How coins were distributed in 1845
It's little wonder that U.S. coins were haphazardly available in pre-Civil War America. Here's a letter explaining the process.
"Mint of the United States
September 2, 1845
Hon. R. J. Walker
Secretary of the Treasury
I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 29th ult.
The question of the means of distributing the small silver coins, which you have providentially caused to be prepared for circulation, has frequently occupied my thoughts.
The regular and usual method of obtaining coins form the Mint is by the deposit of an equivalent in bullion of the same kind – gold or silver – foreign coins being always received by us as bullion. This method, however, might not be sufficient for putting our present supply of small coins in circulation, within the time that you have probably had in contemplation.
I have, in one instance, authorized the exchange of a few thousand dollars of dimes and half-dimes for new half-dollars, and it might perhaps not be an objectionable measure to allow such exchanges, for either gold or silver U.S. coins, of date not earlier than 1837 (when the standards were changed), and not reduced or defaced by wear: the amount, however, never to be less than $100.
But perhaps of all the means proposed, that suggested by Mr. Dunlap is the most eligible; names to give to Deposit Banks, in those places where small coins are needed, drafts on the Mint, payable in those coins. I must beg, however, that, in such case, they be made payable at the Mint; for we have not the means of transferring our funds.
I think there can be no doubt that the Valley of the Mississippi is already abundantly supplied with dimes and half-dimes. In Philadelphia they are plenty, and I am assured that this is also the case in New York. It is probably in the Eastern States that they are most needed.
We have now, I the Treasurer’s Vault, $162,470 in dimes, and $75,990 in half-dimes; or 1,624,700 pieces of the former, and 1,579,800 of the latter.
Your faithful servant,
R. M. Patterson, Director"
[RG104 E-216 Vol 07. This complete correspondence volume is available free from NNP]