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So-called Dollar

So-called Dollar.  Originally political medals struck in silver similar to a United States silver dollar including such items as Bryant dollars (1896, 1900) and Lesher or Referendum dollars (1900–1901). Later the term was corrupted to include any medal similar in size and relief – but not necessarily similar in composition – to the U.S. silver dollar (1 1/2-inch or 38mm) or gold dollar (14mm). The term is similar in concept to a German word, gedenkthaler, a coin-like medal in similitude to the large silver coins of three or five-mark denomination, and to the French word, jetton, for a small, coin-size medal. True so-called dollars are indeed coin-medals, struck on a coining press, utilizing equipment normally used for striking large coins: upsetting (rimming) machines, blanking dies, collars and such.

There was no problem utilizing exact diameters of existing coins when these

medals were issued for the U.S. centennial of 1876 and for the Columbian Exposition of 1892-93, nor for the political medals of 1896-1901. Silver dollar-size vending machines and turnstiles did not exist at that time but with the rise of this industry in the 20th century, slug laws were enacted to prohibit the manufacture of coin-like pieces that would work in these machines.

These problems were noted as early as 1904 when the round Louisiana Purchase Exposition coin of admission (HK 305) was replaced by the octagonal varieties (HK 306 and 307). The round variety was too similar to a silver dollar. Later, in 1939, the Manufacturers Trust Company, a bank which obtained the contract to issue the official medal of the 1939-40 New York World's Fair, changed from its original intention for a round medal to an oval one (HK 491) just because of their concern with these slug laws.

The term “so-called dollar” is not precise and current usage has further corrupted it to include a wide variety of medals from 33 to 45mm diameter (including commercial, fair and exposition pieces, and others). To clarify the term, it should be employed to include only those medals of the above-mentioned diameters struck in a coining press, and exclude art medals of any size.  See coin-medal, souvenir medal, commemorative medal, gedenkthaler, jetton.


O16 {1963} Hibler and Kappen

excerpted with permission from

An Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Technology

For Artists, Makers, Collectors and Curators


Roger W. Burdette, Editor

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