The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 16, Number 11, March 17, 2013, Article 11


Most E-Sylum topics trail off after a few weeks, but some take longer than others. Here are some more thoughts on the Carter specimen of the 1794 Dollar. -Editor

First, John Dannreuther adds:

1794 dollar There are a couple of 1795 dollars with silver plugs that do have adjustment lines. I have not personally seen them, but several early dollar experts assure me they exist.

This does not change my opinion that the 1794 dollar had both the plug and adjustment lines to illustrate the intention of the coiners to produce coins of accurate weight. It certainly has nothing to do with the classification of this coin as SP by PCGS.

Here's a note from Steve D'Ippolito: -Editor

In response to this from John Dannreuther:

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.

I can go along with the way Stack's phrased it. It is, indeed "perfectly conceivable" that this is the coin in question. But to make the stricter statement, that it is (without qualification) the first one ("I believe that this is the first United States silver dollar struck"), is to make an error.

I could certainly believe this is the earliest extant US Silver dollar--in fact that is very, very likely-- but that doesn't mean there weren't one or two others made before this that have since disappeared. (Hopefully not permanently.) "Earliest extant" does not mean "first made."

John wrote:

We have a horse race. Currently, only a single stallion is entered. Until another horse appears, we don’t have a race.

Even the metaphor doesn't say what John seems to think it says, in fact it more closely parallels what I think about this. Not having a race doesn't prove that stallion is the fastest horse on the planet, it just means he was the fastest (and only) one to show up for the race. It doesn't even matter if a couple of other horses show up.

Similarly, not having a plausible other candidate for "first US coin" just means this coin is the best candidate we've got, but you can't jump from that and say that therefore this is the first coin that was actually made, as he is inviting us to do with this conclusion to his piece.

To extend the metaphor, what we are trying to prove is that this stallion is the fastest stallion that ever existed--a superlative, an absolute, just as "first US dollar ever made" is. And having him win a race by default just doesn't do that.

Next to chime in is Bill Eckberg: -Editor

John wrote:

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.

Logic says that if they all went to Rittenhouse and he kept just one as a souvenir, he'd probably have kept the NICEST one. At least that's what I would have done, and it wouldn't have mattered to me if it was the first or 500th. It's not at all hard to imagine that the nicest one would have been among the earlier strikes before die clashing. Rittenhouse wouldn't even have known which was struck first unless the workmen involved told him.

But, the guys who struck these things were paid by the hour to do heavy manual labor and produce as many coins as they could. Would they have bothered to sort them out into which was made first, second, third, etc.? That's hard to believe. A check of my library resources indicates no evidence of a special event in honor of the striking of the first silver dollar(s), so it seems likely that the event passed without significant notice or ceremony, attended only by the workmen in the coining department. Halves were struck the same day, apparently.

As to JD's argument that precisely BECAUSE it has adjustment marks and a plug it must be special, it is completely circular and fails the null hypothesis test. As I understand it, his logic says they chose a planchet that was plugged and filed - and so imperfect in two ways - for a special strike precisely because they only had one of them, and it would make it look like they took their planchet weights very seriously. Wow. All this extra effort for a coin that nobody was ever going to spend, so the weight wouldn't matter!

JD knows vastly more about early silver and gold than I ever will, but any comment about a "first-struck" status for this coin is pure speculation. Any argument in favor has at least as many equal counterarguments. This is no horse race; it is an intellectual argument about whether or not this coin was the first struck. There is no evidence that it was other than a certain logic, some of it rather twisted, and there is just as much logical evidence otherwise. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, and none has been forthcoming.

That said, the coin is undoubtedly special. Spectacular hype and a huge jump bid went into this sale; the buyer desired that this be a $10M coin, and the buyer is a dealer who can be presumed to have known what she was doing. Of course, she wants it to be the first struck (ditto Cardinal and Stacks/Bowers, all of whom have vested interests in the coin's "special" status), but as Dick Doty said, these discussions have entered the realm of theology (or at least philosophy), not numismatic history. I'm sure Legend will, at some point, find someone who will pay enough that they make a profit on it. In the end, that's probably all that matters.

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see: JOHN DANNREUTHER ON THE FIRST 1794 DOLLAR (


Pictures From a Distant Country: Seeing America Through Old Paper Money. Join the Smithsonian’s Richard Doty in his engaging exploration of obsolete paper money—a beautiful gift for a collector, and a welcome addition to your own library. Hardcover, 296 pages, richly illustrated in full color. $24.95 at or call 800-546-2995.

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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