The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 16, Number 12, March 24, 2013, Article 17


John Dannreuther submitted this follow-up to latest week's comments on his thoughts on the first 1794 dollar. Thanks. This topic really has legs! -Editor

1794 dollar

I guess I should give up my lifelong desire to become a standup comedian. My attempt at humor in using the horse racing metaphor in describing the debate about the 1794 dollar fell flat. At least one reader took me seriously, when I said there was only one “stallion” entered in the race. Whoa, Nelly! I guess I should have used “mare” or, nay, perhaps “old nag” and my attempt at humor would have been more obvious. I guess I should quit horsing around.

On a serious note, I did have two points that I wanted to place before the readers. These need a little clarification, too. The first point was to refute what had been written in a previous E-Sylum post that the Mint would never use a planchet with adjustment lines for a specially struck coin. They would and they did. Also, last week it was suggested that this coin possibly was plucked from a group of the earliest struck coins. This is a misunderstanding of how this coin was made. It was not picked from a group of coins.

When the Mint made master-coins (and later, Proofs), the coining press was not set up like it would be for regular production. When master-coins were made, the feeding fingers and ejection fingers mechanisms were disengaged. The planchet was placed on the lower die by hand, the coin was struck, and then it was removed by hand. This 1794 silver dollar was never in contact with other coins, as its superb condition attests. It was not plucked from a bucket of struck dollars.

Through 1893, the specially struck large silver and gold coins were produced on hand-operated presses. The Mint ‘s “Ordering Circular” from the 1890s defined these specially struck coins in this way:

A “proof coin” is one struck by hand on a screw press from a specially polished die, using a polished blank.

This 1794 dollar certainly qualifies by this definition, although the term at the time was master-coin, not “proof.” Yes, I know, this definition was not written for those coins struck in 1794, but the way the Mint made special coins was basically unchanged from 1792 to 1893. From 1894 onward, all Proofs were struck on presses powered by engines. The hand-operated screw press was retired and an era ended.

Could they have made more than one silver dollar master-coin in 1794? Yes. This is the only silver dollar known made by this method. Thus, to suggest that this was selected from a group of such specially prepared coins is speculation, just as my belief that this is the first coin struck. I believe it is. Others do not share that belief. This is their (and my) First Amendment right. I have no idea whether Director David Rittenhouse was at the “ceremony” striking this coin. However, there was one Mint official that almost certainly was present when this coin and the copper die trial piece were struck – Chief Coiner Henry Voigt.

Those of us who believe this silver dollar was the first one struck do not believe this because of this coin’s extraordinary condition. We believe it because of its method of manufacture. It was made the same way that the copper die trial was, very carefully by a press set up for striking master-coins. These “ceremonies” took place several times in the early Mint, as evidenced by the 1793 Chain cents, 1793 Wreath cents, and other specially struck coins that exist in pristine condition to this day. These specially struck coins were preserved by their owners (we do not know who their owners were, but we do know that these superb coins were treasured by them, as they exist today in nearly perfect condition). This dollar is SP66, the Wreath cent is SP68RD, one of the Chain cents is SP67BN, and so on.

The second point I wanted to make was that this planchet was not selected. If they had selected a planchet, they would not have picked one with a silver plug and adjustment lines. If they had a group of planchets, they would have carefully selected a perfect one to polish. The other master-coins from this era are on superb planchets – the previously noted 1793 Chain cents, the 1793 Wreath cent, and all the others.

They polished this planchet, struck it with polished dies with extra care. My idea that it was a regulated silver coin is new, I believe, and I wanted to “throw it out there” to see if the early dollar experts agreed with my theory. I got mixed results. Henry Hilgard came by my table in Baltimore and just gave me a look. I could tell by his smile that he liked the idea. Others, not so much. I am sure some will disagree with this theory and they have that right, just as those readers who do not believe this silver dollar was the first one struck. We are all entitled to our beliefs.

As with all advances in numismatics, we take a couple of steps forward and sometimes one or two backward. There is no way to prove my theory that this is a regulated silver coin. The Mint, however, did use this planchet, so unless one believes that it was randomly picked, they probably had some logic behind the choice. Maybe, someone can come up with a better explanation for the reason this planchet was used.

It is still my “belief” that this is the first silver dollar struck. As noted, I believe this because of this coin’s method of manufacture, not its pristine condition. This is my opinion, just as others believe it is fantasy to “believe” it is such royalty. We all have things we believe that cannot be proved. Certainly, I am glad I did not use my “Donald Rumsfeld” idea of known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns! I certainly would not want to be responsible for some reader’s head exploding!

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

For more information on exploding heads, see: Robot Chicken: Imaginary Number I (


Looking for quality coin supplies for your collection? Look no more! Choose from over 1000s of top brand coin supplies including folders, holders, cardboard 2x2 and more. Shop now!

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

The Numismatic Bibliomania Society is a non-profit organization promoting numismatic literature. See our web site at

To submit items for publication in The E-Sylum, write to the Editor at this address:

To subscribe go to:



Copyright © 1998 - 2020 The Numismatic Bibliomania Society (NBS)
All Rights Reserved.

NBS Home Page
Contact the NBS webmaster