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Q. David Bowers discusses the "Let the Eagle Fly" Token in the ANA Auction

The Enigmatic “Let the Egle Fly” Token

By Q. David Bowers, Co-Founder

Author: Q. David Bowers / Wednesday, July 31, 2019 / Categories: From the Desk of Q. David Bowers

At the ANA World’s Fair of Money in Rosemont two weeks from now I invite you to track me down at the show and talk about anything on your mind—from consigning to an upcoming sale to research on something obscure in American numismatics. Or just to say hello.

One of my current book projects is about mottos and inscriptions on coins, tokens, and notes used as money. There are many puzzles, such as the one illustrated and described below:

This copper token represents one of many enduring mysteries in numismatics. The obverse depicts a face representing the sun, with resplendent rays surrounding. The inscription reads: LET THE EGLE FLY  / J.S.G.S.L.C.O. A dozen or so examples are known today, each of which is well-circulated. These are not numismatic issues made for collectors but in their time were used in circulation. 

Russell Rulau in his Standard Catalog of U.S. Tokens 1700-1900 noted that  David Proskey considered this to be a pattern Mormon $10, and in 1888 Proskey expressed the view that J.S.G.S.L.C. signified "Joseph Smith, Great Salt Lake City." Rulau noted that the letters in the inscription are J.S.G.S.L.C.O., and that Proskey never conjectured about the meaning of the final "O." Perhaps if Proskey were cataloging the same piece today he would conjecture instead "Joseph Smith, Great Salt Lake Coinage Office." Rulau thought the piece was actually a token dated to the era between 1846 and 1848, which prompts us to wonder why he chose to list this variety in his catalog of trade tokens dated 1866 to 1889  rather than in his merchant token list 1845 to 1860. Rulau omits pricing for the variety in all grades.

Modern opinion is divided and the attribution of this token has been a matter of considerable discussion. The Internet site www.earlymormoncollectibles.com showcases this token as a Mormon issue, citing David Proskey, and valuing it at $4,500. The Mormons did not establish Great Salt Lake City until 1847, the year after the date of the token. And yet, the letters J.S.G.S.L.C. are sufficiently distinctive that it would be difficult to assign any other attribution. As to the initials J.S., these letters could relate to the founder of the religion, Joseph Smith, who was killed in 1844.

What do the inscriptions mean? The token, though dated 1846, could have been made later when Great Salt Lake City was a reality. In any event, Joseph Smith was a memory. "Let the E[a]gle Fly" could relate to some hope that Smith's aspirations or indeed the Mormon faith would take wing. Again, there is room for conjecture and little in the way of fact. In an Internet discussion with Bob Leonard in early 2013, I said that I felt that it does have a Mormon connection, but the circumstances of issue have yet to be determined. Today in 2019 I have learned nothing new. One thing remains clear, that this is an interesting early American token of considerable rarity, one that holds a secret, perhaps very important, that is still to be discovered. 

I need help on another mystery, the meaning or translation of the inscription FERTILITATEM DIVITIAS QUE CIRCUMFERREMUS on the obverse of the 1794 Copper Company of Upper Canada halfpenny (see image). At the center is the reclining figure of a river god in the style of Neptune.

Enjoy the summer.

Tags: ANA