces. Mint-produced modern patterns are very rare, with only a few pieces existing in private collections. The United States mint has placed restrictions on the sale of modern patterns that do resemble coins, such as the 1974 Aluminum Cent. At this time, such coins are bought and sold only on the black market, as it is considered illegal to remove them from the Mint.
One of the most expansive collections of American pattern coins is the Harry W. Bass collection, housed at the ANA Money Museum in Colorado Springs, Colorado
Colorado Springs is a Home Rule Municipality that is the county seat and most populous city of El Paso County, Colorado, United States. Colorado Springs is located in South-Central Colorado, in the southern portion of the state. It is situated on Fountain Creek and is located south of the Colorado...
Pattern coins of France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...
and of French-speaking countries such as Monaco
Monaco , officially the Principality of Monaco , is a sovereign city state on the French Riviera. It is bordered on three sides by its neighbour, France, and its centre is about from Italy. Its area is with a population of 35,986 as of 2011 and is the most densely populated country in the...
are described by the French term essai
. The essai coins of New Hebrides
New Hebrides was the colonial name for an island group in the South Pacific that now forms the nation of Vanuatu. The New Hebrides were colonized by both the British and French in the 18th century shortly after Captain James Cook visited the islands...
are of interest to collectors of British Commonwealth coinage, as New Hebrides gained independence in 1980 as the Republic of Vanuatu
Vanuatu , officially the Republic of Vanuatu , is an island nation located in the South Pacific Ocean. The archipelago, which is of volcanic origin, is some east of northern Australia, northeast of New Caledonia, west of Fiji, and southeast of the Solomon Islands, near New Guinea.Vanuatu was...
The word essai
is found inscribed on the pattern coins of Namibia
Namibia, officially the Republic of Namibia , is a country in southern Africa whose western border is the Atlantic Ocean. It shares land borders with Angola and Zambia to the north, Botswana to the east and South Africa to the south and east. It gained independence from South Africa on 21 March...
along with the German word probe