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    Description

    1794 Flowing Hair Dollar, AU58
    Classic American Rarity
    B-1, BB-1, Ex: Queller

    1794 $1 B-1, BB-1, R.4, AU58 NGC. CAC. Bowers Die State III, with extremely faint clash marks and shallow third hair curl. In the Mint Act of April 2, 1792, Congress established a bimetallic coinage system based on the silver dollar and the gold eagle as the "unit" measurements against which all fractional pieces were established. However, it was some time before any silver or gold coins were struck, due to "problems" with the legislation. The major hurdle, often called the "Mint Impediment," was the inability of the Assayer (Albion Cox) or the Chief Coiner (Henry Voigt) to post the $10,000 surety bond required by the government. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson wrote to President George Washington about this problem on December 30, 1793:

    "I am informed by the Director of the Mint, that an impediment has arisen to the coinage of the precious Metals, which it is my Duty to lay before you ... It will be recollected ... That thereupon, our minister in London, according to the instructions he had received, endeavored to procure, there, a Chief Coiner and Assayer; That, as to the latter, he succeeded, sending over a Mr Albion Coxe, for that Office, but that he could procure no person, there, more qualified to discharge the duties of chief Coiner, than might be had here; and therefore did not engage one. The duties of this last Office, have consequently been hitherto performed, and well performed by Henry Voight, an Artist of the United States: but the law requiring these Officers to give a security in the sum of 10,000 dollars each, neither is able to do it ... The other alternative would be to lessen the Securityship in money, and to confide that it will be supplied by the vigilance of the Director, ..."



    Eventually, the bond was reduced to $5,000 for Voigt and $1,000 for Cox, by a bill altering the Mint Act, enacted by Congress and signed into law by President Washington on March 3, 1794. Both men could meet these sureties, with help from their benefactors. For many years, numismatists misunderstood Jefferson's letter and believed Mint Director David Rittenhouse provided the surety for Henry Voigt. However, in 2015, David Finkelstein discovered documentation that proved the bond was posted on April 4, 1794 by four men, Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg, Peter Muhlenberg, Henry Kammerer, and Nicholas Lutz. As alluded to in Jefferson's letter, risk was minimized through the due diligence of Director David Rittenhouse and his officers, who only released small amounts of precious metal at one time.

    Problems continued to beset the Mint in coining dollar-sized coins in 1794, even after the security bonds were met. The Mint had trouble with planchet preparation, as the rolling mills, which rolled bars of silver into sheets of the correct thickness for planchets, deteriorated quickly, and often produced sheets of uneven thickness. Many planchets were deliberately made slightly overweight and then adjusted by reducing the excess weight by filing. Many 1794 dollars seen today show extensive adjustment marks acquired in this manner, as the file marks were difficult to strike out. Of course, if the planchets were underweight, they had to be melted for recoinage or brought up to standard by adding a silver plug in the center.

    The largest screw press in the Mint was only designed to strike coins up to the size of a half dollar. Valiant efforts were made to adapt this press to strike larger coins, with only limited success. The dollars were first struck in early October, 1794, and almost all known specimens show a weakness in the strike on the lower-left obverse stars and dentils, and the corresponding area on the reverse. Apparently, the dies were misaligned in the smaller screw press, resulting in incomplete detail on the side where the space between the dies was wider. The press run was interrupted several times when the dies clashed and had to be lapped to remove the clash marks. As a result, a few coins were struck with better die spacing when the press was set up, and these coins show more detail in the lower-left stars than the great majority of survivors. Of the approximately 2,000 coins struck, about 250 pieces were rejected as unsuitable. The rejected coins were probably saved and used as planchets the following year, as at least one 1795 Flowing Hair dollar is known plainly overstruck on a 1794 dollar. In the end, it was decided to suspend coinage of dollars until a larger, more powerful screw press could be built and installed. This delayed further coinage of silver dollars until 1795.

