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    Description

    1794 Flowing Hair Dollar, XF40
    America's First Dollar
    Exceptional Sharp Strike, B-1, BB-1

    1794 $1 B-1, BB-1, R.4, XF40 PCGS Secure. Henry Voigt, Chief Coiner, had a dilemma when presented with silver bullion for minting the first United States silver dollars in late 1794. The official silver standard of 0.892479 fineness (371.25 grains pure silver per 416 grains total weight) differed from the fineness of silver supplied to him by Mint Director David Rittenhouse. Although the difference was small, strict adherence to the law was required at the Mint -- particularly for a bonded employee such as Voigt, whose job and financial security depended on it.

    Fortunately, Voigt was spared the final decision to use the supplied silver at a higher-than-legal fineness by the approval from Rittenhouse and assayer Albion Cox, who felt the available .90000+ silver purity at 416 grains per coin standard was less cumbersome for calculations, and that the higher purity would help keep the coins from "tarnishing" too quickly and becoming dark.

    The planchets were prepared and coins were struck, despite the lack of Congressional approval for the change in fineness. The higher silver content resulted in a smaller payout to those who supplied bullion, since they were paid for only the number of dollars yielded by the standard calculation of pure silver, and the Mint was using extra silver for each coin.

    Not surprisingly, the Mint experienced difficulties both in planchet preparation and striking the coins. Most troubling was the size of the coining press, which was not designed for minting such a large coin. Die alignment issues and repeatedly clashed dies reduced the number of acceptable dollars struck. More than 200 coins were rejected and the final yield of finished dollars was just 1,758 pieces (although some numismatists debate if that is an accurate number).

    Public reaction to the new dollars was mixed. The Bolton, Massachusetts Columbian Centennial wrote:

    "One side bears a Head, with flowing tresses, encircled by Fifteen Stars, and has the word 'LIBERTY' at the top, and the date, 1794, at the bottom. On the reverse, is the Bald Eagle, enclosed in an Olive Branch, round which are the words 'United States of America.' The exergue is well milled, indented in which are the words 'One Dollar, or unit: Hundred Cents.' The tout ensemble has a pleasing effect to a connoisseur; but the touches of the graver are too delicate, and there is a want of that boldness of execution which is necessary to durability, and currency. They will be improved upon."


    The present example would be difficult to improve upon for the assigned grade. Medium-gray surfaces show a touch of gloss, and the fields glimmer with olive-gold and steel-blue accents. The rims are relatively high on both sides, providing protection to the motifs during the coin's limited circulation. Strong detail remains on Liberty's hair and on the Small Eagle reverse devices. In hand, the fields appear smooth and attractive throughout.

    Faint adjustment marks are visible with a glass on the reverse at the margin and across the eagle's lower extremities; however, the Mint-caused file marks are widely spaced and minimized by wear. Otherwise, a few ticks and small voids can be seen under magnification, with a pair of small abrasions in the obverse field beneath LI of LIBERTY. The portrait displays only minor nicks. A small depression at the eagle's left (facing) wing junction is of Mint origin and of little importance, as is a short fissure at the rim above E in AMERICA.

    The strike is especially bold for a 1794 dollar. Perhaps an early strike, the dies were better-aligned when the coin was struck -- as a result, the piece displays greater detail than is seen on most of the mintage. The stars are sharp and well-formed left and right, and the date is nearly complete with just slight loss of detail at the base of the 1 and tail of the 7. The reverse legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA is fully formed and sharp on all the letters except slight weakness at the top of (ST)ATES. The legend is seldom seen this bold, even on coins of a considerably higher grade.

    Presently housed in a PCGS XF40 Secure holder, the coin is listed in the Martin A. Logies reference, The Flowing Hair Silver Dollars of 1794 on page 156. Known as the Oliver E. Futter Specimen, the coin has not been seen at auction for more than 40 years. In its most recent appearance, it appeared as lot 1299 in Kagin's Sale of the 70's (11/1973), where it received an exclamatory description:

    "The specimen herein offered is from the excessively rare early die state with left stars being fairly sharp and complete! The edge milling is sharp and complete all the way around! Even the date is full and sharp! The reverse edge milling is sharp and is virtually complete all around except for the tiny portion between 'STATES' and 'OF.' The legend is entirely sharp!! Superb lustrous golden bluish patina! The sharpest struck specimen we can recall cataloging!"


    The Logies study suggests 150 1794 dollars survive today in all grades, many of them impaired. Other estimates are as low as 135 known pieces, although the absolute number of survivors is unimportant to collectors who realize that the significance of owning any 1794 dollar is the confirmation of a truly advanced cabinet.
    Ex: Oliver E. Futter (B. Max Mehl, November, 1954), lot 2A; Oliver E. Futter (Stack's, May, 1957), lot 473; Million Dollar Sale, Part I (Harmer, Rooke, 11/1969), lot 1117; Sale of the 70's (Kagin's, 11/1973), lot 1299; to our consignor by private treaty. (NGC ID# 24WY, Variety PCGS# 39972, Base PCGS# 6851)

    Weight: 26.96 grams

    Metal: 89.24% Silver, 10.76% Copper


    Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    April, 2015
    22nd-26th Wednesday-Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 22
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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