John Dannreuther submitted these thoughts in response to earlier discussions of the Carter specimen of the 1794 dollar. Thanks!
After reading the varied and interesting comments about the 1794 Flowing Hair silver dollar graded PCGS SP66 and its recent record sale for over ten million dollars, I thought your readers might be interested in hearing comments from the other camp. Yes, I believe that this is the first United States silver dollar struck and, no, there is no “proof” of this conclusion other than logic (pun intended!).
Before I give my explanation of why this coin has a silver plug AND adjustment lines, some details about this coin should help explain why this coin was called SP by PCGS. When David Hall called me about this coin and asked my opinion as to its designation status, I asked him if it was a Morgan dollar, what would he call it? His answer: “a Proof.” Those who have examined this coin outside of its plastic holder have been amazed by the depth of its mirrored fields. It is hard to see this reflectivity behind plastic, as most numismatists have either seen it in the large Capital plastic holder from the 1984 Carter sale or in a PCGS holder. It has been examined by numerous numismatists on several occasions at coin shows after cracking it out of its PCGS holder (see recent Coin World article by Donn Pearlman for more about these examinations).
PCGS uses the SP designation for early United States coins that were called master-coins at the time. At various times, the Mint called its specially struck coins master-coins, patterns, Specimens, and much later, Proofs. Generally, prior to 1873, they were called Specimens in the Coiner’s ledger, thereafter Proofs, although an entry in 1867 designated a delivery of “Proof Coin.” In earlier Mint correspondence, these special coins were called master-coins or patterns (this term did not obtain its current meaning until the latter part of the nineteenth century). The Coiner’s ledgers are not located today and we know of them from a 1939 letter to Wayte Raymond, who inquired into the Proof mintage figures. Even in 1939, the Mint officials could find no physical records of Proof coinage prior to 1865.
We know Mint Director David Rittenhouse received all of the 1794 silver dollars, as he supplied the silver used to strike them. Researchers Joel Orosz and Len Augsburger recently found the Rittenhouse signed delivery receipt in the Pennsylvania Historical Society. Thus, all 1794 dollars can be pedigreed to the good doctor. If he kept a coin, logic would say he would have kept the first coin struck.
What is another reason that some of us believe this is the first silver dollar struck? Die state. In studying coins, die states can tell us quite a lot. A die progressively wears from its use. Sometimes, dies also crack or clash. When a die clashes, it is often removed from the coining press and polished. This gives us evidence for striking order. This 1794 silver dollar is from the perfect die state prior to clashing. Currently, it is the only silver example from this die state (the 1794 copper impression also is from this perfect die state). No one debates that this is the finest known example from the earliest die state. It is the only one known, so there is no second finest.
Now, for the sticky question: Why would they use an adjusted planchet for the first silver dollar? As the person who wrote the appraisal for the Cardinal Education Foundation when it was purchased, I gave this a lot of thought. After pondering this question, the only explanation came from the era in which this example was struck.
In the eighteenth century, coins traded by the tale. The merchants of the day were interested in the purity and weight of the coins they accepted for merchandise. Those responsible for our coinage were certainly aware of the regulated gold coins by Ephraim Brasher and others. To have an accepted coinage was paramount to our early leaders. In fact, no denominations were placed on our gold coins until 1807! They knew the rest of the world would judge our coins by their weight and purity.
I believe that the silver plug and adjustment lines found on this coin were intentional. It was more important to those who produced this coin that this silver dollar was the correct weight and purity than its aesthetic appearance would have been. This was the largest silver coin struck and it had to be right. They did not select this planchet, it was created. As the only known 1794 silver dollar with a silver plug, it has been compared to 1795 Flowing Hair silver dollars with silver plugs. However, the 1795 dollars were underweight planchets that had silver plugs added to increase their weight. Only the overweight planchets have adjustment lines.
If this 1794 dollar planchet was underweight and had to have a silver plug added, why does it have adjustment lines? None of the 1795 silver plug examples have adjustment lines. It would seem that the 1794 planchet had both a silver plug and adjustment lines to illustrate the intention of the United States to issue coins of correct weight. They could have used a correct weight planchet without adjustment lines, but they polished this planchet to augment the reflective surfaces. The polishing of this planchet was intentional and it would seem the silver plug and adjustment lines were also done for a purpose. It was a regulated silver coin.
As Stack’s noted in their 1984 Carter sale, “It is perfectly conceivable that this coin was the very first 1794 Silver dollar struck!” No one can be certain of this conclusion, as your respondents have noted on numerous occasions, however I usually end my discussions of this coin with a racing metaphor.
We have a horse race. Currently, only a single stallion is entered. Until another horse appears, we don’t have a race.
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
ARTICLE HIGHLIGHTS 1794 DOLLAR RESEARCH EFFORTS
Wayne Homren, Editor
The Numismatic Bibliomania Society is a non-profit organization
promoting numismatic literature. See our web site at coinbooks.org.
To submit items for publication in The E-Sylum, write to the Editor
at this address: firstname.lastname@example.org
To subscribe go to: https://my.binhost.com/lists/listinfo/esylum
Copyright © 1998 - 2020 The Numismatic Bibliomania Society (NBS)
All Rights Reserved.
NBS Home Page
Contact the NBS webmaster