Die Variety: There is just a single variety known of the circulation strikes of 1794 silver dollars, both dies were apparently retired and not seen on any other die marriages of 1795.
Die State: This is the earliest die state seen, a perfect die state match to the copper pattern 1794 Dollar (Judd-19) now at the Smithsonian--which is believed to have been struck first to test the dies and coining press. The definition of Die State I includes notable differences that are seen on the third curl up from the bottom of Liberty's hair, which is longer and more defined here than on any subsequent specimen reported. The copper pattern and the present coin are the only two known from this die state. Die State II coins show considerable evidence of die clashing, later states have the clashing lapped off, weakening this curl and other devices a bit further. Later die states also show that the dies were not perfectly aligned, hence the left side of the struck coins is always weakly struck compared to the strike definition on the right side. Of the approximately 135 1794 silver dollars known, all but this example show evidence of clashing or die lapping designated as Die State II or higher, placing this unique specimen as the very earliest struck of all known examples, and very possibly representing the very first silver dollar struck by the United States. The importance of this commentary cannot be overemphasized.
Strike: Of the entire known population of 1794 silver dollars, this is the only example to exhibit prooflike reflectivity in the fields. Indeed, when the coin is viewed out of its encapsulation, the fields flash with astounding deep mirror reflection, providing remarkable contrast to the fully frosted devices. In addition to this important fact, Liberty's curls show incredible definition, even at their very highest relief above Liberty's ear, as do the eagle's feathers which display all of the fine nuances of the die. In this regard, the striking quality of this unique specimen is actually superior to that imparted by the dies to the aforementioned softer metal copper Judd-19 pattern. Even the fine bark detail of the wreath branches stands out to the naked eye. As always the stars lack their radial centers as the coining press simply could not fully strike up these large dollar coins, the larger coining press was not available until several months later. Tiny die diagnostics include a minute lump in the lowest curl of Liberty's hair right above the 1 in the date. The bust line is broken above the date as well, as the master hub of Liberty's head apparently had too much depth to fully bring up a defined border when the die was prepared, and this softly faded area is seen above the 9. Star 14 has an extra repunched point on the upper right; there is a small "J" shaped raised die lump between stars 12 and 13, and there is a fine raised die line extending from Liberty's lower lip into the right obverse field toward star 9. On the reverse there is an extra berry stem extending up from the wreath below the second T of STATES, on the upper right of the wreath is a small disconnected leaf point, below and left of the uppermost leaf on the right. A slightly blundered double dentil is found below the right stem end. Although not visible in the current PCGS holder, the edge of this Specimen 1794 dollar is unusually squared off and sharp, this from discussions with several numismatic luminaries who have closely examined this coin in the past decade.
Surfaces: As noted above, the surfaces are wholly prooflike, unlike any other 1794 silver dollar known. Handling marks are at an absolute minimum, and a strong loupe fails to find more than a few trivial handling marks. The color is a rich blend of golden-straw and teal distributed uniformly over both sides. There is a prominent silver plug at the center, and this feature is believed to be unique to this 1794 silver dollar. Silver plugs are known on several 1795 Flowing Hair silver dollars, and were logically added to underweight planchets to bring them up to the exacting standards required. This particular coin weighs 416.24 grains which is about perfect as the exact weight standard is specified as 416 grains. Several 1795 silver dollars have not only the silver plugs but show adjustment marks. On this coin, adjustment marks are light but noted on both the obverse and reverse, primarily around the rim. Some numismatists wonder which came first, the silver plug or the adjustment marks. It is doubtful that the Philadelphia Mint planchet adjusters would be so careless as to file off too much silver from a planchet deemed too heavy. It is far more likely that lightweight planchets were rejected, then drilled at the center, a silver plug of additional weight added, then the planchet and plug insert were weighed again, adjusted down with a file as necessary until the weight of 416 grains was measured, and finally the coin was struck. Many 1794 silver dollars show adjustment marks. It is probable that the Mint made the planchets a trifle thick and heavy as it was easier to remove a bit of silver than to add a silver plug and then adjust the planchet as necessary.
Our consignor has made a considerable study of early dollars in general, and 1794 dollars in particular. In studying the silver plug phenomenon, he notes that the plugging of coins to adjust their weight was at that period a common process, seen quite often with "regulated" gold coins of the time. Duly authorized goldsmiths, such as New York's Ephraim Brasher, would assay a foreign gold coin to determine its precise gold weight, then add a plug to adjust its weight to the intended level, and finally counterstamp their initials onto the plug to designate their approval of the final "regulated" weight. Plugs seen on those pieces vary in size and often display rough or ragged edges, and they may appear in varying locations on the coin. Yet, for the Flowing Hair dollars that display silver plugs, and in particular the unique specimen 1794 dollar, the plug is found directly at the center of the coin, where the area of highest relief of the obverse design is directly aligned with the area of highest relief of the reverse design. Consequently, the extra metal in this area served to improve the high point striking quality of the coin. Rather than interpreting the plug as an indication of a casual use of a sub-standard planchet for an ordinary purpose, our consignor holds the plug and its precise placement to be yet further evidence of the Mint's intention of preparing a very special planchet for what was planned to be, and indeed became, a very special coin.
