The Flowing Hair Silver Dollar (1794)

America’s First Silver Dollar

1794 Flowing Here Silver Dollar Silver Center Plug PCGS SP-66

PCGS

The United States Mint produced its first coins in 1792 under the authorization of The Mint Act of April 2, 1792. Before that, foreign coins from around the world facilitated trade in the new fledgling country. Spain controlled most of the wealth from the New World and established several mints in the Americas to coin silver and gold coins. Spanish silver eight reales coins or pieces of eight were the standard of international trade.

Under the new law, it was required that the chief coiner and assayer for the United States Mint post bonds of $10,000 each (more than $250,000 in today’s money!) to handle precious metals such as silver and gold. Therefore, for the first two years, the United States mint only produced copper half cents and large cents. In March 1794, congressional action lowered the bond to $5,000 for the chief coiner and $1,000 for the assayer.

Minting 1794 Flowing Hair Silver Dollars

The Mint Act of 1792 authorized the production of silver dollars to weigh a total of 416 grains (26.9563 g.) with 371.25 grains of silver and the balance being copper. This composition resulted in a coin containing 89.243% fine silver. The government intended to establish the new United States silver dollar to circulate at par with the Mexican and other Spanish-American eight reales silver coins.

Once Congress cleared the way for the minting of silver and gold coins, The United States Mint was now tasked with creating a design. Engraver Robert Scot began working on the design, most likely taking direction from President Washington, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson (in charge of Mint affairs) or Mint Director David Rittenhouse. The flowing hair liberty head design chosen for the 1794 silver dollar is very similar to engraver Henry Voigt’s design on the 1793 large cent.

1793 Large Cent with the Wreath Reverse
1793 Flowing Hair Large Cent. PCGS, www.pcgs.com 

Workers at the mint found it difficult to attain the 0.89243 fine silver composition as required by law. Rittenhouse proposed to increase to silver content from 371.25 grains to 374.74 grains with a total weight of 416 grains. This resulted in a .9000 fine silver composition. This unauthorized change in the composition resulted in every coin containing approximately one percent extra silver.

Problems did not end after adjusting the metallic composition of the coin. In 1794, the largest press at the mint was intended for striking coins no larger than half dollar. Rittenhouse decided to use this unsuitable screw press for coining the silver dollars. Each coin was struck with a single blow since no 1794 silver dollar specimens exhibit any evidence of being double struck. However, the lack of force resulted in most coins showing areas of weak detail due to insufficient striking pressure.

Additionally, the rolling mill that turned silver ingots into long thin metal strips frequently required maintenance. Unfortunately, the understaffed mint did not always perform such maintenance. This resulted in planchets of varying thickness. To bring the planchets within tolerance, workers filed some metal off each planchet until it was within the specified weight tolerance. This frequent resulted in some adjustment marks being visible on the finished coin.

The World’s Most Valuable Coin

Price Realized: $10,016,875

Date Sold: January 24, 2013

Sold By: Stack’s Bowers Galleries

The Neil-Carter 1794 Specimen Flowing Hair Silver Dollar was sold by the auction firm Stack's Bowers in the January 2013 New York Americana Sale. Of all the known uncirculated specimens of 1794 United States silver dollars, this is the only one that exhibits extreme detail on the devices and an almost mirror-like finish in the fields. Some expert numismatists have referred to this as a proof-like specimen because it is widely believed that no proof coins were minted before 1816.

Numismatic researchers have indicated that this particular coin was struck on a specially prepared planchet and careful consideration was given to ensure that the coin dies were properly aligned in the press before striking. This theory is evidenced by an overall strong appearance of details with no areas of weak striking.

There are adjustment marks visible on both the obverse and the reverse sides of the coin. However, a mint worker removed too much metal from the surface. He then added a small silver plug on the obverse before striking to bring the total weight of the coin within tolerance. This unique characteristic of the coin makes its promenades easily traceable throughout history.

1794 Silver Dollar Values

1794 Flowing Hair silver dollars are extremely rare and valuable in any grade. In low-end circulated grades of G-4, they are valued at $65,000. A mid-circulated grade of F-12 carries a value of $135,000. The average About Uncirculated specimen usually sells for over half $1 million. Uncirculated specimens easily exceed $1 million whenever they appear at auction.

Auction records

Although the United States Mint produced 1,758 coins in the latter part of 1794, numismatists believe less than 150 coins survive today.

Here are the other top ten auction records for the 1794 Flowing Hair Silver Dollar:

  1. $4,993,750 - September 2015; Stack's Bowers; The D. Brent Pogue Collection, Part II; MS66+ (PCGS)
  2. $2,820,000 - August 2017; Stack's Bowers; August 2017 ANA Auction Denver, CO; MS64 (PCGS)
  3. $1,207,500 - August 2010; Bowers & Merena; The August 2010 Boston Rarities Sale; MS64 (NGC)
  4. $1,150,000 - June 2005; American Numismatic Rarities; The Cardinal Collection/A Gentleman's Collection; MS64 (NGC)
  5. $910,625 - March 2017; Stack's Bowers; March 2017 Baltimore Auction; AU58+ (PCGS)
  6. $780,000 - August 2018; Heritage Auctions; 2018 August 14-19 ANA U.S. Coins Signature Auction Philadelphia, PA; AU58 (NGC)
  7. $747,500 - June 2005; Heritage Auctions; 2005 June Long Beach Signature Auction #376; MS61 (NGC)
  8. $577,500 - November 1995; Akers, Stack's, RARCOA, Superior; Numisma '95; GEM BU (NONE)
  9. $575,000 - May 2011; Goldberg Auctioneers; Pre-Long Beach; AU58 (PCGS)
  10. $503,125 - April 2009; Heritage Auctions; 2009 CSNS PN; MS61 (NGC)