Attractive and Historic 1794 Silver Dollar B-1, BB-1
1794 $1 VF30 PCGS. B-1, BB-1, R.4. Collectors have avidly
pursued the 1794 silver dollars from the earliest days of the
hobby. An example of this date was featured in the first all coin
auction sale held in this country, the Roper Sale (M. Thomas and
Sons, 2/1851), lot 22, item number 4. From that time until the
present day, the 1794 silver dollar has been a focal point for any
auction catalog it has appeared in. The charisma of the issue
cannot be overstated, and well-heeled collectors sometimes opt for
this date over the much less expensive 1795 dollar when forming a
top-of-the-line type set. Of course, no collection of early silver
dollars can be complete without this premier date. Its status as a
first-date-of-issue is another inducement for advanced collectors
to compete for this special prize.
Better Than Average Strike, VF30
The coins are treated as numismatic treasures today, but initially they were greeted with less enthusiasm. An early newspaper account in the New Hampshire Gazette noted "... 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." The author of this report was referring to a fault characteristic of nearly all 1794 dollars. The strike on the left obverse, and the corresponding area on the reverse of virtually all 1794 dollars is weak, sometimes to the point where the date is unreadable and only faint outlines of the stars can be seen. This defect is the result of inadequate equipment used by the Mint in its initial attempt at large silver coinage. In 1794, there was no screw press large enough to adequately strike coins of this size in such a hard metal. The equipment was adequate for half dollar size coins, and did a fine job on the softer copper large cents, but silver dollars were beyond its capability. To make matters worse, the coiners set up the dies unevenly in the press, so the already weak impression was especially soft on the left side of the coins. An estimated 2,000 specimens of the 1794 dollar were struck from a single pair of dies on October 15, 1794. Of these, 242 examples were judged to be unfit for release, and were held back to be reused as planchets for 1795 silver dollars. The remaining 1,758 coins were released to David Rittenhouse, the first Director of the Mint, who had supplied the silver bullion for their manufacture. Rittenhouse distributed the coins through gifts to friends and in the normal channels of commerce. Today, experts estimate a surviving population of approximately 130 examples. A larger, more powerful screw press was available in 1795, so later silver dollars do not suffer from this defect.
European collectors preserved many early United States federal issues. The numismatic hobby was well established there long before it became popular in this country. Nowhere is this circumstance more apparent than in the surviving high-grade population of 1794 dollars. There are eight 1794 silver dollars recognized as Mint State coins today. Of that number, no less than six coins made their first appearance in a foreign collection. The story of the two St. Oswald coins is well known, but the Murdoch specimen, the example in the British Museum, the Austrian specimen, and the Major Coles example also owe their early preservation to European collectors.
In contrast, the present coin was preserved for a long period of time in a domestic collection. S. Benton Emery, a New England banker, acquired the coin at some point in the 19th century. Emery was born in 1848 and discovered numismatics early in life. From the internal evidence of his collection, it seems he began ordering proof sets from the Mint in the 1870s. He joined the ANA in 1901, receiving membership number 251. Emery preserved his collection intact until he died in 1914. After his death, Emery's coins passed to his son-in-law, Walter P. Nichols. Nichols became a prominent numismatist himself, serving on the ANA board of governors and being in the forefront of the commemorative market in the 1930s. Nichols died in 1941, after which time the collection was held by the family as an heirloom, but no new pieces were added. The family maintained the collection intact for another 43 years, before consigning it to public auction. The coins were featured in The Emery and Nichols Collection (Bowers and Merena, 11/1984), with the 1794 dollar appearing as lot 911. Thus, the present coin was preserved in one family collection for a period of time that may have exceeded a century.
The present specimen is an attractive example of this classic issue. The obverse strike is much better than average, with only stars 5, 6, 7, and 8 and the first letters in LIBERTY being weakly impressed. The date is clear, and the hair and other design features are strongly delineated. There are relatively few surface marks for the grade. Adjustment marks, so prevalent with this issue, are minimal. A curved planchet flaw extends from the curls on the lower left, through the lowest three stars, and back to the curls. The reverse shows much weakness in the peripheral devices, but the central design elements are strong, with fine detail remaining in the eagle's feathers. A long planchet irregularity stretches from rim to rim below the wreath. Hints of champagne and gold accent the evenly toned surfaces to produce dramatic eye appeal. The astute collector will recognize this example as a rare and significant prize.
Ex: S. Benton Emery; Walter P. Nichols (Bowers and Merena, 11/1984), lot 911.
From The Estate of Jack Lee Collection.(Registry values: N10218) (NGC ID# 24WY, PCGS# 6851)
View all of [The Jack Lee Estate Collection ]
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