So-Called Dollars: H&K-895 WWI Good Luck Medal

H&K-895 Obverse

H&K-895 Reverse

This is an example of a So-Called Dollar that was designed by Adam Pietz. Born in Offenbach, Germany in 1873, Pietz studied art in Germany before coming to America at a young age. In the United States he studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1900 Pietz joined The Philadelphia Sketch Club, where he remained a member until his death in December 1961. In 1927 he was made Assistant Engraver at the United States Mint in Philadelphia, a position he held for nearly 20 years. Pietz was a prolific and artistic genius whose credits include not only the medal shown, but also the Iowa Centennial Commemorative half-dollar, the dies for the Distinguished Service Award, a special gold medal for The First Flight over the North Pole, the die for the first five cent airmail stamped envelope, and many coins, medals, and commemoratives for the United States and foreign countries.

H&K-895 Reverse

H&K-895 Obverse

This 1917 World War I good luck medal (catalogued as H&K-895, diameter 35 mm., weight 21.5 grams) shows just one taste of the sculptural talent and exquisite beauty that can be found among So-Called Dollars. The reverse shows a classic allegorical head of youthful Liberty. The obverse has an American eagle superimposed by a bold good luck four-leaf clover and a swastika - an ancient symbol of good luck. The good luck swastika ironically became the infamous symbol for Germany in the next World War. So-Called Dollars cover a vast range of artistic styles from classical to art deco to modern. Today this golden bronze medal is very rare, in part because so many of the Doughboys marching off to the trenches of Eastern Europe lost their lives and their good luck medals on the battlefields. The standard reference book for So-Called Dollars lists 27 different types and varieties of WWI medals, with this Adam Pietz medal being one of the few not photographed.

H&K-449 Obverse

H&K-449 Obverse (Silver)

Here is another example of the fantastic variety offered in So-Called Dollars. This piece was issued in 1920 and commemorates the opening of the Manila Mint - the only overseas U.S. Mint ever established.

Commonly known as the "Wilson Dollar", this H&K-449 issue was limited to 2200 in silver, 3700 in copper, and 5 in gold. Only 2 of the gold medals are known today; the other three were lost in the Philippines during WWII. The majority of the surviving copper pieces were salvaged from Manila Bay after they were dumped there during WWII and exhibit corrosion.

At one time this medal was considered to be part of the early U.S. Commemorative Coin Series. Designed by George Morgan, 38 mm. diameter.

H&K-449 Reverse

H&K-449 Reverse (Silver)

The term So-Called Dollar is given to medals that fit certain criteria, the most important being a size nearly the same as a Morgan or Peace dollar. However, there are a handful of So-Called Dollars recognized that are the size of the earlier gold dollars, and even some that are octagonal in shape. Numismatics has been using the term "So-Called Dollar" since the nineteenth century. Coin dealer Thomas L. Elder is credited with using the term in print for the first time in his Sept.27-28, 1912 sale of a 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition "Theodore Roosevelt Medal" (lot number 308). So-Called Dollars range from simple designs with barely any artistic thought given to them, to some truly beautiful works of sculpture prized by collectors for their aesthetic value.

The standard reference book on the subject is So-Called Dollars by Harold E. Hibler and Charles V. Kappen. This book was printed in 1963 with only one edition ever released. Today a well used copy will cost a person thirty dollars and up - a "like new" copy fetches over one hundred dollars. Hibler and Kappen's book introduced the H&K numbering system familiar to collectors today. Included in the book is a cross reference to Richard D. Kenney's 1953 earlier reference work also named So-Called Dollars. The Hibler and Kappen book sets down the criteria the authors used to define So-Called Dollars, and lists 1033 different types and varieties. The last 33 are listed as "uncollectible" because they are unique or nearly so.

In 2005 we are seeing a resurgence in the popularity of So-Called Dollars, with spirited bidding at auctions such as eBay. Collectors chase the highest quality examples eagerly when they are offered, and rare examples are snapped up in any grade with great enthusiasm.

I believe the beauty and rarity of these miniature works of art combine to create a thrilling collecting experience. To find (for under two hundred dollars!) a bronze or copper So-Called Dollar from the nineteenth century in pristine, uncirculated condition, where less than 50 are known to exist, makes my heart pound just as hard as plopping down a couple of months' wages on a U.S. gold piece or a key date silver coin. Part of the lure of the So-Called Dollars is the challenge of the hunt for these elusive medals. Finding them in dealers' junk boxes, or stuck in the dark corners of their cases, or even in an antique store with a price tag that someone just pulled out of the blue, stirs the true hunter instinct in any collector.

If you are interested in pursuing a So-Called Dollar collection there are many avenues to wander. You can jump in with both feet - try to pick up one of everything and spend years in the joy of the hunt. Or you can narrow down the field to a certain theme or specialty. You can collect by metal type - lead, white metal, copper, bronze, silver, gold, and even palladium. You can collect So-Called Dollars from the great World's Fairs and Expositions - this will keep you quite busy as the Columbian Exposition of 1892-1893 alone has almost one hundred listed So-Called Dollars (and many more that are unlisted). Other themes to consider are So-Called Dollars from famous battles, those depicting people of historical note, those created by famous sculptors, or even just those that are most artistically beautiful to you. If you have a deep pocketbook you could tackle the Lesher Dollars. These octagonal jewels trade for thousands of dollars and are rarely found for sale. Most were numbered and their pedigrees contain a veritable who's who of the numismatic community for the last one hundred years. The possibilities for collecting So-Called Dollars are limited only by your imagination.

Here are some basic common sense ideas to aid the budding collector of So-Called Dollars:

The supply of So-Called Dollars is not like U.S. coins. You can't just walk into a store and say I'd like this one, this one, and that one. It will take patience to find just the right pieces. Part of my fascination with this field is that there are not full-page ads in every coin paper listing these medals, and dealers aren't promoting them because they can't find them any more than a collector can. Auctions (such as eBay) may be a fruitful place to search. It takes diligence and perservance to collect So-Called Dollars, but I find that the thrill of the hunt is satisfied with a beautiful acquisition just often enough to keep me excited about collecting them.

I think that for many years to come So-Called Dollars will be an exciting and rewarding field for collectors of these medallic snapshots of history. They have had a solid collector base for over one hundred years that continues to grow stronger every year. The material is rich in subject matter, and studying the So-Called Dollars opens up new and interesting paths into the colorful past of the United States. There are undiscovered So-Called Dollars that continue to appear - it's not impossible that you could make a major discovery that will be documented the next time a reference book on So-Called Dollars is published. The astute collector may even realize significant financial gain, but the ever-present true reward is the knowledge gained and the pure joy of traveling the path less often taken.

References and sources for more information about So-Called Dollars

So-Called Dollars by Hibler, Harold E., and Kappen, Charles V., Coin & Currency Institute, New York, 1963.

Compiled from the Philadelphia Sketch Club Archives by Bentman, Bruce H., Supplement to Dec. 2001 Portfolio.

The So-Called Dollar Collectors Club, 7737 Fair Oaks Blvd., Suite 250, Carmichael, CA. 95608

Lesher Referendum Medals by Adna G. Wilde, Jr., American Numismatic Association, 2003.

Copyright © 2005 and the Willamette Coin Club