Dr. Sol Taylor

Platinum: Rare Metal Rarely Used in U.S. Coins

1814 Pattern 50c, Platinum
J. Hewitt Judd's own platinum pattern 1814 half dollar. Photo: Briggs Ventures
By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
Saturday, September 13, 2008

merica has been using the rare metal platinum for investor bullion coinage since 1997.
    In addition to the silver and gold eagles, the U.S. Mint produces small numbers of platinum eagles in four sizes (denominations): one ounce, half ounce, quarter ounce and one tenth ounce.  Before that, the use of platinum was very limited in United States coinage.
    In 2000, the Mint created a novel platinum and gold bimetallic $10 gold coin honoring the Library of Congress. This unusual design included a platinum insert and a gold collar ring.
    Going all the way back to 1814, the U.S. Mint experimented with platinum as a substitute for silver. Three known experimental pieces were struck using the dies for the regular 1814 half dollar.  One piece was counterstamped 33 times with an invetred letter "P" and engraved on the reverse "pla/tina" above the eagle. The counterstamps and engraving were done after 1814.
    This piece has gone through the collections of several well known numismatists including Virgil Brand and Dr. J. Hewitt Judd (of pattern coin book fame). It was sold at a Bowers and Merena auction in 2002 for $50,600. It was part of the collection of Russell J. Logan.
    The second known example is now in the Smithsonian Numismatic Collection. It was acquired in 1920 and has a small edge chip removed for analysis.
    The third specimen was last known in the collection of Nick Parker and was sold in a Pine Tree auction held in 1974. Its present location or ownership is unknown, according to Coin World’s Paul Gilkes, who wrote a story about the coins in November 2007.
    In the 1880s, the Mint made a few experimental pieces for Hawaiian coinage using platinum. The pieces included an 1883 eighth dollar (12.5 cents), an 1884 quarter dollar, and an 1884 half dollar. The number made and current ownership are unknown.
    Because platinum is  more valuable than gold, it would be impractical for any country to use it for coinage. A few countries issued platinum coins in the 19th Century when the difference in value between gold and platinum was not that great. Imperial Russia is known to have minted several high-denomination platinum coins.