Phantom Dollars
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Here's something that has puzzled me and I was thinking of writing about it, either as a separate article or as part of a book, and would appreciate any input someone may have. If you look at the Friedberg references for 1928 $1 silver certificates alone over 3.4 BILLION of these notes were printed. Each of these notes certified that a silver dollar had been deposited in the U.S. Treasury and was payable to the bearer on demand. However, If you look at the total number of silver dollars minted from 1794 through 1935 the mintage total falls far short of this number even if no dollars were placed into circulation. Some work with Excel and the mintage figures from the 2019 "A Guide Book of United States Coins" give a total mintage of 891,494,883 and only 621,262,161 silver dollars (discounting data entry errors) if the silver dollars melted under the Pittman Act are factored out.

My question is: Why this discrepancy? I see nothing on-line or in currency references that addresses this discrepancy. Did the Treasury print far more certificates than actually were issued and, if so, what happened to them? Are the certificates in public hands more scarce than the numbers would suggest? Did the government gamble on most people not redeeming the notes and essentially print hundreds of millions certificates promising redemption with "phantom dollars" without actual specie backing? Were the silver certificates printed simply to meet demand for $1 bills because legislation (other than the 1928 legal tender notes) gave the Treasury had no other option for $1 notes? Just how far back did this apparent lack of silver dollar backing actually go? And did the change in the wording of the obligation from "one silver dollar" to "one dollar in silver" in the Series 1934 silver certificates have anything to do with the apparent lack of silver dollars.

I suspect that the reason is an amalgamation of some of the above due to the demand for notes both by businesses in the waning of the Roaring 20s and the subsequent New Deal coupled with legislation restricting the number and types of $1 currency, but haven't found any definitive answer to this. I've e-mailed the Treasury with this question and (not surprisingly) have received no reply.

Any ideas?

Edited by G. D. Snyder
Included precise silver dollar mintages from 1795 to 1935
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