1803 Proof Dollar or Novodel, PR66
1803 $1 PR66 PCGS. B-7, BB-303, High R.7. The proof silver
dollars of 1801-1803, known as novodels to present-day collectors,
are among the rarest and most valuable issues in the U.S. federal
coinage series. Closely associated with the famous 1804 dollar,
these early proofs are even more elusive than that celebrated
rarity. With a surviving population of just four examples, the 1803
proof Draped Bust dollar is actually twice as rare as the Class I
1804, which is represented by eight specimens in numismatic hands
Second Auction Appearance of This Specimen
Only Four Examples Known, B-7, BB-303
Because the 1804 was recognized as a rare issue at an early date, it has always had an advantage over its less-numerous 1801-1803 counterparts, which were unknown before 1876, and has historically sold for much higher prices. The gap has narrowed considerably in recent years however, as collectors have become more aware of the true rarity and outstanding eye appeal of these early proofs. The PR65 Cameo PCGS example of the 1802 novodel offered in lot 2088 of the David Queller Family Collection (Heritage, 4/2008), realized $920,000, and a similarly graded example in another Heritage auction last summer realized a respectable $851,000. While the 1803 proof claims the same total number of specimens extant as the 1802, the 1803 issue appears at auction less frequently. Heritage Auctions is pleased to offer a magnificent Premium Gem specimen of this rare issue, in only its second auction appearance. It would be no surprise if this higher-graded 1803 specimen exceeds the $1 million barrier that its 1802 counterparts have flirted with in recent years.
The proof dollars of 1801-1803 were unknown in any collection before 1876. In January of that year, Captain John W. Haseltine displayed a remarkable set of 1801-1803 proofs, accompanied by a Class III 1804 dollar, at Edward Cogan's sale of the Jewett Collection. Coin dealer Édouard Frossard left the following account of the event in the Coin Collector's Journal of March 1876:
"At the time of the Jewett sale, and while awaiting the hour of business, we had the pleasure, in common with several collectors present, of inspecting four American dollars, dates 1801, 1802, 1803 and 1804. The first three named are not particularly rare dates, and are generally found in collections, but what gave them very great value in the eyes of all present, was their perfectly uncirculated, in fact, proof condition. It is pretty well known that in the early days of the Republic but few coins were placed in collections in this country, hence a very limited number of proofs were struck."
Haseltine informed Frossard that the coins had been minted in the 1801-1804 time period and he had discovered the set in a private collection from England. This explanation was rejected by knowledgeable numismatists, who noticed several design features of the 1801-1803-dated proofs that differed from those found on coins from that era. The true story of the production of these beautiful coins is much more complex, and most of the details have only been established in recent times.
The Dies Are Made
Research by Eric Newman and Ken Bressett in The Fantastic 1804 Dollar has established the striking period for most of the Class I 1804 dollars as late in 1834 to early in 1835, when they were included in diplomatic presentation sets for various foreign rulers. In Silver Dollars and Trade Dollars of the United States: A Complete Encyclopedia, Q. David Bowers and Mark Borckardt suggest that the dies were actually produced in 1831, in preparation for a resumption of silver dollar coinage that was officially approved but never initiated. In any case, the dies for the Class I 1804 dollar must have been prepared before the final months of 1834, when the first coins were struck.
Die evidence indicates the obverse dies for the 1802 and 1803 proof dollars were both completed before the 1801 and 1804 obverses. The engravers employed most of the same punches used on pre-1804 regular-issue silver dollars to create the dies for the novodels. In the case of the 1802 and 1803 issues, the central bust of Liberty is completely intact, while the 1801 and 1804 proofs show an incomplete lock of hair at the top of the head, caused when this small feature broke off the device punch. Since the 1802 and 1803 dies were both completed before the punch broke, they must have been produced before the Class I 1804 dies with the broken punch, no later than 1834. The 1801 die also shows the broken curl atop Liberty's head, and the stars and some of the numeral punches are of a style not used in the 1830-1835 period, indicating the die was completed at a later date than any of the others. The 1801-1803 proofs and the Class I 1804 dollar all employ the same reverse die, while the Class II and Class III 1804 dollars use a different reverse.
On the other hand, all known examples of the 1801-1803 novodels and the Class I 1804 dollars show evidence of being struck with a close collar. The coins all show a rim with a beaded border, rather than the elongated denticles of the earlier open-collar issues. Since close-collar technology was unavailable before the late 1820s, it is clear that the novodels were not struck until many years after the purported dates on the coins. The evidence agrees closely with Bowers and Borckardt's suggested production date of 1831 for the 1802, 1803, and 1804 dies, with the unfinished 1801 obverse completed at some later date.
