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Lesher Referendum Dollars 1900 – 1901 

In the election of 1896, gold proponent Republican William McKinley defeated silver proponent Williams Jennings Bryant. The seminal issue in the election of 1896 was whether the United States should support paper money to be backed by gold or silver coinage.  

Although William McKinley and gold won the election of 1896, in Colorado more than three-quarters of the residents supported Silver. These were called “Referendum” Dollars because even after the Election of 1896, these Dollars were circulated in Colorado. No one was forced to accept them as currency, but virtually everyone did. The people of Colorado chose silver and these “dollars” were freely circulated. 

The Lesher “Dollars” are octagonal silver pieces minted by Joseph Lesher of Victor, Colorado. They support the backing of paper currency with silver. Many local merchants, miners, farmers, and residents in Colorado strongly supported “Free Silver.”   

There was some concern about using these items as money because the United States Government holds a legal monopoly on striking coins and currency. Lesher made them different by having an octagonal shape, but they did contain 480 grains of silver, equal to an American Morgan Silver Dollar of the day. They are composed of .950 silver and .50 copper and are dated 1900 and 1901. In addition, he labeled them “JOS. LESHERS REFERENDUM SUVENIR,” so they would not be mistaken for actual coinage.  

There are at least fourteen different types of Lesher Dollar and they are identifiable by the names of different merchants and Colorado towns who accepted them as currency. Even in worn condition, they are very scarce with values starting at about $2,000 and ranging up to $50,000 for the scarcest ones in the highest conditions. Mintages are extremely low, and all issues are very scarce to very rare. 

(A 1900 Lesher Dollar, acceptable by A. B. Bumstead, Victor, CO.)  

Although these were given as change by these merchants for $1.00, they could be redeemed by the holder at these specific merchants at $1.25 each, making them more valuable when redeemed. That was the allure of using them as coinage.  

These “Pikes Peak” Silver ‘DOLLARS” are important pieces of Western numismatics and are aggressively sought and collected.  

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