Pedigree: Virgil Brand Collection; James Kelly's Fixed Price List #20, 1945; C. David Pierce; Art & Paul Kagin; B. Max Mehl's sale of the Will W. Neil Collection, June 1947, lot 1; our (Stack's) sale of the Amon G. Carter Family Collection, January 1984, lot 207; Hugh Sconyers for the American Rare Coin Fund Limited Partnership; Superior's Hoagy Carmichael and Wayne Miller Collections sale, January 1986, lot 1173; Superior's sale of An Amazing Collection of United States Silver Dollars, May 1991, lot 699; Knoxville Collection, sold by private treaty to Jay Parrino; Steve Contursi, acquired via private treaty; Cardinal Collection, acquired via private treaty in May 2010 for the record price of $7,850,000.
Notable Appearances: One of the cover coins for the book The Flowing Hair Silver Dollars of 1794: An Historical and Condition Census Study by Martin Logies, 2010, and also pictured on the PCGS CoinFacts website.
Commentary: Before the passage of the Mint Act of 1792, varied coinages circulated throughout the colonies and, later, states. Some were produced by the individual colonies and states themselves such as Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey, and some were produced by foreign countries. Indeed, foreign coinages were accepted as legal tender in the United States well into the mid-1800s. In contemplating the question of whether the U.S. should even consider producing its own coins, Congress was presented with several proposals -- including a contract proposal from an established foreign minter lauding its skills at producing high quality coins at low prices. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson was assigned to evaluate that proposal, and his report to Congress on April 14, 1790 was most eloquent. While recognizing that the United States would otherwise need to establish its own mint at some cost, and that the initial production from that mint may be less than perfect, Jefferson was succinct in recommending the proposal be declined, stating that "Coinage is peculiarly an attribute of sovereignty. To transfer its exercise into another country, is to submit it to another sovereign."
Jefferson was equally outspoken about his support for using the dollar as the basic monetary unit of currency for the United States. In his report to Congress he stated, "I question if a common measure of more convenient size than the dollar could be proposed. The value of 100, 1,000, 10,000 dollars, is well estimated by the mind; so is that of the tenth or hundredth of a dollar." He went on to describe how confusing other monetary units had been, stating:
"Every one knows the facility of decimal arithmetic. Every one remembers that, when learning money arithmetic, he used to be puzzled with adding the farthings, taking out the fours and carrying them on; adding the pence, taking out the twelves and carrying them on; adding the shillings, taking out the twentieths and carrying them on; but when he came to the pounds, where he had only tens to carry forward, it was easy and free from error. The bulk of mankind are school-boys through life. These little perplexities are always great to them, and even mathematical heads feel relief of an easier substituted for a more difficult process.… Certainly, in all cases where we are free to choose between easy and difficult modes of operation, it is most rational to choose the easy. The financier, therefore, in his report, well proposed that our coins should be in decimal proportions to one another. If we adopt the dollar for our unit, we should strike four coins, one of gold, two of silver, and one of copper. (1) A golden piece, equal in value to ten dollars; (2) The unit, or dollar itself, of silver; (3) The tenth of a dollar, of silver also; (4) The hundredth of a dollar, of copper."
Thus said, undoubtedly, to our forefathers, the domestic production of coins, and most essential, the production of silver dollars, was seen to be of national historical importance. The coins to be produced would not just be metallic tools of commerce, but they would represent our Founding Fathers' circulating declaration to the world of the sovereignty of our great nation. Indeed the unique Specimen 1794 dollar, possibly the first struck of the nation's basic unit of currency, may be our nation's first and foremost tangible symbol of that declaration.
As news about the Cardinal Collection spread around the numismatic community, indeed extending all over the world, this particular historic treasure has attracted attention from all directions. As the finest known example of America’s first silver dollar it is a landmark par excellence, a unique prooflike coin that may well have been the first United States silver dollar struck. The term "once in a lifetime opportunity" is seen now and again, but for this piece it is especially relevant. If you compete for this and miss it, it may well go into an institutional collection or other holding, and may not reappear on the open market in your lifetime, if ever.
To say more about this 1794 dollar might be gilding the lily so to speak. However, in summary it is certainly one of the greatest rarities that we have ever handled, this in our cumulative auction experience dating back to 1935. The coin is indeed legendary, one of its kind, and boasts great historical and numismatic significance.
In recent years there have been great run ups in the price of other collectibles. For an antique car to sell for over $10 million does not necessarily make headline news now, although it would have a generation ago. For a painting to sell for more than $100 million might not make headline news either. However, the rarest of the rare among coins have generally sold in the low millions of dollars, the exceptions being the two highest records (earned by us) for the Childs 1804 silver dollar at over $4 million and the 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle (sold by us in partnership with Sotheby's) for more than $7 million. Most classics, including some that are equal in rarity to automobiles that have sold for prices into seven figures, are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. While the future is unknown, as a collectible coins have much to offer that certain other fields do not. First of all, they are easily stored in a safe place. A second, the market is not limited to dedicated specialists but is worldwide, with investors joining collectors in competition. Around the globe millions of people seek choice and rare coins, not always examples valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, but even at those price levels there are certainly many eager competitors for rare coins. In summary. It seems entirely possible, therefore, that this important 1794 dollar with its incredible grade and unique specimen status might break into new ground. Here, indeed, is a rare coin for the ages.
PCGS Population: just 1 in all grades with a Specimen designation. The finest certified Mint State examples of the issue are graded MS-66.
From the Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation.