1799 Silver Dollar, 7x6 Stars, MS66
    B-5, BB-157, Tied for Finest at PCGS
    Impeccable Surface Preservation

    1799 $1 7x6 Stars MS66 PCGS. B-5, BB-157, R.2. Bowers-Borckardt Die State II. The present Premium Gem 1799 silver dollar is one of two coins for the entire year certified at PCGS in this grade, with none finer (11/11). Bright mint luster complements variegated, irregular patina that is generally brighter silver-gray in the centers, yielding to sea-green and rose color closer to the rims on each side. If the rather miraculous surface preservation and immediately identifiable coloration were insufficient to pedigree this piece, it is also easily recognizable by a thumbprint that has blended into the toning on the bust of Liberty and the obverse field before the face.
    The U.S. Mint made only two nongold denominations in 1799, large cents and silver dollars, but the former are rare, the latter common -- even if the present conditionally extraordinary silver dollar is anything but. The Mint was underemployed and poorly thought of in Congress, and the average citizen of the late 18th century seldom saw a circulating American coin. The Mint would strike no silver half dimes, dimes, or quarters in 1799 -- among the few denominations that might circulate to some extent. The situation was so dire that Mint Director Elias Boudinot, a man of industry and initiative, would write to Matthew Boulton of the Soho Mint in Birmingham, England, inquiring about the possibility of obtaining all-new steam-powered machinery to improve Mint efficiency -- an effort that would take another four decades to achieve.
    The two largest gold denominations of 1799 rounded out the coinage complement, the half eagle and eagle; again, the former is rare, the latter common. The year 1799 was a signal one in Mint and American history for many reasons other than its status as the harbinger of a new century. Our nation's first (and among its greatest) presidents, George Washington, died on December 14. Future collector extraordinaire Joseph Mickley was born, a man who would become famous when he would begin the search for a large cent dated in the year of his birth -- although the Mint recorded some 904,585 examples, nearly all of them were dated 1798.
    The Mint did manage to produce a generous quantity of 1799-dated silver dollars, recorded at 423,515 pieces. Although a couple of overdated 1799/98 varieties are known and some of the 1799-dated coins were possibly struck in 1800, it appears that most of the examples reported for the calendar year 1799, unlike the large cents, were actually dated 1799 or (overdated 1799/98). Such a prodigious mintage of silver dollars was by far the largest in the Mint's history to that time, and, as might be imagined, the generous emission required a healthy number of obverse-reverse die pairs. According to the Bowers-Borckardt Silver Dollar Encyclopedia, the 22 known 1799 silver dollar die pairings break down into 11 obverse and 16 reverse dies, some obviously more durable and longer-lasting (from available die state evidence) than others.
    In the case of the B-5, BB-157 die pairing of the present piece, the BB Obverse 4 was employed to strike the BB-156 (with clash marks) and BB-157, BB-161 (relapped), and the BB-162, BB-163, and BB-164 varieties. This obverse shows different die states in different pairings, but the constant identifier is the subtle spacing difference, with star 8 positioned slightly closer to the Y in LIBERTY than star 7 is to the L.
    The BB Reverse H finishes the BB-157 combination, a die that is unique to this pairing but similar to other dies used during the year. The U in UNITED is imperfect, cut off at its upper left corner. (This imperfect U letter punch was used on three different reverses.) Again the unique identifier for this reverse is a subtlety: The two upper right stars show two points touching clouds 7 and 8.
    When this coin was cataloged 20+ years ago for the Superior auction, the catalogers wrote (in part) of it:

    "Here is a Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle Silver Dollar that teeters on the edge of absolute perfection! One often wonders, indeed, where such a sharp coin lay hidden all these many years; for clearly it has been kept aside since Day 1 by generations of knowledgeable numismatists, men and women who respect American coinage at its finest, men and women who through merest chance, came to own what must rank as one of the all time great 1799 Silver Dollars."

    It seems superfluous to point out that this fleeting opportunity is one that alert series specialists must seize quickly. The only other MS66 PCGS 1799 dollar that we know of is the one from the Joseph C. Thomas Collection we offered in our FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2011), lot 5621, a B-11, BB-161 that realized $299,000. (That same coin, four years earlier, realized $379,500 in our Charlotte ANA auction, 3/2007, lot 889.)
    Ex: October 7-9, 1990 Sale (Superior), lot 3716. The Superior sale was memorable for, among other reasons, the offering of a complete six-piece gold set of 1872 "Amazonian" pattern coins.(Registry values: N14284) (NGC ID# 24X7, PCGS# 6878)

    Weight: 26.96 grams

    Metal: 89.24% Silver, 10.76% Copper

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

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    Auction Dates
    January, 2012
    3rd-8th Tuesday-Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 13
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