Striking the Novodels
While it is clear that the dies for the 1802 and 1803 novodels were completed before the 1804 dies, all evidence indicates that the 1801-1803-dated coins were struck at a much later date. The reverse die used on these coins, christened reverse X by Newman and Bressett, sustained some damage in the form of a die crack through the letters NITED early in the striking run of the Class I 1804 dollars. The die crack became longer with each successive issue, eventually spreading to the feathers of the eagle's wing. The progression of this die crack has established the order of emission for the different issues, with the 1804 coming first, followed by the 1802, 1803, and 1801, in that order. All known examples of the 1801 and 1803 proofs show a common feature on the reverse, a linear depression from the area below UM in UNUM to the eagle's wing. This feature was undoubtedly the result of some foreign matter located on the surface of the die, and indicates that the 1801 and 1803 issues must have been struck at virtually the same time, one right after the other. Since the 1801-1803-dated coins were marketed as sets, it makes sense that they would all be struck at nearly the same time.
When the 1801-1803 novodels first appeared in 1876, collectors immediately noticed the high quality of all the coins and the absence of wear, toning, and signs of contact. This led contemporary collectors to conclude that the coins had been struck recently, and Haseltine experienced considerable difficulty in selling the initial offering because of the stigma attached to "restrike" issues of that era. Some numismatists believe the 1801-1803 novodels were struck earlier, because they have the same reverse die as the Class I 1804 dollars, but the consistently high quality of all the novodels, none of them grading less than PR64, mitigates against this. While some individual coins of the 1830s have been exceptionally well preserved, no other issue from that era boasts such uniformly high grades on all surviving examples. The Class I 1804 dollars range from VF condition for the Cohen coin to PR68 for the Sultan of Muscat specimen. The 1838-O half dollars range from Choice XF condition for the Boyd-Guggenheimer coin to PR64 for several specimens. The fact that all the 1801-1803 novodels appeared to be brand-new in 1876 is at least a strong indication that they were struck in the 1873-1876 time period. Regarding the reason why the reverse die from the Class I 1804 dollars was used, that is easily answered. Collectors had noticed the different reverse used on the Class II 1804 dollars circa 1858, as well as the lack of edge lettering on those coins, resulting in a great deal of controversy and the recall of all the coins. If the creators of the 1801-1803 proofs hoped to pass the coins off as legitimate items from those early dates, they had to use the "Original" reverse die to allay suspicion. It would have been a waste of time to strike more coins with the other reverse, called reverse Y by Newman and Bressett, because those coins would have been immediately rejected as restrikes.
Perhaps the most telling evidence that the 1801-1803 issues were struck at a later time than their 1804 cousins is the weight of their respective planchets. The Class I and Class III 1804 dollars were struck on planchets that conform either to the 416-grain standard of pre-1837 silver dollars, or to the 412.5-grain standard for silver dollars issued after 1837. The 1801-1803 proofs all weigh between 419 and 423 grains, which conforms to the 420-grain standard of Trade dollar planchets, which were not used before 1873. This establishes a tight three-year window for the striking of these novodels, between 1873 when Trade dollar planchets became available, and 1876 when the coins first appeared on the market.
It has been suggested by some well-respected researchers that the novodels could have been struck at an earlier date, using planchets that were discarded for being overweight and out-of-tolerance. This scenario seems unlikely, as a random sampling of discarded planchets should include both underweight and overweight examples, while all 1801-1803 novodels are remarkably uniform in weight. For the weights of so many coins to correspond so closely, they must have been deliberately designed to conform to the 420-grain standard, not just accidentally being overweight by almost exactly the same amount. It is worth noting that the Class II and Class III 1804 dollars, which were produced at an earlier date, all weigh considerably less than 420 grains.
The Mint's program of striking patterns and other delicacies in the 1870s was clandestine, insofar as the circumstances surrounding the creation of these issues was not revealed to the general public, but it was much different from Walter Breen's theoretical "Midnight Minters" of the 1850s. The patterns and novodels of the 1870s were produced with the knowledge and approval of the Mint hierarchy, for sale to collectors for the personal profit of the Mint personnel involved. The planchets used for the novodels could easily be accounted for by listing them among the total of proof Trade dollars produced for collectors during 1876, or any other year in the 1873-1876 time frame, many of which went unsold and were customarily melted after the end of the year. There was no need to avoid paperwork by selecting planchets from the discard pile, as the accounts could be easily balanced in this fashion.
