Error in Circular Messed Up 1891 Silver Coin Design Competition

04 Nov 2017  Sat

The US Mint had conducted a public coin design competition and had invited 10 well-known artists to participate in it. Only 10 days before the date of competition, 1st June, the invited artists went against the terms of the competition, which included remuneration of $500 for each accepted design, up to all five requested. The public submissions were rejected and invited artists boycotted the event.

The $500 figure was a “typo” in the circular caused by the Mint director’s office. A copy of the proposed circular that was submitted to Treasury Secretary Foster on 4th April 1891 stated: “An award not to exceed five hundred dollars ($500) will be made for each design accepted.” Leech’s cover letter to Foster contradictorily stated “… the best method of obtaining suitable and artistic designs would be to offer a reward of say five thousand dollars ($5000) for each design accepted, five in all.”

Leech intended to offer “$5,000” for each accepted design. A zero in the amount was removed mistakenly and “$500” was printed in the circular before being distributed. If Leech intended to pay $5,000 per accepted design, skilled artists would have participated in the contest. Instead of Charles Barber’s crowded designs, the silver coins of 1892 might have had interesting designs.