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1804 DRAPED BUST SILVER DOLLAR

   

The "Adams-Carter" 1804 Draped Bust Silver Dollar, PCGS graded Proof-58
Images courtesy of
Legend Numismatics
 

The 1804 Silver Dollar is one of the rarest and most popular of all American coins, despite the fact that none were made until 1834 and several were even made many years after that!  Mint reports from 1804 show a delivery figure of 19,570 Silver Dollars, but numismatists believe these were all leftover coins dated 1803.  Certain qualities of the known 1804 Silver Dollars (and other facts concerning their history) indicate that the first 1804 Silver Dollars were struck in or about 1834, when orders came from the State Department for special sets of coins to be struck for diplomatic purposes.  Later restrikes were made sometime after 1857 (a unique example shows the undertype of an 1857 Swiss Shooting Thaler)!

Thus, we find three classes of 1804 Silver Dollars.  Class I examples were made circa 1834 - these all have lettered edges and no rust pit in the field just left of the top leaf of the olive branch on the reverse.  Class II examples were made after 1857 - the only known specimen has a plain edge.  Class III examples were made after 1857 - they all have lettered edges and a rust pit in the afore-mentioned place on the reverse.  Currently, eight examples are known of the Class I type, one is known of the Class II, and six are known of the Class III type.  The finest example known is a Class I "Original" owned by the C. F. Childs estate; this remarkable coin was recently graded Proof-68 by the Professional Coin Grading Service.

The coin illustrated above is an example of the Class III type.  Known as the "Amon Carter" specimen (named after the famous Texas numismatist who once owned it), this example has a pedigree dating all the way back to 1876.  In 1998, this coin was purchased by Legend Numismatics and placed in a collection that now includes rarities such as the 1794 Dollar from the Harry Bass collection, a 1795 Plain Eagle Dollar in PCGS MS65, a 1796 Dollar from the Whitney collection, a 1797 Dollar with obverse stars arranged 10x6 graded NGC MS65 from the Eliasberg Collection, an 1801 Dollar certified NGC MS63 from the Eliasberg collection, and an 1802 Dollar in PCGS MS64 from the Floyd Starr collection.

The following is a complete roster of all known examples of the 1804 Silver Dollar, divided into Classes.  Click on any link to view the actual coin.

The Story Of The 1804 Silver Dollar

By Richard Giedroyc, edited by Ron Guth

The great, classic rarity among American coins is the 1804 Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle silver dollar coin.  The 1804 silver dollar may not be the rarest of US coins, but it is the most publicized and sought-after piece.  An 1804 Silver Dollar holds the world record price for a coin at public auction -- $4.14 million. 1804 Silver Dollars have been the subject of television programs, radio talk shows, the subject of books and, unfortunately, the subject of spectacular thefts. It is a widely counterfeited coin, with some of the counterfeits being regarded for years as genuine due to a failure of their owners to have the coins examined by third party certification services.

Ironically, this, the most famous of all American coins and perhaps all the coins in the world, is a fantasy issue. 

None were ever intended for circulation. All were struck at a much later date, and some, but not all of the coins, were minted by the US government. Others appear to be unauthorized issues struck by enterprising Mint employees. Although none of the coins in private hands has ever been seized as illegal to own, the impropriety surrounding the manufacture of some of these coins could place the legality of owning them into question at some later date.  No silver dollar coins were struck beyond early 1804 by the US Mint, and those struck in early 1804 are dated 1803 (early Mint records must be treated carefully, as they report when coins were shipped, not necessarily when they were struck).  Silver bullion coins were being exported in large quantities to Europe, discouraging further production of the coins. Considering the Spanish milled dollar (Spanish colonial American 8-reales coin) was legal tender and circulated widely, the need for a domestically produced silver dollar coin wasn’t crucial.

On Nov. 11, 1834, orders were placed with the Mint by the State Department for two sets of “specimens of each kind now in use, whether of gold, silver or copper” for presentation to the King of Siam (modern Thailand) and the Imam of Muscat.  Why these two obscure rulers where chosen for this honor rather than more important trading partners is a topic of speculation.  Nobody seems to know why, but although there were no silver dollar or $10 gold eagle coins being struck in 1834, a decision to include these coin denominations in the sets was made. Perhaps it was for consistency, since both coins logically completed a set. The eagle might not have been missed had none been made for the sets, but the silver dollar was a logical progression for the silver denominations which would be noticeably missing.  Considering the diameter of the silver dollar, if you included a silver dollar, logic would demand that a gold coin of about the same size should also be included.