The 1803 proofs show more evidence of the long period between the production of the dies and the actual striking of the coins than any of the other issues. Clear evidence of die rust is visible in a cluster of raised dots around star 4, and a smaller cluster is evident between the numerals 1 and 8 in the date on all known examples. A raised line appears in the obverse field, just in from the space between stars 5 and 6 on most examples, and at least two coins show a small circular depression below the lower-right serif of L in LIBERTY.
Having all these surface features in common makes plate-matching of early black-and-white auction catalog images a daunting task. For some time the number of surviving 1803 proofs was in doubt, because the present coin appeared for the first time in 1991, and plate-matching of earlier appearances was so uncertain. Only with the advent of modern color photography, which shows dramatically different toning patterns, were numismatists able to confirm that four specimens of the 1803 remain extant, instead of the three listed in earlier rosters.
Haseltine and Chapman
Haseltine changed tactics after his offering of the complete set of novodels (set number 1) at the Jewett sale met with such resistance. He decided to split the next set (number 2) into more than one offering, including an example of the 1801 in lot 338 of his Coin Sale in June 1877, "1801; brilliant proof; exceedingly rare in this condition and the only one I believe ever offered at auction." Haseltine delayed offering the 1802 and 1803 novodels from this set until June 1880, when they appeared as lots 982 and 983 of the Haseltine Sale. The 1803 in lot 983 was described as, "1803; brilliant proof; sharp and beautiful; a companion piece to the preceding and equally as rare; only two others known." Haseltine also noted that there were two other examples of the 1802 known to him in his description of the coin in lot 982. Thus, Haseltine established that, to the best of his knowledge, only three sets of novodels were available to collectors during the 1870-1880 time period.
Haseltine reverted to his earlier practice of marketing the 1801-1803 novodels at the same time (as he had done with set number 1 at the Jewett sale) in his Coin Sale of January 1879. This auction actually occurred between the offerings of the 1801 from set number 2 in 1877 and the appearance of the other coins from that set in 1880. Set number 3 was included in lots 282, 283, and 284 of the 1879 Coin Sale, with the 1803 described as:
"1803; brilliant proof; sharply struck; also an exceedingly rare dollar.
[The preceding dollars have never been offered at auction in proof condition and are the finest I have ever seen.]"
More than 30 years later, Samuel Hudson Chapman offered a set of novodels in lots 13, 14, and 15 of his catalog of the John P. Lyman Collection. Describing the 1801 in lot 13, Chapman noted:
"Struck between 1870 and 1876. When I entered this business in May 1876, these dollars of 1801, 2, and 3, were being offered by mint officials now deceased, but very few have ever appeared and I believe they are very rare. I have only known of about three sets."
Chapman had started working as a teenager in Haseltine's coin shop, so he was in a position to know about the novodels that passed through Haseltine's hands during this time frame. The fact that he confirms Haseltine's statement about three sets being sold, and the fact that we can trace three sets through Haseltine's public offerings makes a convincing case that there were, indeed, only three sets of novodels marketed in the 1870s. We believe Haseltine and Chapman were telling the truth, as far as they knew, but some major surprises were in store for the future.
The Orphan 1802
The initial three sets of novodels were sold at different intervals over the years, and some sets were split up, with a couple of the 1801 proofs being lost in the process. There was always speculation that more than three sets had been produced, but no examples surfaced that could not be accounted for in the original three sets for 45 years after Haseltine first introduced them in 1876. That all changed with B. Max Mehl's sale of Dr. G.F.E. Wilharm's collection on February 15, 1921. Wilharm was a collector from Pittsburgh, and lot 592 of the catalog included a previously unknown example of the 1802 novodel:
"1802 Re-strike. Obverse from an unused die or from a new die made in the Mint about 1870-1876. From a different die than the usual restrikes of the early Dollars. This appears to be from the same die as the 1804. Edge lettered, the lettering doubled in the word CENTS. High wire edge. Perfect sharp brilliant proof. A similar specimen in the Lyman Sale brought $40.00 in 1913. Should bring much more today."
