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Image of Pewter Continental Dollar, 1776
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Materials: Pewter
Measurement: Dia. 39.6 mm; Wt. 15.981 g
Source: Unknown
Note: man 2-C; Breen 1092

Pewter Continental Dollar, 1776

The Continental Dollar was the first pattern struck for the United States of America. Most specimens were minted in pewter, but also known are three in silver and a dozen or so in brass. It is thought that the distinctive designs were suggested by Benjamin Franklin. The reverse design, featuring linked rings, was a plea for insurgent unity, something that the philosopher-scientist constantly brought to people's attention.

The obverse sundial motif with its Latin motto ("Fugio") is also characteristic of Franklin. The design is a rebus, and its component parts may be read as "time flies, so mind your business." This and other pewter specimens were apparently struck for the inspection of members of Congress, who would have to pass enabling legislation before the coinage could proceed.

Elisha Gallaudet, a New York engraver, was the person responsible for translating Franklin's concepts into metal. It is thought that he struck the coins at a makeshift private mint in Freehold, New Jersey. Earlier issues of Continental currency had included a bill worth a dollar. This practice was suspended in the spring of 1776, apparently because the Congress intended for a new, one-dollar coin to take its place.

Based on the Spanish-American piece of eight, the new Continental dollar was to serve as the linchpin of the entire monetary arrangement. The plan failed. The patriots were unable to obtain sufficient silver for the coinage, and by the time the enabling legislation had been passed, the value of Continental currency had begun its descent, emerging as almost worthless only a few years later. Tying a bullion coin to a depreciating currency was obviously a mistake.
Related Events
1773: Colonial opposition to British taxes leads to Boston "Tea Party," where 342 chests of British tea are destroyed.
1775: The Revolutionary War begins.
1776: Americans issue their Declaration of Independence.
1781: British General Cornwallis surrenders to George Washington at Yorktown, Virginia, effectively ending the American Revolution.
1783: Great Britain and the United States sign a treaty granting U.S. independence
Legendary Firsts The following objects are in this section.
Massachusetts Pine Tree Shilling, "1652" (struck 1667-1674)First United States Silver Dollar, 1794Great Britain, Sovereign, 1838
Massachusetts, "twenty shillings," 1690Brasher Doubloon, 1787United States, 5 Dollars, 1838
Pewter Continental Dollar, 1776United States, 20 Dollars, 1854United States, 10 Dollars, 1838
Copper Pattern Dollar, 1794Portrait Medal of James Smithson, 1817 
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