This was the first One Dollar Commemorative coin issued by the U.S. Mint and the first to bear the portrait of a U.S. President (George Washington). Another first in U.S. coinage is the fact that it is the first coin to bear the image of the same person on both the obverse and reverse (Lafayette).
Congress authorized the minting of coins on March 3, 1899, as part of the United States participation in the 1900 Paris Exposition, and in commemoration of the centennial of Washington's death. Proceeds from the sale of the coins (they were sold at $2 a piece) were used to help pay some of the costs associated with the creation of a statue of Lafayette.
Both the obverse & reverse were designed by Charles E. Barber. The obverse features the busts of George Washington & Marquis de Lafayette facing right. The design is known as a conjoined portrait. A conjoined portrait is when two busts designs are overlapping and facing the same direction. This may also be referred to as an accolated or jugate design.
The statue shown on the reverse was made to replicate the plaster model for the proposed bronze statue, which in 1908 was placed in the Place du Carrousel, adjacent to the Louvre in Paris, France. Several design changes were made before the statue was actually completed, so the statue shown on the coin is not an exact match to the real statue as was intended.
On the outer periphery of the reverse are the words "ERECTED BY THE YOUTH OF THE UNITED STATES IN HONOR OF GEN LAFAYETTE". The words were in respect to school children from all over the United States who contributed to the Lafayette Monument Fund and raising nearly $50,000. Additionally, on the lower outer periphery are the words "PARIS 1900" which refers to the Paris Exposition.
A Tale of Two Dates
Although the date "1900" appears as part of the inscription, the coin was actually minted in 1899. Treasury officials side-stepped regulations which prohibited using a date other than the date of coinage by declaring that “1900″ was part of the legend and referred only to the year of the Paris Exposition. Technically, this coin is not dated."
Reverse Design Varieties
A total of only three obverse and four reverse dies were used, resulting in only 5 known die variety combinations for the entire mintage. The most common varieties pursued by collectors are:
- Type A reverse - Tip of lowest leaf over 1 of 1900 and 14 leaves on branch. Long stem pointing down towards the last 0 of 1900.
- Type B Reverse - Tip of lowest leaf between 1 and 9 of 1900 and 14 leaves on branch. Medium length stem almost straight curving slightly downward. (pictured)
- Type C Reverse - Tip of lowest leaf over 9 of 1900 and leaves lie flat against the stem 14 leaves on branch. Short stubby stem curved down.
- Type D reverse - Tip of lowest leaf is over 9 of 1900 and lower leaves spread apart from the stem. 15 leaves on branch. Stem curved slightly upward
General Market Notes
Though 50,000 coins were struck only 36,026 were issued with the remainder being melted down at a later time. Compared to modern commemorative mintages this coin screams undervalued!