This lot description brings up a point of controversy concerning all novodels. Mehl describes the edge lettering as being doubled, like some of the Class III 1804 dollars, not crushed, as seen on the Class I 1804 issue. In The Fantastic 1804 Dollar, Eric Newman and Ken Bressett also describe the edge lettering of the 1801-1803 proofs this way and conclude that the coins were struck in a plain collar, with the edge lettering added by the Castaing machine after the coins were struck. Walter Breen also reports the edge lettering as "blundered." However, in the descriptions for the 1802 novodels in the catalogs for the Norweb and Four Landmark Collections, Q. David Bowers described the edge lettering of the coins in those offerings as crushed and concluded that the edge lettering was added to the planchet before the coins were struck, with the lettering being compressed by the smooth collar during the striking process. Unfortunately, the edge of the present coin is no longer viewable, due to the PCGS holder, so we can offer no definitive information on this matter.
The appearance of the fourth example of the 1802 proof alerted the numismatic community to the fact that more than the three original sets of novodels had been produced, despite the corroborative reports of Haseltine and Chapman. It seems likely that a fourth set was struck and retained by some influential party at the Mint, possibly Henry Linderman himself, and not marketed through Haseltine, so he never knew of its existence. Rumors of a small hoard of 1801-1803 proofs in the possession of Linderman's heirs have persisted until recent times, and some numismatists believe as many as 12 sets were minted. We feel that those estimates are exaggerated, as no such numbers have ever appeared on the market, but the possibility of an undiscovered hoard cannot be completely discounted. We can account for just two specimens of the 1801, four of the 1802, and four of the 1803 novodels today, 10 coins in all, making the four-set theory seem quite convincing.
The Present Coin
The coin offered here was an even bigger surprise than the Wilharm 1802 novodel when it first surfaced in 1991, dismissing forever the notion that only three sets of proofs were struck. Coin dealer Robert L. Astrich purchased the coin over the counter from an undisclosed source in 1991. Astrich, from Hempstead, Texas, is remembered as a genial man by several Heritage catalogers. Unfortunately, he died in 2009 and, if he knew anything more about the source of this remarkable coin, he took the knowledge to his grave. Astrich sold the coin shortly afterward, at the 1991 ANA Convention, to noted numismatist Ed Milas, who has also passed away since that time. This specimen has only been offered in one previous auction, the Bowers and Merena Rarities Sale in February 2007, where it realized $672,500.
The surfaces of this spectacular Premium Gem display natural shades of dark gray and charcoal toning on both sides, with a brilliant spot of white at 9 o'clock on the obverse rim. Deep mirrors are evident beneath the patina, and the surfaces are free of all but the most insignificant distractions. A few almost imperceptible hairlines in the right obverse field are mentioned for completeness, but they do nothing to detract from the extraordinary eye appeal. The design elements display razor-sharp definition in most areas, but a few of the reverse stars are a little flat. Despite the deep patina, there are elements of field-device contrast, especially on the obverse. There is a small circular depression below the serif of the L in LIBERTY. The die break through NITED is clearly visible and extends to the feathers of the eagle's wing. Evidence of die rust appears at star 4 and between the numerals 1 and 8 in the date, as seen on all examples of the issue, and the diagnostic strike-through below UNUM is easily observed. This coin offers a unique package of historic interest and baffling mystery, due to its late appearance in numismatic circles. It possesses terrific visual appeal to complement the high technical grade, and few coins can match the absolute rarity of this piece. Heritage has been fortunate to handle three of the four known 1803 novodels, and we rank this coin as tied for finest seen with the magnificent specimen in lot 2200 of the Jack Lee Collection (Heritage, 11/2005). This offering represents an important opportunity for the discerning collector, as a comparable specimen may not become available for years.
Roster of 1803 Proof Novodels
The following roster was expanded and adjusted from the remarkable list in the Bowers-Borckardt Encyclopedia with the important assistance of Wayne Burt, Dan Hamelberg, Karl Moulton, Greg Reynolds, and Saul Teichman. As Saul Teichman notes, the great difficulty in tracing the coins is partially due to the fact that six of the 10 known 1801-1803 novodels passed through the Virgil Brand Collection, and three more were included in Waldo Newcomer's vast holdings. These collections were dispersed through largely undocumented private transactions, leaving little or no paper trail in most cases. The grades listed are per each coin's last auction appearance. Some examples have undoubtedly been resubmitted or crossed over in recent years.
1. PR66 PCGS. Possibly Mint Director Henry Richard Linderman; unknown intermediaries; Texas rare coin dealer Robert L. Astrich, purchased over the counter in 1991; purchased by Ed Milas at the 1991 ANA Convention; unknown intermediaries; Pre-Long Beach Rarities Sale (Bowers and Merena, 2/2007), lot 429, realized $672,500; the present coin. Small circular depression below right corner of L in LIBERTY, brilliant white toning spot at 9 o'clock on the obverse, reverse stars slightly flat.