    When coin collecting first became widespread in the United States, in the late 1850s, the 1794 Flowing Hair dollar was one of the most sought-after issues in American numismatics. An example appeared (along with a 1794 half dollar) in lot 4 of the American Coins portion of the famous Roper Sale (Moses Thomas & Sons, 2/1851), the first real coin auction held in this country. By the mid-1860s, the 1794 dollar enjoyed a reputation for extreme rarity and historical significance, and examples brought remarkable prices whenever they were offered. The coin in lot 965 of the Jeremiah Colburn Collection (W. Elliot Woodward, 10/1863), was described as:

    "1794 Perhaps the finest dollar of this date in existence; all collectors who have examined it agree in pronouncing it the best they have ever seen, excessively rare."



    The lot realized $285, a staggering price at the time, to coin dealer William Strobridge, who was acting as an agent for prominent early collector George Seavey. Of course, prices of all numismatic items have skyrocketed in recent years, and 1794 dollars have been among the leaders in price growth. When the present coin was offered in lot 2000 of the Queller Family Collection (Heritage, 4/2008), it realized $488,750.

    All 1794 dollars, 1,758 coins delivered by the Chief Coiner on October 15, were struck from a single pair of dies. Between three and five die states of the 1794 dollars are known, depending on the source consulted. Q. David Bowers records three basic die states in his Encyclopedia of United States Silver Dollars 1794-1804: I. Perfect dies, II. Lightly clashed dies, III. Lapped dies. In The Flowing Hair Silver Dollars of 1794, Martin Logies described five die states: I. Perfect dies, II. Lightly clashed dies, III. Lapped obverse with clash marks still faintly visible, IV. Relapped obverse with clash marks entirely removed, V. Lapped reverse die.

    With the clash marks virtually effaced on both sides, the Queller specimen apparently represents Logies' Die State V. Based on his examination of previous catalog plates, Logies initially attributed this piece as Die State III in his first edition, but corrected it to Die State V in his second edition. Indeed, a small surface mark below the chin that is visible in earlier plates looks nearly identical to clash marks found in the same location, until the actual coin is examined. In his second edition, Logies presented estimated populations for each die state as follows: Die State I: two coins; Die State II: eight coins; Die State III: 90 coins; Die State IV: 29 coins; and Die State V: five coins. The present specimen is the second finest of the Die State V examples, behind the Murdoch-Bass coin.

    Based on an earlier unpublished study of the issue by Jack Collins, Logies recorded every known 1794 silver dollar, in their approximate census ranking. Because various grading systems were used at different times, and many examples appear so infrequently, it is virtually impossible to place all known coins in their exact grade order. For example, when this coin was offered by Stack's in March 1981, long before NGC or PCGS began grading coins, it was graded XF45. It was included in Logies' first edition as the number 17 coin (out of 125 examples known in 2004) based on the Stack's catalog grade from 37 years ago. In his second edition, it is listed in the number 10 spot (out of 134 examples known in 2010), behind the six Mint State coins, the AU58 PCGS Connecticut Historical Society specimen, and two coins that grade AU55 PCGS now, but were formerly considered Mint State specimens. The inconsistencies in this ranking are obvious, but it would require the examination of all known specimens in a short period of time by a third party grading authority to reconcile them completely, a situation that is extremely unlikely.

    The present coin is nicely detailed on both sides with the typical weakness along the lower-left portion of the obverse border, the result of misaligned dies and some light adjustment marks in that area. A small oval mark between stars 14 and 15 helps identify the provenance. The obverse has fine adjustment marks extending in from the border by stars 1 through 7, stars 9 through 14, and at the date. Two tiny rim bruises are evident at 7 o'clock on the obverse. The devices on each side are displayed against a lustrous background of light gold and rose, with peripheral steel-gray toning. This remarkable dollar ranks about 10th finest of all known 1794s. It should find a home in a fine collection or Registry Set. Census: 2 in 58, 5 finer (7/18).
    Ex: California State Numismatic Association Sale (Numismatic Enterprises, 10/1964), lot 937; Public Auction Sale (Stack's, 3/1981), lot 512; Queller Family Collection (Heritage, 4/2008), lot 2000, realized $488,750; Walter Husak; private collection. (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.

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    Auction Dates
    August, 2018
    14th-19th Tuesday-Sunday
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