The Liberty Bell: An Apt Symbol for American Coinage

whitechapel

Updated 12/29/16 at 10 a.m. to correct a typo.—Editor

On December 1, 2016, the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London, U.K., issued the following press release:

1st December 2016

Whitechapel Bell Foundry Ltd announces, with regret, that by May 2017 it will cease its activities at the Whitechapel Road site that it has occupied since its move there in 1738.

The company intends to complete work on all projects presently in hand during the coming months. It will not be entering into new contracts for the time being whilst discussions with the company’s staff and other interested parties regarding the future direction, ownership, and location of the company are ongoing.

The announcement is significant to the British, of course, since the foundry—first established in 1570, during the reign of Elizabeth I—is the oldest manufacturing business in the United Kingdom. But it has significance for Americans, too, including numismatists, as the Whitechapel Bell Foundry was the source of an enduring symbol of American independence: the Liberty Bell.

Appearing on the reverses of commemorative and circulating coins alike, the Liberty Bell was ordered from the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in 1751. Measuring 12 feet in circumference and weighing more than a ton, it was intended to hang in the belfry of the Philadelphia State House. An inscription was requested for the crown, to encircle it in two lines of text:

PROCLAIM LIBERTY THROUGHOUT ALL THE LAND UNTO ALL THE INHABITANTS THEREOF LEV. XXVVSX
BY ORDER OF THE ASSEMBLY OF THE PROVINCE OF PENSYLVANIA [sic] FOR THE STATE HOUSE IN PHILAD.

(The opening line is from Leviticus 25:10, which ordained a “jubilee year”—that is, every 50 years, all leased or mortgaged lands were to be returned to their owners, and all slaves were to be freed.)

The massive bell was delivered in 1752, and was immediately hung up to be tested. One can imagine the dismay of the onlookers when the clapper struck the rim and the bell promptly cracked.

The ship that had delivered the bell was unable to take the it aboard for the return trip, so the city hired two local metalworkers, John Pass and John Stow, to recast it. The standard bronze alloy for bells was about 77% copper, with the balance tin; the more tin, the nicer the sound, but the more brittle the bell. According to the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, “Good bell metal is extremely brittle: metal up to 1″ in thickness can be broken in the palm of the hand by a sharp tap with a 2 lb. hammer. If a bell is struck and not allowed to ring freely, because either the clapper or some part of the frame or fittings are in contact with the bell, then a crack can very easily develop.”

Pass and Stow made a cast of the Whitechapel bell, adding their own inscription—PASS AND STOW / PHILAD / MDCCLIII—below the original. They then melted the 2,000 pounds of bronze, added a bit more copper (1.5 ounces for each original pound of metal) to strengthen it, and recast the bell. When struck, the new bell sounded poorly, so Pass and Snow once again melted the bell, this time adding 0.25% silver.

The Liberty Bell in Philadelphia

The famous crack in the bell—and the “Pass and Stow” mark. (Wikimedia Commons photo)

The new bell, which had an improved (if not particularly lovely) sound, was hung in the State House. Its destiny as a symbol of a great, independent nation was unknown; its functions were to call lawmakers to their meetings, and to announce to the townspeople that it was time to gather, if they pleased, to hear the news read. (Benjamin Franklin concluded one 1755 letter with “Adieu, the Bell rings, and I must go among the Grave ones and talk Politicks.”)

Nearly a quarter-century later, as the British approached Philadelphia in 1777, the bell was moved over jolting roads to Allentown for temporary safekeeping. The metal, which is now known to contain myriad impurities and air bubbles that weakened the integrity of the bronze, was undoubtedly stressed by the trip, and the giant bell was reportedly dropped at least once. An invisible fatigue crack may have begun at that time or in subsequent years; in any case, in 1835, the bell cracked massively. A repair was attempted in 1846, but when the bell was subsequently rung on Washington’s birthday, February 23, the crack widened. After that, the bell was no longer rung, although it was occasionally tapped with a mallet on auspicious occasions.

