Magnificent 1795 Draped Bust Silver Dollar

 As I
and the staff of Stack’s Bowers Galleries continue the creation of several
catalogs for the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money to be
held next month in Philadelphia, we’ve enjoyed studying and cataloging many
outstanding coins, tokens, medals, and paper money. These range from many
affordable coins in popular series to landmark rarities.

At the
Whitman Coin & Collectibles Expo in Baltimore two weeks ago I received an
especially nice early silver dollar from a New England Collection. Upon
returning home I enjoyed cataloging it—as given below. It is one of many
examples of how art, history, and romance can add a lot to a coin’s basic
numerical grade.



1795 Draped Bust Silver Dollar


AU-53 (Gold Shield)


From a
New England collection comes this magnificent 1795 Draped Bust dollar, BB-52,
one of two varieties of this type made in that year to introduce the motif.
This coin is well struck and is of pleasing silver and light gray toning. It
scores high in aesthetic appeal in addition to achieving an About Uncirculated
grade from PCGS. Of the two varieties, BB-52 is by far the rarer in high

obverse portrait punch is of high quality and is superbly engraved, with a
wealth of minute detail. Whoever made it, Robert Scot or John Eckstein, was
extremely skilled. The reverse punch of the Small Eagle on billowy
clouds is likewise superbly done. The wreath is sophisticated as well. The
left side of the wreath, with olive leaves, bears a stylistic resemblance to
the wreath found on 1795 Flowing Hair dollars with three leaves beneath each
wing, as the individual leaf elements are similar in appearance, with raised or
outlined edges.

As a
class, 1795 Draped Bust dollars are multiples rarer than Flowing Hair dollars.
These dollars mark the introduction of the obverse motif that was later used on
half cents beginning in 1800 and in 1796 on half dimes, dimes, quarters, and
half dollars. Of special note is certain 1796 half dime obverse that is
overdated 1796/5, indicating that a 1795 Draped Bust half dime was planned, but
the die was not used in that year.


Obverse:  Draped
Bust similar to BB-51, but the bust is well-centered in the
die. The highest wave of the hair is under the E of Liberty. The
obverse often shows a crack at the center, which increased in size as the die
was used. Lowest curl is close to 1 in 1795. Star 1 does not touch
curl. Obverse die used to strike 1795 BB-52 only.

Small Eagle. Similar to BB-51, but with only six berries in the
olive branch. Leaf under A of STATES; a quick way to identify
this reverse. Small letters. The finishing details of the higher areas of the
clouds are quite different from those seen on BB-51, and on the present die are
more boldly delineated. Reverse die used to strike BB-52 only.

on the Design:

numismatic wisdom has it that the new Draped Bust obverse was the pride and joy
of Henry William DeSaussure, Mint director since June 1795. Upon taking office he
stated that he wanted to do two things: circulate gold coins and improve the
design of all denominations, particularly silver. Portrait artist Gilbert
Stuart (best known today for his depiction of George Washington, unfinished at
the bottom familiarly displayed in schoolrooms) was hired, and is said to have
prepared a drawing of Mrs. William Bingham, the former Ann Willing. John
Eckstein, a Providence, Rhode Island artist of uncertain ability (per Walter
Breen, an old comment that today must be taken with a grain of salt), translated
the sketches into plaster (probably) models, which may have been Liberty head
and eagle device punches, for Mint Engraver Robert Scot. The
record shows that on September 9, 1795, Eckstein was paid $30 for “two models
for dollars.”

theory came from Alexandre Vattemare (November 8, 1796-April 7, 1864), born in
Paris, and a showman, impersonator, ventriloquist, numismatist, and
sleight-of-hand artist. The Frenchman traveled in the United States from 1838
to 1841 and   again from 1847 to 1850. He visited the Mint and
various numismatists, probably including old-time employee Adam Eckfeldt as
well as the two curators of the Mint Cabinet (established in 1848), J.R.
Eckfeldt and W.E. DuBois. He later wrote Collection de Monnaies et
Médailles de l’Amérique du Nord de 1652 à 1858,
 published in 1861—a
wonderfully detailed account of United States coins and  medals. He
suggested that the second silver dollar design of 1795 featured “the head
of Liberty with the traits of Mme. [Martha] Washington.” Probably, this was his
own observation, and was not based upon any specific information he obtained
from Mint officials.

the inspiration for the portrait, and whatever the design process may have
been, the obverse and reverse punches for the 1795 Draped Bust dollar far
exceeded in quality anything created earlier. If Eckstein did the Draped Bust
and Small Eagle device punches, he is certainly deserving of a niche in the
Pantheon of numismatic notables, for the Draped Bust motif went on to be used
for many years.

presently-offered 1795 dollar will appeal to a wide circle of buyers,
representing as it does the first year of one of America’s most beautiful

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