Long Beard's Blog

09 Apr 2021

A Nation Divided

Coins-United States | Long Beard

On this date, 156 years ago, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia. The subject of this weeks blog looks at the 1995 U.S. Mint's Civil War Battlefield Proof Set, rather than the war it's self. Consideration of the state of our current union, it has been extremely difficult to write a blog in a way remaining neutral while refraining from an equally sensitive topic. Even though this is one in which someday we must face and discuss reasonably with open minds. However, this is not that time nor the place. So I ask in advance that should you chose to comment, please respect this and those who read or reply. As always, Enjoy!

In the mid-nineteen eighties the United States Mint began releasing annual sets titled Prestige Proof which in the author's opinion were the best type of offering available for collectors to date, with an exception made for the 1995 Civil War Battlefields commemorative sets. While there were several options for the program, from individual to multi-coin sets, two were released in a special "Union case" option. The two-coin, the author's pictured, and a three-coin set which contained the ten dollar gold version. Measuring 3.25 x 3.75 inches and 1 inch thick, these tiny plastic cases rival the much larger Prestige in sheer beauty. The ornate covers feature the reverse reproduction of a Ten Dollar Coronet Eagle, which were struck during the War Between the States, bearing the New Orleans mint mark. Opening the hinged book-like case, removing the enclosed photographic booklet, a silver dollar and half dollar radiate brilliantly against a sea of deep green velvet. (the tiny specks as seen are on the capsules, not the coins themselves). To be certain that three-coin is on the list, waiting on the right look for the right price. The total sales of these were 30,398 while the three-coin had an anemic 279! If ever there was a set which could truly be termed rare, this is the one.

With the technical discussion out of the way, and again with much thought behind a relevant historical topic, we'll look at the dagurreotype case. Or union case as it would later be dubbed. The origin of the case, in all it's forms and designs is vague yet in existence long before 1860. With the advent of photograph in 1839, early tin-types were extremely prone to scratching and damage. It wouldn't be until the early 1850's that there use as trinket boxes served a new purpose. Prior to this there two types of cases, one consisting of a wooden frame with hard backing cardboard ends covered in embossed paper or leather and the other novelty types consisting of innovative production processes. While a third, new type, like the exact replica for the proof set, arose in 1854 made of thermoplastic. Plastic was not a new invention, the natural type made from gutta percha trees (yes that's a real thing) found near the equator had been used for many years in various products. It would be photographer Samuel Peck, who used powdered saw dust and shellac to create a new plastic. The thick, shapaable product almost rubber in consistency was first dyed, then pulled through heated rollers forming sheets much harder plastic. These were next placed into molds or dies under pressure to create the desired finished product. Each half was then attached with a hinge to a wooden frame. The end result was a much more durable case than the old wood and hard board types. Although the name by which they are now known was not used, a patent was issued for his design. And while there is no record of it's origin, some claim fro the joining of the parts- or "union" to there use by the federal union. Cases are known from the Spanish American War, yet still, with soldiers carrying them into battle would make for a stronger belief. None the less, S. Peck Company never trademarked the term only claiming through advertisement that his was the "sole manufacturer of union cases.". And there were many companies producing these. For collectors of union cases this becomes a challenge as few were marked as to who produced them. As to the cases themselves, black or brown were the most common with colored versions available and rare today.

Eventually, by 1870, the union case all but faded from use as photography advanced. Today, there is a strong market for these little time capsules of the past, ranging from thirty dollars to thousands. For the United States Mint to have arrived at revising them was a brilliant move in representing that horrible and dark period of American history.



Level 5

I ditto SUN. The Civil War era was an... interesting time period, and I hope we never forget the things that happened there. If we do, I fear a repeat of history.


Level 6

Enjoyed the blog. I Civil War era is one of my interests

It's Mokie

Level 6

Beautiful collection LB, thanks for sharing with us.


Level 5

Nice coins. Wish i had the same ones. Nice blog. thanks


Level 7

I have the silver not the gold. They were beautiful sets. As usual a great blog. You get me with the history. The good coin is absolutely beutiful. It was an excellent read. Thanks for your work and your reaserch. These are the blogs I enjoy very much . Thanks.

Long Beard

Level 5

The three-coin gold is close to being in my collection, at around $560.000 the overall quality is a bit low for my eye. There are better which I'd gladly pay a slight premium.


Level 6

Really interesting blog and subject! I love this collection...your photos are wonderful!

Long Beard

Level 5

My attention to details are lacking when it comes to background!


Level 6

Those coins and case are amazing! I like all three but that Eagle is fantastic. I am a huge fan of "O" mintmark coins. The silver ones seem to tone in beautiful colors. I never knew a thing on the union cases. Totally cool. Thanks for bringing a new thing to collect to my attention. I think. Nicely done!

Long Beard

Level 5

Of the several mints, New Orleans will always be number one with me.

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