In 1945, the Whitechapel Bell Foundry offered to melt down and recast the bell so it could be rung properly, but the offer was politely declined by the United States. The crack itself encapsulates the bell’s history, and with it the history of the country. Although it’s unlikely that anyone mentioned the Japanese art of kintsugi at the time, preserving the bell’s flaw resembles that practice, whereby the breaks in repaired pottery are highlighted with gold rather than concealed. The damage becomes a treasured part of the object’s history.

From an Object to a Symbol

The “Liberty Bell” moniker was first applied in 1835 in the Anti-Slavery Record, and as the years passed, the bell slowly accrued its status as a national symbol. In 1926, the Liberty Bell made its debut appearance on American coinage, gracing the back of the Sesquicentennial of American Independence centennial half dollar. The coin was modeled by John R. Sinnock, chief engraver of the U.S. Mint, working from sketches by Philadelphia arts patron and numismatist John Frederick Lewis (who also served as president of the Sesquicentennial Exhibition Association). A little over 141,000 of the commemorative coins were struck, in circulation quality only, at the Philadelphia Mint.

1926 Sesquicentennial of American Independence half dollar. (Photo courtesy of Stack's Bowers Galleries)

1926 Sesquicentennial of American Independence half dollar. (Photo courtesy of Stack’s Bowers Galleries)

Sinnock later designed the Franklin half dollar, which debuted in 1948. The reverse of the Franklin half bears a near likeness of the Liberty Bell used on the earlier Sesquicentennial coin, but slightly larger in proportion to the diameter. The circulation strikes, struck in 90% silver, were produced at the Philadelphia and Denver Mints  from 1948 through 1963 (excluding 1955 and 1956 for Denver), and at the San Francisco Mint in 1949 and 1951–1954. Proofs began to be struck in Philadelphia in 1950 and continued for the duration of the series, which was supplanted by the Kennedy design in 1964.

Franklin half dollar. (Photo courtesy of Stack's Bowers Galleries)

Franklin half dollar. (Photo courtesy of Stack’s Bowers Galleries)

The Liberty Bell made its return to U.S. coinage on the reverse of the dual-dated 1776–1976 Bicentennial silver dollars. The Bicentennial coinage designs were chosen in an open contest, in a process familiar to followers of modern U.S. Mint practices. The silver dollar’s chosen reverse, designed by Dennis R. Williams, features the Liberty Bell superimposed over the face of the Moon. (The Moon was a natural choice for the Eisenhower dollar, which, during all other years, depicted a likeness of the Apollo 11 mission patch, in celebration of the Moon landing.)

Eisenhower Bicentennial silver dollar. (Photo courtesy of the United States Mint)

Eisenhower Bicentennial silver dollar. (Photo courtesy of the United States Mint)

The dual-dated Bicentennial dollars were produced for two years, 1975 and 1976. During the early part of 1975, the reverse design was in comparatively low relief, and the typeface in the legend was thick and bold. The dies were soon modified to sharpen the design and refine the lettering. The resulting coins are now described as Variety 1 and Variety 2. While the Variety 1 dies were in use, the coins were issued in a copper-nickel-clad composition from the Philadelphia and Denver Mints (circulation strikes) and the San Francisco Mint (Proofs). The Variety 1 dies were also used for silver-clad coins, both circulating and Proof, struck at the San Francisco Mint. The Variety 2 dies were used for copper-nickel-clad circulating coins from Philadelphia and Denver, and copper-nickel-clad Proofs from San Francisco. One, lone silver-clad Proof from the Variety 2 dies, struck at Philadelphia, is known to exist.

Although its use on coinage has been limited to those three issues, the Liberty Bell has also appeared on scores of privately struck silver rounds, and has even been depicted on coins from other countries (usually struck to appeal to American collectors).

The Liberty Bell and the Modern United States

In many ways, the Liberty Bell is a more accurate symbol of the United States than the eagle or the American flag. A product of the “old country,” it traveled by ship to the American colonies, where it was re-created again and again—due both to necessity, after it first cracked, and to a desire to make it better than it was before. Each reworking brought in new materials, new qualities. The result was never perfect, but its imperfection became a part of its great identity.

