The Silver Dollar was authorized by the Act of April 2, 1792 that also established the United States Mint and created our nation’s coinage. While not the highest-denomination coin authorized by that act, the Silver Dollar was obviously the most important as it was the standard unit upon which the United States’ monetary system would be based. All other coins struck in the United States Mint from the 1790s to the present day are either fractional parts of the Dollar or multiples of that unit. For this reason more than any other, the Silver Dollar has long held a place of honor in the pantheon of American numismatic rarities. It is without a doubt the most popular and widely collected coin ever struck in the United States Mint, and is eagerly sought by both advanced numismatists and the general public as a historic treasure, a cherished collectible and (for common-date examples of the later Morgan and Peace types) a storehouse of wealth for those with an interest in owning silver bullion.
The most important Silver Dollar ever struck—and also one of the rarest—is the 1794 Flowing Hair. The first coin of its kind and a major numismatic rarity in all grades with a net mintage of just 1,758 pieces, the 1794 Flowing Hair Silver Dollar is a coin of which legends are made. Survivors are always greeted with eager anticipation when they are offered for sale either through auction or via private treaty. And as a further indication of the importance and popularity of the issue, the 1794 Flowing Hair Dollar has been honored with the #20 ranking in the widely distributed book 100 Greatest U.S. Coins by Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth (2003 edition consulted).
The design of the nation’s first Silver Dollar was entrusted to Chief Engraver Robert Scot, whose obverse features the most mature evolution of the Flowing Hair Liberty portrait that was first featured on Joseph’s Wright’s Libertas Americana Medal of 1783. By the time Wright’s Liberty found her way onto the Silver Dollar, however, she had been turned to the right and was displayed sans the liberty pole and cap. The basic design is superficially similar to its earliest inception, nonetheless, with Liberty’s hair free flowing along the back of her head and neck, thus explaining the widely used Flowing Hair name for coins of this type. Scot’s Dollar obverse received 15 stars arranged at the border eight left, seven right in honor of the number of states that made up the Union in 1794, as well as the word LIBERTY at the upper border and the date at the lower.
The reverse of the Flowing Hair Silver Dollar mirrors Scot’s work for the Flowing Hair Half Dime and Half Dollar, examples of which were also struck for the first time in 1794. A spread-wing eagle is surrounded by two branches bound at their base by a thin ribbon with the legend UNITED STATED OF AMERICA around the border. Curiously, the denomination is not featured on either the obverse or reverse of the Flowing Hair Silver Dollar—something that might appear as a sign of ineptitude on the part of early Mint employees to someone familiar with United States coinage of the 21st century. The omission was intentional, however, as United States coinage was new to the world market of the 18th century and the term “Dollar” would have been unfamiliar to merchants of the day. In order to facilitate the coins’ acceptance in as many quarters as possible, therefore, the Mint omitted the denomination from the design and opted to let the Silver Dollar’s weight and precious metal content establish its value. For those willing to look closer, nonetheless, they would find the denomination on the edge, which for Flowing Hair Silver Dollars is lettered HUNDRED CENTS ONE DOLLAR OR UNIT with decorations between the words.
By the time Mint employees had posted the necessary bonds to begin working with precious metals—which was not until 1794 even though the Silver Dollar had been authorized by Congress in 1792—Mint Director David Rittenhouse wanted to begin production of these coins as soon as possible. The necessary bullion was lacking, however, as the early United States Mint was dependent upon private deposits of silver and gold and did not strike such coins on government account. Accordingly, Rittenhouse deposited $2,001.34 worth of his own silver on August 29, 1794 so that Dollar production could begin.
And begin it did, the Mint using Rittenhouse’s bullion and a single set of dies to strike 2,000 Silver Dollars. Almost immediately, 242 of those coins were found to be totally unacceptable as to weight and/or striking quality and were either remelted or subsequently used as planchets for 1795-dated Silver Dollars. The deduction of the rejected coins leaves a net mintage of just 1,758 pieces for the 1794 Silver Dollar, all of which were delivered to Mint Director Rittenhouse on October 15, 1794. As Rittenhouse had deposited the bullion for these coins, it then fell to him to further distribute the pieces.
Even those 1794 Dollars that were deemed acceptable for distribution evidence many of the difficulties with coinage operations suffered by the early United States Mint. Virtually all of the known examples are softly struck to one degree or another at the left-obverse and –reverse borders. This is due to the Mint’s use of a press that was initially intended for smaller-size coins, as well as the fact that the dies eventually “slipped” and became misaligned in the press. On some 1794 Dollars the misalignment is so pronounced that the date can be difficult to discern. Additionally, many 1794 Dollars display adjustment marks that represent the Mint’s filing down of overweight planchets to make them confirm to the legally specified weight range for this issue. While these adjustment marks are often innocuous, they are sometimes so numerous as to severely compromise one or more elements of a coin’s design.
Regardless of striking quality or level of preservation, a 1794 Flowing Hair Silver Dollar is an extremely important find in numismatic circles, and the ownership of even a low-grade and/or impaired example is the mark of an important collection. Writing in the 2010 edition of the reference The Flowing Hair Silver Dollars of 1794: An Historical and Population Census Study, Martin Logies of the Cardinal Collection Education Foundation accounts for a surviving population of only 134 distinct examples. Many of those coins are significantly impaired due to cleaning, repairs, edge damage, etc. Obviously, the historical significance and rarity of the nation’s first Silver Dollar led to the preservation of many examples during the 19th century that, due to their poor state of preservation, would probably have been melted for their bullion content had they been examples of more common issues such as the 1795 Flowing Hair or 1799 Draped Bust Silver Dollars.
