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1900

Mintage: 36,026


Many Interesting facts:

1) The 1900-dated Lafayette silver dollar represents the first United States commemorative coin of that denomination and the only silver dollar commemorative to be minted until decades later in the 1980s.

2) Interestingly, from an official viewpoint the “1900” designation appearing on the Lafayette dollar is not the official date of the coin. The coin has no official date. 

3) This is the first time Washington's portrait actually appeared on a coin that achieved public distribution.

4) The denomination of the coin appears as LAFAYETTE DOLLAR, rather than the standard ONE DOLLAR used before and since.

    In 1899 the Lafayette Memorial Commission sought to raise funds to erect in Paris in 1900 (in connection with the Universal Exposition to be held there) a statue of General Lafayette on horseback, to be sculpted by Paul Wayland Bartlett. This was to be a gift of the American people to honor the Frenchman who in 1777, when he was not quite 20 years old, risked his life and fortune when he paid for French troops to come with him to America to aid the colonists. Although he was wounded in the Battle of Brandywine, Lafayette, who received the designation major general, served until the end of the war. In 1824 the French hero of the American Revolution visited the United States once again, was given a grand welcome, toured all 24 states, and was designated by Congress as “the nation’s guest.” The relationship between America and France has been close ever since that time, as evidenced, among other things, by France’s gift to America of the Statue of Liberty, dedicated in 1886.


    In early 1899 the Commission petitioned Congress for an appropriation to coin 100,000 commemorative half dollars. It was intended that the coins be sold for $2 each to the public. In 1899 schoolchildren all over the United States engaged in fundraising to the sum of $50,000 needed to create the statue and present it to France in time for the unveiling in connection with the 1900 Paris Exposition.


    A problem arose concerning the dating of the Lafayette silver dollar, for the Lafayette Memorial Commission desired that the pieces be struck as early as possible in the year 1899, but bear the date 1900 to coincide with the date of the Paris Exposition. Mint practice did not permit the antedating of a coin, so the issue was circumvented by placing on the reverse an inscription which read as follows: ERECTED BY THE YOUTH OF THE UNITED STATES IN HONOR OF GEN. LAFAYETTE / PARIS 1900. Actually this legend referred to the date the statue was erected, not to the striking of the coins, so it can said that the coins themselves bore no date, a curious footnote in American numismatics.

    Striking of all of the Lafayette dollars was accomplished in one day, on December 14, 1899, at the Philadelphia Mint, utilizing an old press which spewed out the pieces at the rate of 80 per minute, equal to 4,800 coins per hour. After striking, Lafayette dollars were mechanically ejected into a hopper. No care was given to preserving the surface quality for collectors. As a result, specimens with pristine surfaces are very elusive today.

    Relatively few Lafayette silver dollars were sold to coin collectors and within a year or two, examples were available on the market for less than the $2 issue price. Over a period of time approximately 36,000 Lafayette dollars were distributed. It is believed that some of the pieces were released into circulation at face value, and it is a certainty that many who acquired them at a $2 premium subsequently tired of them and simply spent the pieces, for today it is not unusual to see examples in grades such as Extremely Fine and AU. The unsold remainder, amounting to 14,000 coins, went to the Treasury Building in Washington, D.C., where unknown to collectors the pieces were stored in cloth bags of 1,000 each. In the meantime Lafayette dollars had become desirable numismatic items.
    In 1945 the Treasury Department melted these unsold pieces into silver bullion, not realizing that the coins could have been sold at 10 times face value or more. Aubrey and Adeline Bebee, dealers who specialized in commemoratives, learned of the cache from government records, but, upon contacting the Treasury Department, found that their inquiry did not come in time to save their destruction.




    Obverse:
    The obverse depicts overlapping profiles of George Washington and Lafayette.
    Reverse: The reverse depicts an early (later the right arm was modified) prototype of the Lafayette statue.

    Overall: Lafayette dollars are fairly plentiful today. The majority of specimens encountered are apt to grade from AU-50 to MS-60. Cleaned and polished coins are common. MS-63 and finer examples are very elusive, and pristine MS-65 coins are rare and highly prized. In face, of all silver commemoratives, the Lafayette dollar in higher Mint State levels is one of the most elusive. GRADING SUMMARY: As noted in the preceding commentary, no care was taken at the time of striking to create or preserve carefully pieces for collectors, and most Lafayette dollars showed planchet contact marks particularly at the centers of both sides, before they left the Mint.

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