2. PR66 NGC. Captain John W. Haseltine; unknown intermediaries; Waldo Newcomer; B. Max Mehl, circa 1931; Colonel E.H.R. Green; Jack Roe; Ryan, Roe and Waltman Collections (Mehl, 6/1945), lot 428; Will W. Neil Collection (Mehl, 6/1947), lot 30; Amon G. Carter, Sr.; Amon Carter, Jr.; Amon Carter Family Collection (Stack's, 1/1984), lot 240; John Nelson Rowe III; L.R. French, Jr.; French Family Collection (Stack's, 1/1989), lot 14; Martin B. Paul; Walton Hood and Andrew Lustig; Auction '89 (Superior, 7/1989), lot 666; American Rare Coin Fund, L.P. (Hugh Sconyers); purchased by Bruce Amspacher on October 26, 1989; Seattle dealer William E. Spears; unknown intermediaries; Jack Lee Collection (Heritage, 11/2005), lot 2200. The Newman-Bressett plate coin, per Q. David Bowers. Dark cobalt-blue and gold toning, not plated in any auction appearance before Carter (1/1984).
3. PR66 PCGS. Captain John W. Haseltine; unknown intermediaries; Peter Mougey Collection (Thomas Elder, 9/1910), lot 965; John P. Lyman Collection (S.H. Chapman, 11/1913), lot 15; H.O. Granberg Collection (Mehl, 7/1919), lot 31; Virgil Brand, inventory number 92340; Armin Brand; unknown intermediary; World's Greatest Collection (Numismatic Gallery, 1/1945), lot 125; Dr. J. Hewitt Judd; Illustrated History of United States Coins (Abe Kosoff FPL, 1962), lot 45a; Golden Sale, Part II (Kreisberg/Schulman, 1/1963), lot 3049; Brand/Lichtenfels Collections (Kreisberg/Schulman, 3/1964), lot 1146; Armand Champa Collection (Bowers and Ruddy, 5/1972), lot 916; Auction '86 (RARCOA, 7/1986), lot 738; Walton Hood and Andrew Lustig; An Amazing Collection of United States Silver Dollars (Superior, 5/1991), lot 702; Kenneth Duncan and Jack Lee; Jay Parrino, advertised in The Numismatist in January 1993. Small circular depression below right corner of L in LIBERTY, lintmark on Liberty's cheek, mark in right obverse field near Liberty's hair.
4. PR65 NGC. Captain John W. Haseltine; Thomas Cleneay; Thomas Cleneay Collection (S.H. & H. Chapman, 12/1890), lot 954; C.S. Wilcox Collection (S.H. & H. Chapman, 11/1901), lot 324; Virgil Brand; probably Horace Brand; Adolphe Menjou Collection (Numismatic Gallery, 6/1950), lot 2078, plate looks like a stock photo reused from the World's Greatest Collection, but text indicates this is a different example; Autumn Sale (Stack's, 9/1978), lot 305; Ellis H. Robison; Robison Collection (Stack's, 2/1982), lot 1885; Illinois dealer Larry Whitlow; Larry Hanks, consigned to Auction '84 (Superior, 7/1984), lot 172, reserve not met; sold by Hanks to a Pennsylvania collector; Harry Einstein Collection (Bowers and Merena, 6/1986), lot 1735; Worrell Collection (Superior, 9/1993), lot 1303, mistakenly identified as the Carter specimen; August Sale (Superior, 8/1995), lot 228, again incorrectly identified as the coin in number 2 above; Texas collector Scott Gilchrist; Long Beach Signature (Heritage, 9/1999), lot 6484. The Bowers and Breen plate coin. Small mark between star 7 and L in LIBERTY, color spot near the rim outside star 5.
A. A specimen in the possession of Captain John W. Haseltine, exhibited as part of a complete set of 1801-1804 dollars at Edward Cogan's sale of the Jewett Collection in January 1876.
B. Coin Sale (Haseltine, 1/1879), lot 284.
C. Haseltine Sale (Haseltine, 6/1880), lot 983.
D. A specimen owned by Martin Logies, circa 2004.
E. A specimen exhibited by Steve Contursi at the Santa Clara Coin, Stamp and Collectibles Show on November 17, 2005.
From The Greensboro Collection, Part II.(Registry values: N1) (NGC ID# 24XG, PCGS# 6906)
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