Whitechapel’s Liberty Bell page concludes with a mixed sense of humor and pride:

The Whitechapel Foundry’s connection with the Liberty Bell was reestablished in 1976, the year of the US Bicentennial. First, there was a group of about thirty or so ‘demonstrators’ from the Procrastinators Society of America who mounted a mock protest over the bell’s defects and who marched up and down outside the Foundry with placards proclaiming WE GOT A LEMON and WHAT ABOUT THE WARRANTY? We told them we would be happy to replace the bell—as long as it was returned to us in its original packaging. Concurrently (i.e., from about 1968 to 1976) we also produced around 15 full-size, 2,400 one-fifth size, and 200 one-ninth size replicas of the bell for the Boston-based Limited Editions Collectors Society of America Inc. Finally, and most pleasingly, Whitechapel was also commissioned to cast the 12,446 lb. Bicentennial Bell that year, which now resides in Philadelphia with its illustrious predecessor and which bears the inscription:

FOR THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
FROM THE PEOPLE OF BRITAIN
4 JULY 1976
LET FREEDOM RING

In 2001, the 250th anniversary of the casting of the original, Whitechapel was commissioned to cast a replica of the Liberty Bell. The connection continues.

Mint News Blog wishes all the best for the Whitechapel owners and employees, wherever the future takes them.   ❑


A few random facts:

  • For many years, a rumor persisted that the designer John Sinnock’s initials, JS (as placed on the Roosevelt dime), stood for “Joseph Stalin.”
  • The Sesquicentennial half dollar’s obverse depicts jugate busts of Washington and Calvin Coolidge—the latter is the only president to appear on a U.S. coin during his own lifetime.
  • The Sesquicentennial commemorative is also the first U.S. coin to bear private advertising, as it includes the “Pass and Stow” inscription.
  • According to Wikipedia, the Mercury spacecraft that astronaut Gus Grissom flew on July 21, 1961, was dubbed Liberty Bell 7. Mercury capsules were somewhat bell-shaped, and a crack was painted on this one to mimic that on the original bell. Liberty Bell 7 became the only Mercury capsule to suffer an integrity failure.

Resources

After Nearly 500 Years in Business, the Company that Cast the Liberty Bell Is Ceasing All Operations.” Smithsonian.com.

The Liberty Bell.” National Park Service.

The Advertising Half Dollar.” N.O.W. News, January 4, 2012, pp. 23-24. (Reprinted from American Heritage). Accessed via the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University.

Liberty Bell.” Wikipedia.

The Story of the Liberty Bell.” Whitechapel Bell Foundry.

The Sabbath Year and the Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25).” Theology of Work Project.


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Comments

  1. Artie43 says

    We probably will not know until the final audited numbers years from now. As I recall from previous years( and correct me if I”m wrong) the mint will not update the sales numbers of the last chance items again.

  2. So Krates says

    @ data dave/ Dustyroads/ Old Big Bird and anyone else with an opinion – Without considering the 2016 set, now that we know the 2015 silver proof set’s unaudited mintage is lower than 2012, what are your price predictions for the ’15s? Thanks

  3. Joe says

    Oh,No. I will return mine. Robinson is still the King.

    one fine dime says
    JANUARY 3, 2017 AT 4:56 PM

    16CB 2016 NATIONAL PARK SERVICE GOLD UNC 5,201 + 742

    who thinks at least 27 of these will be returned? that would be less than 4% of those purchased in the last week

  4. Tinto says

    @cagcrisp

    Thanks for posting the numbers.

    Wonder if the NPS gold unc would have gotten such mileage if there wasn’t instantaneous communications (email/internet/blogs/articles) and a ready made place (eBay) for pure speculators and flippers to hawk their purchases and make a quick buck.

  5. Joseph says

    Let me get a 2015 silver set at bay asap before the price goes up
    2015 set is the new KING!

  6. cagcrisp says

    @Tinto, So true on the first part of your statement. There may be Some flippers that make Some money but This Low Mintage Wonder will be a fleeting breed with the percentage of tourists to residents…

  7. Joseph says

    I will return my NPS gold unc. what if the mintage number goes up next week? not going to take that risk.
    hmm… really interesting this year. looks like lot of flippers bought it at the last minutes.

