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November 19, 2011

1866/1908: What happened to “In God We Trust”?
By Mike Sussman

Believe it or not we live in a God fearing country. I have proof. God is mentioned on all of our country’s coinage. But it hasn’t always been that way. Weren’t the founding fathers God fearing men? Weren’t Washington and Jefferson believers? When did God first appear on our coins and why?

The founding fathers believed in God; however, they did not feel that it was the government’s obligation to mention God on our coinage. They probably felt that the new government should not involve itself in matters of religion. The First Amendment says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This Amendment prevents the government from establishing a religion, and it prohibits government aid to any religion. It also protects the right of an individual to choose to worship or not worship as he or she sees fit.

In matters of coinage the precepts in the First Amendment meant that the word God would not appear on a coin. From the earliest federal issues in 1793 until 1863, God was not included on our coinage. Then in 1864 the motto IN GOD WE TRUST appeared on the new two cent coins.

The motto was added at the behest of the Reverend Mark Richards Watkinson of Ridleyville, PA. He wrote a letter to Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon P. Chase in 1861 promoting the idea. After many suggestions such as “Our Trust is God,” Our God And Our Country,” “God Our Trust,” Chase picked “In God We Trust” to be used on some of our coins.

The curious thing is that for a couple of different reasons three denominations of gold coins were struck with and without the motto in the same years. The first group was the 1866 half eagle, eagle, and double eagle. These coins were struck with motto in Philadelphia and later in San Francisco.

However, the earlier San Francisco coins were struck without the motto because the new dies had not arrived, and it was feared that production numbers would be insufficient for the year. The same is true for the eagle and double eagle. So these coins were struck without the motto because of geography.

The second instance of with and without motto gold coins took place in 1908. President Theodore Roosevelt, a religious man, felt that the motto should not be on our coins. In fact, he felt it was blasphemous because of the venial uses of coinage such as gambling, drinking, prostitution, and so forth. The beautiful designs of Augustus Saint-Gaudens for the eagle and double eagle did not mention God in their original form.

However, Congress and the general public disagreed. (This situation is not unlike what happened by accident one hundred years later when the edge lettered motto on the presidential series was left off thousands of dollar coins in 2007. Of course error collectors and roll searchers were delighted. However, there was uproar in the numismatic and popular press. God was left off the dollar. The dollar was godless! After much discussion, the coins were modified to include the motto under and to the left of the president’s portrait.) In 1908, Congress ordered that all coins large enough to accommodate the motto should have it added. These coins were struck with the motto because of public sentiment.

So what we have is a group of gold coins with and without the motto “In God We Trust” in two different years using two different design types. The first is the Liberty Head motif designed by Christian Gobrecht. This group consists of the 1866 half eagle, eagle, and double eagle. All three denominations were issued in Philadelphia and San Francisco with the motto, and all three were also minted in San Francisco without the motto. In 1908, for different reasons, the Saint-Gaudens-Barber eagle and double eagle were issued with and without the motto. Both denominations were issued in Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco with the motto, and both were issued in Philadelphia and Denver without the motto.

A set of with and without motto gold coins from these two years would contain nine coins from 1866 and ten from 1908. Wouldn’t that be an interesting and historic collection!

Mike can be reached at mikesussman@usrarecoininvestments.com or call us at 1-800-624-1870.

Some really neat Newps from Baltimore as well as from a collection that's been off the market for many years already being added to the website and new newps will be added almost on a daily basis . Please check back often!

Happy Hunting

Tom Pilitowski
Toll Free:
Email: TomPilitowski@yahoo.com


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