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V16 2013 INDEX       E-SYLUM ARCHIVE

The E-Sylum: Volume 16, Number 5, February 3, 2013, Article 14

ON THE 'FIRST' 1794 DOLLAR

Dr. Richard Doty of the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution supplied these thoughts on the recently sold 1794 dollar. Publicity for the coin stated that "A close study of its characteristics suggests that it may well be the first specimen struck of the first year of the silver dollar, and was carefully preserved for posterity." -Editor

1794 dollar Sorry, but how does anyone know that the 1794 dollar that went for ten million was actually the first one struck? It strikes me that we are moving from the realm of numismatics into that of theology in this case. There's enough hot air and hype in this branch of numismatics as it is (e.g., grading a VF-20 coin as AU-55 just because it happens to be an early American issue). To definitively state that one particular piece is the first of 1,758 struck doesn't help matters.

1) I note that it's graded Specimen-66 by the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS).

2) A 'specimen' coin is meant for presentation rather than circulation. Let's leave the grade aside: like proofs, specimens are distinguished by their mode of production, not their numerical grade.

3) BUT it is noted that this piece, like a few other dollars of that and the following year, had a silver plug inserted in the center, to bring it up to full federal standards. Why would you do that for something that was never intended for circulation anyway?

4) AND those adjustment marks on the obverse: early coiners attempted to bring the weight of a planchet or coin within official tolerance, filing the piece down if it was too heavy, tossing it back in the melting pot if it was too light. From the evidence presented by the obverse of this coin, its weight was adjusted downward while still in the planchet stage. But again, if it were intended as a specimen, why not leave the surface alone and eat the few cents' loss on the metal with the goal of Making Numismatic History?

~j'reste mah case.

Well, the statement was that the coin "MAY well be the first specimen struck", not that it WAS. But one shouldn't get carried away by possibilities without proof.

I can agree with Dick that the adjustment marks are unlikely to be found on a true specimen coin. But I asked, "Couldn't someone argue that the coin was plugged and filed to meet the legal requirements set by Congress? Why shouldn't a specimen adhere to the same standards? -Editor

Dick responds:

As for the plug (or for that matter, the adjustment marks), the plug might have been a sincere attempt to bring the thing into legal conformity; but specimens (and proofs) would, I assume, have had a certain time constraint as to when they must be finished and out the door ("See here, we promised the Prince his coin would sail next Thursday on the packet, and it will, perfect weight or not!"). Human nature being what it is, I don't see early Mintmasters being any more professional than their modern counterparts. But the kicker, for me, is the adjustment marks on the upper-right portion of the obverse. NO Mintmaster worth his salary would have ever intended that coin as a specimen strike, or remitted it as such.

The Star-Ledger of New Jersey published one of the many popular press articles following the sale. -Editor

The coin, known as the Flowing Hair Silver Dollar, sold for a record $10 million last week at auction.

“It’s one of the rarest coins in existence,” said Laura Sperber, co-partner of Legend Numismatics of Lincroft, which purchased the coin. “Who knows who could have held this coin? George Washington? Any of the Founding Fathers?”

There goes another qualifying word - "could". Sure, George Washington COULD have held this coin. He could have tossed it across a river. He could have used it to settle a bar bet with Ben Franklin. He could have bought himself a powerful mojo from a voodoo priestess passing through Alexandria. Given the lack of evidence, nearly anything COULD be true. But again, let's not get carried away. It's a damn fine coin no matter what. There's nothing wrong with theories and stories, just don't let them take on a significance greater than they deserve. -Editor

To read the complete article, see: Rare silver dollar sold for $10 million to Jersey firm (www.nj.com/business/index.ssf/2013/01/rare_silver_dollar_sold_for_10.html)

Alan V. Weinberg writes:

Now we know Laura Sperber's rationale for her outrageous bidding tactic. Interesting reading.

A month out we were ready to buy it at $10 million dollars all in. Then "auction fever" set in. We heard rumors, we started to evaluate potential bidders, we began feeling the pressure that $10 million for this iconic coin would not be enough. After all, how many chances will there ever be to buy a classic coin like this?. In an auction setting, anyone could pop up for it. The market has dramatically changed since it had been offered for sale in 2010. Classic rarities are in demand and are circling the numismatic universe in their own orbit. So we decided to raise our bid.

Then last week, the Batmobile sold for nearly $5 million dollars. Then we read about some paintings that just sold for $100,000,000.00+. Those events were critical. We rationalized, about what money is really worth (how much the gov. is printing too) and how people perceive value and are spending on it on non traditional assets these days. At that point we realized the 1794 was a tragic oversight to be valued at anything LESS then $10,000,000.00. We raised our limit to $15 million and started to sweat what the other buyers would do. Knowing there was at least one buyer who has coveted this coin forever and had the means to buy it, made us lose lots of sleep last week.

Two days before the sale our lead partner made the final decision, we MUST pay $10 million dollars all in MINIMUM. We developed a 'shock and awe" plan. We were all in agreement, we even went through a mini practice.

The next two days we were all nervous wrecks. We tried to put on our best poker faces about bidding. Everyone in the dealer community pretty much expected us to be bidders. But we tried to hide our plans as best we could.

On the day of the sale we all woke up sick-nerves were getting the best of all of us. It was not until we actually got to NYC-in the auction room itself we felt better. But, with every well dressed person who entered the room, we panicked-OMG, they could out bid us on the dollar! How any of us survived without having a heart attack is a wonder. So we all spoke on the phone and our last minute discussion involved implementing "shock and awe". After sitting thru 93 lots of incredible coins in at total fog, the time had come. We all started to hold our breath.

The auctioneer looked around to make sure she had a clear sightline of all potential bidders. We freaked slightly when we saw the head of a major coin company get ready to bid-we didn't add him to our equation. Oh no! Then the bidding started at $2.2 million. It slowly climbed to $5 million. That was our original planned “shock and awe” point to take control of the bidding hopefully freezing out other buyers. Instead in the fog of bidding, we suddenly got hit at $5.5 million (missing our $5 million dollar invoke). We knew we could not wait any longer, we invoked "shock and awe" and jumped the bid to $8,525,000.00.

EVERYONE in the room was stunned. We firmly believe we took control of the bidding at that point and made a powerful statement about what it will take to beat us. Then for what seemed like the longest close to any lot ever (only because of the stress and lack of breathing) we had done it! We purchased the 1794 $1.00-now more than solidified as the worlds most valuable coin. On the phone and at our table (if you were there) you probably heard the biggest sigh of relief ever. Our strategy had worked! We later confirmed there was at least one bidder right under us. Whew!

The purchase of the 1794 $1 was now history!

To read the complete article, see: 1794 $1 10,016,875.00 THE WORLDS MOST VALUABLE COIN-AND WE BOUGHT IT! (www.legendcoin.com/cgi-bin/inventory/cms2.pl?page=market_report&article=307)

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see: 1794 DOLLAR SALE COVERAGE (www.coinbooks.org/esylum_v16n04a12.html)

Wayne Homren, Editor

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