  8. Joseph says

    NPS clad proof and UNC are also the new keys, right?

    16CE 2016 NATIONAL PARK SERVICE CLAD PROOF 40,367
    16CF 2016 NATIONAL PARK SERVICE CLAD UNC 21,335

  9. Dustyroads says

    So Krates, I can only guess the set, especially unaccompanied by a LESPS, has the potential to do as well or greater than the 2012.

  10. mintman says

    Might want to hang on a week or two, separate the men from the boys, you bet 27 or more will be returned.

  11. Brad says

    So Krates,

    Unfortunately, no one will really care about the lower mintage of the 2105 Silver Proof Set. Coins and sets that hang around that long and are taken off sale as a “last chance” item don’t ever seem to get any respect. People will continue to pay through the nose for the 2012 set (which sold out relatively early and by surprise), while despite it’s lower mintage the 2015 set will continue to hang around near issue price for years to come. That’s my prediction, anyway.

  12. Brad says

    That’s 2015 set, obviously! 🙂 None of us will be around in 2105 to see what ANY of this stuff is selling for!

  13. Buzz Killington says

    Interesting situation with the NPS BU golds. It is like a modified prisoner’s dilemma. Return the coin and help others with the lower mintage, or keep it, knowing that if everyone else kept it, it is above the Jackie Robinson mintage, and thus has no immediate flip potential.

    I’m not sure it matters what the final mintage is. These will not bring a premium, in my opinion.

  14. Einbahnstrasse says

    NPS clad unc is a new low by a wide margin (previous low was 38095 for the 5-Star Generals). NPS clad proof has total sales of nearly 55000 (counting those in the 3-coin proof set), so it doesn’t beat out the 5-Star Generals clad proof at 47326.

    The Twain gold proof seems to be the new low for that category, though. The previous low was, again, the 5-Star Generals at 15834.

  15. Hidalgo says

    Concerning the 2015 S Silver Proof Set, 2016 NPS uncirculated gold commemorative coin, and the 2016 NPS uncirculated clad commemorative coin: I do not see much secondary market movement or a surge in buyers purchasing these items at this time. If this trend continues, then demand will be relatively weak and secondary market prices will remain relatively stable.

    Now, if there were a “surprise” sell out, the story would be different….. Buyers would be purchasing coins from secondary markets quickly, driving up prices……

  16. achmed says

    @KML in KY
    Please do that. You will still own 72 for sale. and make a lot of people happy.

  17. cagcrisp says

    Gold AM Fix $1,165.90….

    There were some fixes missed because of Holidays and I don’t know if the mint needs a specific number of fixes or not. According to what I see all we need is $1,150.00 or Above on the PM Fix and we will have a price Increase this afternoon…

  18. data dave says

    My thoughts on the 2015 silver proof set is that it has a better chance for long term appreciation IF the number increases in 2016 and 2017. Even though the 2015 clad set is also at a new low, the 2016 clad set is behind in sales year over year.

    For the silver set, 2016 has sold 356.7K versus 350.4K of the 2015 silver set at the end of last year, so 6K more.

    For the clad set, 2016 has sold 575.2K versus 619.9K of the 2015 clad set at the end of last year, so 44K less. Thus even though the 2015 clad set is also a new low, I think the 2016 clad set will go even lower.

    Silver set sales have dropped over the past ten years, but clad set sales have dropped even faster.

    I don’t mind buying one clad proof set, but I think they offer little chance of appreciation.

  19. Dustyroads says

    Concerning silver proof set sales, silver price was on the unpredictable side during 2012 with large swings in price. Years `13, `14, and `15 saw predictable down trends in PM prices. Silver was up last year until the end of June. I haven’t taken a closer look at the buying habits of purchasers of the silver proof sets, but one could do this by checking sales of the 2015 sets for a following of the silver price trend through 2016, and look for a decrease in purchases after July when the price of silver was in decline.
    Presently, sales of the 2016 silver proof sets are behind, or greater than the 2015 sets, but not far. If silver is not in a steady decline, purchasers of these sets may continue to buy them.

