Understanding the Metallurgy
Mixes for the Blank Planchets
~ It’s Been A Long Journey, So lets Begin with Some Basics ~
Section I: Blank Metal Disc:
A Planchet is the numismatics’ name given to a blank metal disk that is usually fabricated through the act of combining different metals together through the action (heat degree) of a furnace. This process was used for thousands of years to produce stronger metals such as: Brass, Bronze, and Copper. There is also the pure elements (or diluted elements) such as, Silver or Gold that was used for the manufacturing of coins or buttons. In the late 18th Century, Alchemy and Blacksmithing was a skill that was held by a minority and it’s knowledge was carefully guarded from the public. In several cultures it was customary for a blacksmith to live away from the population, and handing down their knowledge and skills through their family.
Metallurgy Mixes for Blank Planchets:
Brass: is a yellow alloy of Copper and Zinc.
Bronze: is a yellowish alloy of Copper with up to one-third Tin. (This was the 2nd metal to be used by humans).
Copper: is a red-brown metal. The chemical element is represented by the atomic number 29, periodic symbol Cu. (The first metal to be used by humans).
Gold: is a yellow precious metal. The chemical element is represented by the atomic number 79, periodic symbol Au. If a button is said to have a Gilt surface, this refers to a Gold Leaf or Gold-Wash (Paint) that was applied after the button was fabricated. This melted Gold-Wash is either applied or brushed onto the surface. A button maybe be completely made of Gold also.
Pewter: is a gray allow of Tin with Copper and Antimony (Formally Tin and Led).
Silver: is a shiny white-grayish metal, chemical element of the atomic number 47, periodic symbol Ag. When a button is said to be Silvered, or have a Silver-Wash (White Washed) it is referring to a thin coating of Silver that is applied or brushed onto the surface. A button might be completely made of Silver also.
Tin: is a malleable silvery metallic element obtained chiefly from Cassiterite. It is primarily used to coat other metals to prevent corrosion. The Atomic number 50.
Section II: Steel Die Making
Engravers, Blacksmiths and Manufacturers:
The art of engraving steel dies by various Artisan Engravers hasn’t really changed in 250 years. It wasn’t until the introduction of pneumatic air tools that changed the engraving art for the better. In both Colonial and Post-Colonial times an engraver would go to a blacksmith to have his various tools made. There were several width size tools that were used, and they were tempered by the action of a furnace to be stronger then the soft metal they engraved in. To ensure that the engraver’s steel rod tool’s tips would not break or dull, a blacksmith who was skilled in the art of Alchemy and Metallurgy would be hired to forge and temper the tips many times to achieve a desired hardness. With these strengthened / tempered tools, the engraver would cut a pattern into a soft round steel hub die. After the pattern was completely cut the steel die hub was given back to the Blacksmith to temper & fire repeatedly. This temper process would make the steel die super strong for stamping out patterns on soft metal planchets. This steel die hub had to stand up to multiple strikes or the pressures of machine rollers without degrading the pattern. So in a nut shell, the engraver used a harder steel tool to cut into a softer steel. Then the steel hub would be fired to full strength to use in production.
Who were the American Manufacturer’s that used the Engraved Steel Dies for Production
￼ There are a few specific coin makers who are attributed for some of the raw materials used in the construction and production of these inaugural and tribute buttons. We also have records along with excavated specimens that attribute specific or popular designs to certain states such as, New York, Connecticut, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania. Because England lost the war, and America’s failing support with the French War in 1793, we believe none of these inaugural buttons would have been offered for sale in England or France. These countries were selling Long Live The King buttons in 1789 for King George III, and King & Constitution political support buttons in 1793 for the war with France. So, in my opinion GWI’s or New Nation Tribute buttons would have only been sold here in America. Even though my New introduction of GWI 24 was found in England, I was able to attribute that to a specific person that was the son of one of the original engravers who was a military officer in Britain during post-colonial times. Just to note, there is only one button in 225 years, (GWI 24 Heraldic Eagle with Inverted Diamond shaped Indentees) that was excavated out of the United States in Northfolk, England. Otherwise, all these early patterns are inherent to the United States.
Finding out a specific person or manufacturer of a specific design or pattern is very difficult to discover. On the manufacturing side of our investigation, all we can do is find out who would have had the access to raw materials, or trace the origins of the materials used in the construction of these buttons. Fortunately for us there were some remaining manufacture’s records of ordered or supplied materials with dates. We know that both Pennsylvania and South Carolina obtained their copper from England, and that North Carolina got theirs from Switzerland. New York got their Brass, Bronze, and Copper from smelting down the old canons and mortars that were left over from the American Revolution. Most of these were left in the Newburgh, New Windsor, and West Point Area. The smelting process of canons and mortars is done by the action temperature of a furnace. The heat would part the Zinc from the Brass, and the Copper would be procured through the fire, and then poured into a mold for making a blank planchet. The Bronze planchets were made in a similar fashion. Once the Copper is procured from the smelting process, Tin would be added-in to make Bronze. Massachusetts obtained their metal from an old canon factory in Bridgewater. The factory still had the brass racks from the machines that were used to bore out canon barrels. The New Jersey artisans who made copper coins had several sources available to them. They were able to buy their Copper straight from local mines, and some was also purchased from Thomas Machins of New York, and a part of their supply was imported from England, who in-turn bought it from Sweden. Connecticut obtained most of their Copper from Granby-Simsbury Copper Mines. We also know that the Federal Government had tons of Raw Copper which was ear marked for coining in New Haven Connecticut, so a portion of this might have been indirectly available for buttons.
List of the manufactures who made George Washington inaugural & NNT buttons:
1) Thomas Machin & Co. Of New Grange, (Newburgh) New York: Records indicate that Machin Mills in New Grange (Newburgh) N.Y. was able to salvage the Bronze, Brass, and Copper by procuring the old Revolutionary War Brass cannons and mortars and smelting them down. T. Machins also furnished blanks for the coiners of Vermont and Connecticut as well in 1789.
2) Weatherlee & Co. of Boston, Massachusetts: They obtained their metal planchets by smelting the old Brass Racks from the machines used for boring out cannons. Records indicate there was an old Cannon factory located in Bridgewater.
3) Broome & Platte, Morris Cove and Westville, and Mark Leavenworth of New Haven, Connecticut: These three companies were able to get their metal from John Higley at Granby-Simsbury Copper Mines.
4) Walter Mould of New Jersey: Obtained his blanks from Thomas Machin & Co. in Newburgh, N.Y., and also furnished blanks to coiners of Vermont and Connecticut in 1789.
5) Harmon & Buel, Town of Rupert, Vermont: received it’s blanks from Thomas Machin of New Grange N.Y.