Sixth Finest Known 1794 Dollar--Ex: Murdoch, Bass Specimen1794 $1 MS61 NGC. Bass Collection. The late Jack Collins made a special study of 1794 dollars and traced their pedigrees for many years. Jack was a classic example of a perfectionist. The non-publication of his manuscript also illustrates the bind many numismatic authors find themselves in: should the writer publish before the last word has been spoken or written on the subject, or should he go ahead and publish, knowing that others will revise or correct his work at a later date? We tend to believe the latter should be the case, as we view the addition and diffusion of knowledge as an ongoing process. Jack's manuscript had a lengthy introduction that traced the development of the dollar (thaler) from the time of Archduke Sigismund in 1477 to the first United States silver dollars of 1794. In the introduction, he acknowledges the importance of the ounce-sized silver coins over the centuries: "Unlike smaller coins, circulating thalers and dollars of the world became public relations items, to spread laudatory propaganda about the ruling families who ordered them made and issued, to publicize events these families believed important enough to record for coming generations, and to disperse these images worldwide." And so it was with the 1794 dollar in the United States. All early coins, but especially the dollars and gold coins were seen as ambassadors of the fledgling United States. Their weight and fineness had to be beyond reproach (thus the adjustment marks often seen), and the designs had to send the "correct" image abroad (thus the short-lived Chain cent with its chain on the reverse "a bad omen for liberty").
The head of Liberty on the 1794 dollar closely follows that on the 1794 cents, also engraved by Robert Scot, a former bank note engraver. The planchets were made in part from the Bank of Maryland's bullion deposit of July 18, of 94,532 ounces of French minor coins containing 69,692.4 ounces of lower fineness silver that had to be brought up to 900 fineness. Much has been written about the legal fineness of these and other early silver coins, i.e., 1,485/1,664 silver and 179/1,664 copper. We urge anyone who is interested in this subject to read the introductory remarks in Breen's Encyclopedia for a more detailed discussion. In addition to Engraver Robert Scot, there are several other people who were instrumental in the production of the 1794 dollar. The one person who was most instrumental in their striking was undoubtedly David Rittenhouse. Rittenhouse was a true Renaissance man whose life and interests encompassed being a clockmaker, instrument maker, mathematician, surveyor, astronomer, legislator, and foremost scientist of the day (only Jefferson and Franklin came anywhere close). And all these accomplishments preceded his appointment as first Director of the Mint. As much as anyone, Rittenhouse deserves the title Father of the 1794 Dollar: he provided the bullion, determined the fineness, supervised the production, and distributed all the specimens struck. Adam Eckfeldt was also an important person in the cast of characters responsible for the 1794 dollars. He satisfactorily rolled the planchet strips, cut and prepared the blanks, hardened the dies, and fitted the press to strike the coins. Additionally, Henry Voigt was Chief Coiner, and Albion Cox was the Assayer in the early years of the first U.S. Mint.
The weakness of strike on 1794 dollars is well known. On most examples, the first few stars and the date are weakly impressed on the obverse, while on the reverse UNITED and STATES are usually softly defined. This is in part because 1794 dollars were struck on a press meant for smaller coins (cents, half dollars, and eagles), and in part because the dies slipped out of alignment (which is why these coins are weak on the left portions of each side). This was first noticed shortly after the coins were released. In the December 2, 1794 edition of the New Hampshire Gazette, the editor favorably critiqued the new coins, but concluded by stating, "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." The editor understandably confused misalignment of the dies with shallowness of engraving. This weakness of strike was apparently well known even in 1794, as one 1795 dollar (a Bolender-4) is known to have been struck over a 1794 dollar. It is possible that Breen was correct in his assumption that more than 1,758 dollars were struck in 1794. He speculated that as many as 2,000 may have been struck, with the other 242 coins used as planchets in the following year. However, to date only one such coin has surfaced.
Only a small number of 1794 dollars are known today with strong definition on the left portion of each side. This is such a coin. While the stars on the left side of the obverse do not show the completeness of those on the right, the comparison of this coin to most other 1794s is unfair. The stars on the left side lack complete radials, but all are fully outlined, as is the date and UNITED STATES. This strength carries over onto the figure of Liberty, which shows fine definition on the hair curls. The eagle's breast lacks complete definition, but we must emphasize that this slight softness has nothing to do with die misalignment. The surfaces are covered with pleasing gray toning that is lighter in the centers and somewhat deeper in hue toward the rims. Approximately 8% of the mintage of 1794 dollars survives today, about double the survival rate of 1795 dollars. To quote Jack Collins again, "Not that the recipients treated their 1794s with due respect; over 10% of survivors were initialed, engraved, with names, or counterstamped; many of these were later "repaired" by burnishing--a cure worse than the disease. At least six--nearly 5% of the survivors--were holed and plugged." This particular coin shows none of those often-seen problems. There are no noticeable adjustment marks on either side. There is a bit of planchet roughness around stars 1 and 2, which can be used as a pedigree identifier in addition to the strong strike. Listed as Specimen Number 6 on the Condition Census as compiled by Martin Logies in The Flowing Hair Silver Dollars of 1794.
Ex: Murdoch Collection (Spink & Son, July 1903), lot 835, where it brought 48 pounds or approximately $230; George H. Earle (Henry Chapman, 1912), lot 2667, where it realized $620; Colonel James W. Ellsworth, Wayte Raymond, and John Work Garrett (via private treaty in 1923, through Knoedler & Co.); William Cutler Atwater Collection (B. Max Mehl, 1946), lot 185; Dr. Charles A. Cass, Empire Collection (Stack's, 1957), lot 1678; unknown intermediary; Gibson-Groves Sale (Stack's, 1974), lot 75; Julian Leidman and Mike Brownlee to Harry Bass, Jr.; Bass I (Bowers and Merena, 5/99), lot 2021.(#6851) (Registry values: N14284) (NGC ID# 24WY, PCGS# 6851)
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