  20. samuel says

    1. Dealers who bought hundreds of the NPS Unc will return 27 of them.
    2. The trend of the silver proof set over the years will put pressure on the secondary market price.

  21. cagcrisp says

    Gold PM Fix was $1,164.25…

    IF you are in the Mint Gold market you have a couple of hours before a Gold price Increase…

  22. bobo says

    Does anyone else think that the mint is taking longer these days to report final audited mintages than in years past? For example, what are the final audited mintages for the first spouse golds after 2011? Were these ever reported?

  23. data dave says

    @bobo – I think the mint is just releasing sales information on a weekly basis now and auditing as they go along. I don’t expect to ever separate audited numbers again.

  24. Old Big Bird says

    The 01/01/2017 posted sales for the 2015 silver proof sets shows 387,460. Assuming the mint is going to hold to it’s word that should be the last of the 2015 silver proof set sales. That would make it 7,983 less than the 2012 silver proof sets sold!!!!!!

  25. Old Big Bird says

    Interesting sales numbers for 2015 sets verses 2012 sets

    2012 2015

    392 224 314 060 Mint Sets

    794,002 662,934 Clad Proof Sets

    395,443 387,460 Silver Proof Sets

    148,498 99,473 Clad Quarter Proof Sets

    162,448 103,369 Silver Quarter Proof Sets

    249,298 222,068 President Proof Sets

    I wonder where the prices for the 2015’s goes compared to the 2012’s

  26. Dean says

    Looks like the mint incorrectly priced the gold coins after today’s update.

    They’re pricing the coins as if gold was $1250-$1299.99.

  27. cagcrisp says

    The only Gold pricing that I see that is incorrect is the Centennial coins. The FS and AGE’s look correct to me…

  28. Teach says

    Just looking at the prices on eBay for the 2015 silver proof sets, they are mostly going for 60 to 63 dollars right now. Last week sales ranged from 45 to 53. That is a slight increase over a week. Will that continue, we shall see.

  29. Tinto says

    @data dave
    “… I think the mint is just releasing sales information on a weekly basis now and auditing as they go along….”

    And I’d guess the next few weeks’ sales info from the Mint are gonna be followed very closely by folks especially on the NPS $5 unc and perhaps the 2015 silver proof set.

  30. cagcrisp says

    The Winged Head Liberty dime was selling mid to upper $280’s BEFORE the Mint released the last 8,000+ coins. I posed the question at the time of what impact Restrcting who/who not could purchase the coins And what effect Restricting sales would have on the secondary market. On Average prices have dropped $15-$20 Recently on the bay.

    What impact did having a HHL of 1 and Restrcting sales to those that hadn’t purchased any before?
    The results were typical of what I thought Could happen. A Lot of flippers were able to get their “1 coin ”

    …So much so that One Specific flipper lined up four auctions today within a 2 minute span. Four auctions. Bam…HHL of 1…

    The high being $249.50 and the low being $232.50

    …SO…For 7+ months you had sales of 116,096 and a secondary market sales price of mid to Upper $280’s…

    …And now you’ve got 8,000+ coins knocking the price Down because the Mint decided which class of people should/shouldn’t be allowed to purchase coins.

    …And you wonder Why the Mint is losing customers…

  31. 1958 Chevrolet Bel Air says

    Canada has a 150 anniversary coin set, we need to do a 250 anniversary set of our own for 2026 and use the liberty bell and do it again for the tricentennial celebration of 2076.

  32. Just Another Dave In Pa says

    @ Cagcrisp – I see it the opposite way. The 10 coin hhl catered more to flippers and speculators than the 1 coin hhl. The 1 coin hhl was mostly for collectors who were not able to get one due to flippers buying 10 at a time which caused an almost immediate sellout.

    Those same flippers were locked out during the 1 hhl sale and that was a good thing that the mint did. For once the mint did right by small collectors.

    Ebay price fluctuations may or may not have anything to do with the 1 coin hhl sale. Obviously, it hurt demand on the secondary market as those who wanted one were afforded the opportunity to get one at a good price. That probably put a dent in ebay prices.

    I don’t think those of us who bought one single coin are likely to flip it. I decided to get the Walker because I already had the SLQ and the dime completed my set.

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