Even most problem-free 1794 Flowing Hair Dollars that have survived did so only after acquiring some degree of wear. Only six coins, in fact, are universally recognized by numismatic experts as Mint State 1794 Silver Dollars:
- The Neil-Carter-Contursi-Cardinal Specimen. Silver Plug. Specimen-66 (PCGS). This coin was acquired by the Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation in May of 2010 for $7,850,000—the price setting the world record for a single coin. The coin will not be available for sale any time in the foreseeable future.
- The Col. Green-Rogers-Stellar Specimen. MS-66 (PCGS). This coin is also impounded for the foreseeable future.
- The Lord St. Oswald-Ostheimer-Hayes Specimen. MS-66 (PCGS). This coin is impounded in a private Southwest collection for the foreseeable future,
- The Virgil Brand-F.C.C. Boyd-Cardinal Specimen. MS-64 (NGC). The present example.
- The Lord St. Oswald-Norweb Specimen. MS-64 (PCGS). The current owner of this coin briefly contemplated selling it in February 2010, but has since decided to keep it in his possession for the benefit of his children and grandchildren. This coin, too, is impounded for the foreseeable future.
- The L.R. French, Jr. Family Specimen. MS-62+ (PCGS). Impounded for the foreseeable future in a private Midwestern collection.
Readers who are interested in detailed pedigrees for these six coins are referred to the aforementioned 2010 revision to Martin Logies’ invaluable reference on 1794 Flowing Hair Silver Dollars.
The foregoing Condition Census list makes clear the awesome rarity of the 1794 Silver Dollar in Mint State. Attrition was obviously very high for this issue, and most examples eventually found their way into circulation despite the historical, first-year status of the date. The fate of most pieces that entered circulation, of course, was loss or destruction. As there was little, if any, numismatic activity in the United States of the 1790s, the few Mint State coins that have survived did so either as a matter of chance or because they were gifted to important visitors who toured the early Mint.
The Condition Census of 1794 Dollars enumerated above also makes clear that, of the six-known examples, the Virgil Brand-F.C.C. Boyd-Cardinal Specimen that we are offering in this sale is the only Mint State survivor that is likely to be available for purchase in the foreseeable future.
As previously stated, all 1794 Dollars were struck from a single die pair. Logies’ reference identifies five different die states, however, and the present example was coined from the middle state (Die State III). Clashmarks (as struck) are present in the obverse field both before and after Liberty’s portrait. They are not as bold as we would expect to see in a Die State II example, however, as the obverse die was reground to lessen the visual effect of the clashmarks. The refinishing of the die also attenuated the ends of Liberty’s hair curls, particularly the third one. Clashmarks from Liberty’s portrait are also evident in the reverse field within the wreath and around the eagle.
The surfaces of this coin are fully Choice in quality and nearly pristine by the standards of the issue. Both sides are brilliant with a softly frosted finish that is more vibrant than that seen in any of the other Mint State 1794 Dollars. We even note a cartwheel-like sheen to the finish that is not unlike that seen on many Morgan Silver Dollars of 1878-1921.
This coin is also remarkably well struck, and nearly complete in this regard. Both sides are expertly centered on the planchet with full, boldly denticulated borders around both sides. Liberty’s hair on the obverse and the eagle’s plumage on the reverse are particularly sharp in delineation. Softness of strike at the left-obverse and -reverse borders is minimal for the issue, and it is directly attributable to both the later state of the dies and (probably) also slight misalignment of the dies in the press. Significantly, the date is fully readable with the digits 17 bold and the digits 94 nothing short of sharp.
Both sides are nearly pristine as far as post-production abrasions and other distractions are concerned. In fact, it is only as-struck features that preclude an even higher Mint State grade. These include a shallow obverse planchet flaw at star 3, a smaller planchet flake at star 6, a series of light adjustment marks at the reverse border from the letter N in UNITED to the letter E in STATES and a few faint planchet streaks on the reverse at the letters AM in AMERICA. All of these features are very common for 1794 Silver Dollars, and they are important in establishing and tracing the pedigree of this piece.
The Cardinal Collection’s recent acquisition of the Neil-Carter-Contursi-Cardinal specimen (#1 in the Condition Census) has made it possible for another advanced collector to acquire the Virgil Brand-F.C.C. Boyd-Cardinal specimen of the 1794 Silver Dollar. This coin is fully equal to the finest-known examples of the issue, and is an extreme rarity in such a high level of preservation and with such impressive striking quality. Representing perhaps even a once-in-a-lifetime buying opportunity, once this coin is sold it may be many years before one of the other Mint State 1794 Flowing Hair Silver Dollars is made available for purchase. The highlight of the Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation’s Mint State Set of 1794 United States Coinage, and the most important Silver Dollar that we have offered in quite some time.
From the Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation (CCEF). Earlier Ex: Virgil Brand; B. Max Mehl (1930s); F.C.C. Boyd Collection duplicate, sold privately by Numismatic Gallery at the time of the "World's Greatest Collection" sale; Stack's Fixed Price List No. 47 (1950); B.M. Eubanks; Quality Sales' auction of September 1973, lot 464; "Collector's Portfolio" Public Coin Auction (Abner Kreisberg Corporation, 10/1978), lot 633; Bowers and Ruddy's Fixed Price List No. 41 (1981); The Charmont Sale (Steve Ivy, 10/1983), lot 3769; The Somerset Collection (Bowers and Merena, 5/1992), lot 1300; Jeff Isaac; The Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation, and displayed as part of the Cardinal Collection of Early Dollars at the 2001, 2002 and 2004 ANA Conventions; The Cardinal Collection (American Numismatic Rarities, 6/2005), lot 5; private collector; reacquired by the Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation (2008) and featured in a complete "Mint Set" of 1794 coinage.