Bits & Pieces... by David Sundman

The Legendary 1804 Dollar

[photo: This 1842 book A Manual of Gold and Silver Coins of All Nations, Struck Within the Past Century contained the first published image of an 1804 silver dollar, which was previously unknown to collectors.]

This 1842 book A Manual of Gold and Silver Coins of All Nations, Struck Within the Past Century contained the first published image of an 1804 silver dollar, which was previously unknown to collectors.

The Sultan of Muscat-Childs-Pogue 1804 Draped Bust silver dollar, graded Proof 68 by Professional Coin Grading Service and the finest of fifteen 1804 silver dollars known to exist, received a world record auction bid for a single rare coin of $10,575,000 at the May 24, 2016 sale of the D. Brent Pogue Collection in New York City. But the bid did not surpass the consignor's reserve price! Long called the "King of American Coins," the 1804 dollar came to the attention of early collectors through a historic numismatic reference book. There were very few collectors of coins in the United States prior to the Civil War. That the 1804 dollar existed was known to only a few, and none were collectors. The coin first came to light with the publication in 1842 by Jacob R. Eckfeldt and William E. Dubois of A Manual of Gold and Silver Coins of All Nations, Struck Within the Past Century.

[photo: Engraved coin images from the book (left) and an actual 1804 dollar (images courtesy of Stack's Bowers), (right)]

Engraved coin images from the book (left) and an actual 1804 dollar (images courtesy of Stack's Bowers), (right)

This new book with its innovative engraved pictures of coins in the U.S. Mint collection attracted the attention of Matthew A. Stickney, a Massachusetts numismatist, and one of the earliest in this country. Stickney was one of the few early coin collectors in the United States who collected by date (date only – not by mint mark – that practice would come much later). Stickney (as did every collector) lacked the 1804 dollar. He made inquiries with the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia, and in 1843 paid a visit. He eventually traded coins from his collection for a specimen of the 1804 dollar. It immediately became a prized possession – a highlight of his collection.

More than a century later in 1959, Eric P. Newman and Ken Bressett discovered that none of the 1804 silver dollars were in fact, minted in 1804. They identified eight 1804-dated dollars to be from dies made in 1834 to strike several examples for diplomatic gifts to potentates. Later on, two additional types of 1804 dollar restrikes were made by the U.S. Mint. These were struck using the same obverse die but a different reverse die, and six are known to exist in cabinets today. Newman and Bressett classified the dollars into three groups – Class I or Originals, made in the mid-1830s; Class II, a restrike with a plain edge, with only one known and struck by the mint in the 1858/59 time frame; and Class III with edge letters added after the coin striking, made for collectors from 1858-1872.

The U.S. Mint had a practice of trading coins to collectors for others they needed in the mint collection. Years later it was learned that U.S. Mint reports showing delivery of 19,750 dollar coins to the U.S. Treasurer in 1804 consisted only of coins struck in 1803.

In 2016, more than 60 years after the first publication of Eric Newman's and Ken Bressett's two books on the subject, as well as many articles in the popular press and television appearances, the legendary 1804 dollar is known as the "King of American Coins." Every time one is sold for millions of dollars, its status increases. The 1804 dollar, in all three varieties, is one of the world's most famous coins and one of the most valuable.

For those of you curious about the production of coin engravings for the 1842 book, the method is described below by numismatic author Wayne Homren:

Jacob R. Eckfeldt (1803–1872) and William E. Du Bois (1810–1881). A Manual of Gold and Silver Coins of All Nations. Philadelphia: The Assay Office of the Mint, 1842.

Eckfeldt and Du Bois were assayers at the Philadelphia Mint. They illustrated their book with plates engraved with medal ruling, a mechanical technique of copying relief directly from the coin into the copper plate. They credited the invention of the technique of copying to Christian Gobrecht (1785–1844), the Engraver of the Mint, and its adaptation to reproduce the relief in two dimensions to Joseph Saxton (1799–1873), Constructor and Curator of the standard weighing apparatus of the mint. To avoid damaging the coins in the process, copies were made using an electrotype process, recently invented by Moritz von Jacobi (1801–1874) in 1838.