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This is my own interpretation that follows Hibler and Kappen's book on So Called Dollars ("HK") first published in 1963 and republished in 2008. It does not involve the "monetary" so called dollars (HK777 through HK873), as they are not open to the interpretation problems that the commemorative pieces sometimes are . I suppose to some readers this explanation may seem a bit long-winded, but hopefully it will help shed some light on this enjoyable but difficult to define area of numismatics. As a so called dollar collector I have never followed HKs guidelines to the letter, and I doubt the authors ever intended the book to be used that way anyway; but for the most part I think that the author's decisions, all things considered, were reasonably good. For me the book has served as a good foundation for collecting these interesting and varied medals and tokens, and since it's publication in 1963 it has obviously been the major influence on everyone who has collected them.
A so called dollar is a medal or token that is commemorative in nature on at least one side. It should have a strong United States commemorative theme and measure 33 to 45 millimeters in diameter. Most collectors stick with pieces made prior to the early 1960s. For a few examples of post 1960 so called dollars, CLICK HERE.
Using HK as a guide, the vast majority of so called dollars commemorate a "public" EVENT (world's fairs, town or state anniversaries, statue dedications, famous battles, etc.); however HK also included commemorative medals of the following:
After both reading HK's introduction, and studying what is and is not in the book, the following assumptions can be made about what was excluded:
Note that if one side of a piece had any of the above exclusionary themes, the piece was usually not included in HK even if the opposite side commemorated a public or special event etc.
The following themes however were generally allowed on one side of a piece as long as the opposite side commemorated a public event. These themes can be called "neutral" in nature, neither causing a piece to be included or excluded from HK on it's own accord.
Also no holed or looped pieces were included, HK numbers 2 through 4 being the exceptions(The 1st edition of HK states numbers "1 through 3" which is a misprint). Personally I tend to stay away from looped or holed so called dollars. I question whether there was once an attachment that is now missing. And was an attachment removed in order to have it slabbed? Can holed pieces without an original attachment be considered damaged? I guess the market will decide.
With regard to many of the categories of pieces not included in HK, a quote out of HK's introduction is important: "Some of these latter subjects, of course, have achieved an importance of their own and either have been treated by competent authorities or are worthy of such attention. In other cases, the material proved too abundant to permit proper consideration here."
Lastly, to make things interesting, the authors of HK occasionally appear to have stretched or even broken their own rules, but there were often good reasons. What follows is a discussion of most of these pieces.
HK2-4: Although only found holed, it was included because of it's high historical and numismatic importance. It is the only Numismatic artifact from the 50 year anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
HK8: This is a foreign piece that commemorates the 2nd Crystal Palace in London built at Sydenham, not the first Crystal Palace in London at Hyde Park, and certainly not the Crystal Palace in New York, so perhaps the authors of HK should not have let this one in. It is obviously not of US origin or theme.
HK9-10: This event was held in Great Britain, but involved an American fighter with a large US following. Also, the medals were made in New York. There is also a companion piece with Thomas Sayers that is not included in the 1st edition, but is included in the 2nd edition.
HK35-36: A school medal on the reverse even though Hibler and Kappen's introduction specifically states "no school medals"; but it is also a bit religious("Baptist") too.
HK114: This piece never seemed to me to quite fit HKs criteria due to it's totally political/patriotic theme, but I never really questioned it's inclusion because of it's association with the U.S. Centennial Exposition. Then I read Joe Levine's comment in his 39th PCAC sale lot#618 that made me think that this piece should have not been included at all. He states: "HK erroneously attributes this to the 1876 Centennial period. It is a good bit earlier"
HK149: Sort of "advertising" in nature on the obverse, but a worthwhile inclusion nevertheless.
HK296: This is a "corporate" commemorative, and perhaps it could have been included with others of a similar nature, but it also commemorates an important part of American western history.
HK297-298: Advertising in nature on the reverse. I'm sure that the reason this piece was included was because it is such a nicely executed and substantial medal, unusual for an advertising/store card type piece. It is also perfectly sized for a so called dollar.
HK353-356: This is the smallest so called dollar listed in HK (excluding the gold dollar pieces). It measures 32.1mm which breaks the minimum size rule of 33mm. It was no doubt included because of it's significance as an official world's fair medal struck by the US mint.
HK434: Advertising in nature on the reverse again, but was included anyway, I guess because the other side commemorates a world's fair. As stated above, there are a lot of other pieces like this one that were not included in the book that are advertising in nature on one side, and commemorate a world's fair on the other.
HK465 and HK466: Once again advertising in nature on one side.
HK534-541: Like HK149 in nature.
HK733: Obvious advertising piece on one side, and partially so on the other side too. There are actually four or five other varieties of this piece, but the one listed in HK is the only one that goes beyond a strict advertisement by commemorating the "100th Anniversary Mechanics Fair Boston". I wish the original authors were still alive today so I could ask them what their reasoning was for putting this piece in. Were they leaving the door ajar with the idea that maybe advertising pieces might be OK as long as they commemorate a public event on the other side?
HK755: A trade association piece, but without a date. Sort of unique I guess.
HK832: Obvious silver dollar design, but no one knows for sure why it was made. HK states that this is the most controversial piece in the book.
Section C Part 3: This is HK's "miscellaneous" section. Some of these pieces are difficult to classify. There are a number of pieces regarding America's participation in World War One. These all seem legitimate under HK's guidlines. The Denver 1905 piece(HK876) also seems perfectly legitimate. The Loyal League piece(HK874) and the KKK pieces(HK908, HK909) are both completely political/fraternal in nature and thus are a bit dubious, especially in light of the fact that no entirely Masonic or Grand Army of the Republic pieces were included in the book. HK877-891 are all political in nature, but were included because of their association with Thomas Elder. Thomas Elder was an historically important numismatist. His medals are usually quite rare and often sought after. The Swift pieces(HK905-907) are somewhat unique. Their inclusion I guess is obvious from the standpoint of their "dollar" theme. There are also a few unlisted pieces that have a similar theme. The reverses of HK483 and HK484 are also sort of similar. The United Nations piece(HK914-915) is an undated souvenir token and the only "spinner" in the book. The very last piece (HK916-917) is totally patriotic/religious in nature, commemorating God, freedom and the grand old flag.
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© John Raymond 2016