We don’t know who in the State Department made the decision to strike 1804-dated coins for a set made in 1834, but it may have been a misunderstanding regarding the last date in which the coins were struck. The Mint reports indicated 1804 production of the silver dollar (which is correct), but in fact the coins struck in early 1804 are now known to be dated 1803. This information may not have been available to Mint and State Department personnel at that time since US coin collecting was still in its infancy and numismatic books on the subject did not yet exist.

Special Agent Edmund Roberts delivered one coin set containing an 1804 silver dollar to Sayid Sayid bin Sultan, the imam of Muscat. The set was said to be housed in a crimson morocco case and was part of a diplomatic gift exchange which included a lion and lioness delivered to the Washington Zoo from Muscat.  Although an 1804 silver dollar with pedigree of the imam of Muscat is in the United States today nobody seems to be able to explain how it could have gotten back out of Muscat if this pedigree is correct. The Watters specimen allegedly is the Muscat coin, however no one can trace its whereabouts before about 1879.  Inquiries made to Muscat and Oman during the 1990s by coin dealer Stephen Album of Santa Rosa, Calif., on my behalf indicated the Muscat “coin collection” is not inventoried and sits in bags on shelves behind the desk of one of the state ministers today. No one Album spoke with had sufficient interest in checking to see if an 1804 silver dollar was among the coins in “safe keeping.”

Even if the Watters specimen is the coin given to the imam, how did it get out of the country and is it legal to own? This question has never been presented legally.  The famed King of Siam specimen is in a similar situation. The State Department presented the coin to King Ph’ra Naga Klao of Siam on April 4, 1836. According to numismatic urban legends, the coin eventually was given to Anna Leonowens, the famed Anna of “The King and I” movie and the book by Margaret Landon.  In its murky pedigreed history the coin allegedly continues to pass through Leonowens’ relatives until Spink & Son Ltd. obtained it in the early 1960s. By this time, the coin was housed in an appropriate case, but again there is no paper trail to indicate it really did come this route from Thailand (Siam), or that it was legally out of the country.  Cases can be obtained in which coins can be placed later. This includes old cases. For years, there was a prestigious coin firm in London said to have many old coin cases without coins in the back room. Allegedly, coin dealers were known to purchase the cases, place coins in them and then market the coins and case as having some special pedigree.

Today Thailand has a national numismatic museum in Bangkok. Inquiries I made through a representative of the Thai Mint in 1997 regarding if the museum or Thai Treasury still had an 1804 silver dollar were not answered.  Is it possible there are still additional 1804 silver dollar coins in Muscat and Thailand?  Further investigation is needed.

There are three “classes” of 1804 silver dollars recognized today by collectors. The first class are those coins struck in 1834 under direction of the US State Department. It can easily be argued these coins are legally out of the Mint and can be held without fear of seizure by the Secret Service for this reason. Eight Class I specimens exist today for certain, possibly as many as 10, if specimens can be proven to be in Thailand and Muscat.

The Class II restrike was a “back door” job including other restrikes being produced illegally within the Mint during 1858 by Mint employee Theodore Eckfeldt. The illegally struck coins were sold through Dr. Montroville W. Dickeson, who owned a store in Philadelphia. Once the illegal restrikes were discovered, Mint Director James Ross Snowden demanded their return.  All Class II restrikes were returned (as far as is known). These coins have a plain edge. The only surviving specimen was kept for the Mint collection and is now in the collection at the Smithsonian Institution.

The Class III specimens are further restrikes, not known to Snowden, produced in 1859 into 1860. Once again, Eckfeldt was responsible for these coins. Although similar to the Class I coins, there are differences. The lettered edge found on Class I specimens was once again used on the Class III specimens since a witch hunt was on for those of Class II.  The die from which the Class III specimens were made was seized by Snowden during 1860, but by this time several were in collector hands. Other collectors who owned Class I specimens organized to ensure all Class III coins would be confiscated (Heaven forbid the importance and value of their Class I specimens be diminished by these rogue pieces). Six Class III specimens are known today.


 

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