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Federal officials faced a dilemma in the years after the Civil War. The Comstock Lode and other Western mines were producing large quantities of silver, but the government could use only limited amounts of it in coinage. This seems puzzling in retrospect, for silver coins were few and far between in circulation (a lingering legacy of wartime hoarding), and Americans presumably would have welcomed major infusions of silver coins. But Mint officials feared that new silver coins would be subject to hoarding as well, since the marketplace was awash with paper money, including fractional currency born of wartime need. People would have been only too happy to exchange these notes, which brought less than full face value, for precious-metal coinage.

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