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DRAPED BUST SILVER DOLLAR -
The "Mickley-Reed Hawn" Specimen
The following description is from Heritage's April 2008 sale of the Queller Family collection, Lot 2089, where this coin realized, $3,737,500:
1804 $1 Original PR62 NGC. It is currently not the most expensive American coin-merely the most famous. Heritage Auction Galleries takes enormous pride in its first public offering of a Class I Original 1804 silver dollar. Possessing a long and historic provenance that extends back to noted 19th century collector Joseph J. Mickley, this coin, graded PR62 by NGC, is one of eight Original Class I 1804 silver dollars known today. Of those eight coins, only five are in private collections, with the remainder in institutional holdings.
The Heritage offering marks the first time a Class I Original 1804 dollar has appeared at auction in nearly a decade, since the PR64 Dexter-Dunham example brought $1,840,000 in the year 2000.
The 1804 silver dollar has long been renowned as the "King of American Coins." Well before such latter-day rarities as the 1913 Liberty nickels, the 1894-S Barber dimes, or the 1907 Ultra High Relief double eagles, the 1804 silver dollars were acknowledged as the most famous U.S. coins, yardsticks by which great American numismatic collections were measured.
Acquisition of an 1804 silver dollar-especially an Original or Class I example-bestows immediate numismatic immortality upon its possessor. The Class I Originals were legitimately struck in proof format at the U.S. Mint, apparently intended for presentation to foreign dignitaries. Some, however, soon found their way into commercial and collector channels. Their long and illustrious pedigrees have names tying them to foreign royalty, exotic destinations, captains of industry, and the luminaries of U.S. numismatics: the King of Siam, the Sultan of Muscat, Joseph J. Mickley, Matthew Stickney, Louis Eliasberg, John Work Garrett, Col. E.H.R. Green, Lorin G. Parmelee.
The first 1804 silver dollar to reach collectors' hands is also the first-and most famous-numismatic transaction that most American collectors know of: In 1843 collector Matthew Stickney traded the U.S. Mint a unique 1785 Immune Columbia cent overstruck on a 1775 British gold guinea, along with some other pieces, for an 1804 silver dollar. The Guide Book of United States Coins (Red Book) has included the story since its first edition was published in 1947, edifying generations of young U.S. collectors and providing the stuff of dreams.
Class I 1804 silver dollars have regularly set one coin auction record after another over the last century and a half. The present Mickley specimen brought the staggering sum of $750-a record for the entire 1860s-when legendary collector William A. Lilliendahl bought it from the 1867 W.E. Woodward sale. The second-highest auction price of the decade, from the same sale, was "only" $340 for an 1802 half dime, one of the most coveted American coin delicacies.
Class I 1804 dollars appear regularly in the top auction records for the ensuing decades, according to a March 2008 Coin Values compilation by P. Scott Rubin. Three of the top four auction records in the 1870s are for Class I 1804s-the first, second, and fourth spots. After the Class III Restrikes made their appearance around 1876, the Adams Class III Restrike sold by John Haseltine set the third-highest auction price for the decade.
In the 1880s the Chapman Brothers sale of the Dexter specimen marked the first time that a Class I 1804 dollar-and likely any other U.S. coin at auction-crossed the $1,000 threshold.
The trend for 1804 Class I Originals to break auction records continued. In 1890 the Parmelee specimen sold for $570, second for the entire decade only to the $900 that an incredibly rare 1822 half eagle (one of three known) brought. In 1907 the Stickney specimen took top honors for the 1900s, selling for $3,600.
1804 silver dollars marked new auction records all the way through the 1980s as prices rose steadily, first to five digits in the 1960s, then to the upper six-digit range by 1989, when the Dexter Class I Original sold for $990,000.
More recently the prices for these most regal and renowned U.S. coins show no signs of slowing: In 1999 the fabulous Sultan of Muscat-Brand-Childs 1804 Class I silver dollar, the finest known and graded PR68 by PCGS, realized $4,140,000-a record price for a U.S. coin, one that stood for nearly three years and then exceeded only by the 1933 double eagle that sold in 2002 for $7,590,020.
Today of the top 10 auction price records as listed in the 2008 Guide Book, three are Class I Originals, including the piece just mentioned and the Stickney-Eliasberg and Dexter-Dunham specimens.
The present Heritage offering of the Mickley coin is exciting not only because it will almost certainly rank among the top auction price records, but also because it is the first auction of a Class I Original 1804 silver dollar in nearly a decade. Its long provenance from Joseph J. Mickley forward provides not merely a rich numismatic history, but a real sense of the history of numismatics itself.
The 1804 silver dollar has been the object of intense desire among American collectors for more than 150 years. Before the 1894-S dimes were struck, before the 1913 Liberty nickels appeared, and before President Franklin Roosevelt's gold recall set the stage for the 1933 double eagle to become America's most controversial coin, numismatists coveted the 1804 dollar. As a silver coin, it was a worthy collectible in the eyes of mid-19th century numismatists-an unparalleled challenge among American issues.
In his 1999 volume The Rare Silver Dollars Dated 1804 and the Exciting Adventures of Edmund Roberts, Q. David Bowers wrote that soon after numismatics as an organized discipline blossomed in America in the late 1850s, collectors gravitated to certain issues: "By the early 1860s, specialists in the United States series were prepared to give the proverbial eyetooth for a splendid 1793 cent, or 1802 half dime, or 1804 silver dollar. By 1867 the 1804 silver dollar had become America's most famous, most discussed, most talked about rarity."
The Crowning of "The King"-Most Famous and Publicized U.S. Coin
Precisely when America's foremost coin garnered the accolade of "King" is lost to time. Two 1885 auction descriptions, however, set the latest limit. One notes that the usage had been around for at least a few years, suggesting an origin somewhere between the close of the Civil War and 1880.
What is certain is that the "King of American Coins" earned its title well before it had serious challengers. In the years since, the legend of the 1804 dollar has only grown. Even the Guide Book, which gives no special mention to the 1894-S dime and only a slender paragraph to the 1913 Liberty nickel, devotes a full page to what the 2008 edition describes as "one of the most publicized rarities in the entire series of United States coins."
The 1804 dollar is more than highly publicized, though. Rather, it is famous. For every nationwide numismatic advertisement, there have been thousands of casual notices, such as stories old-timers swap at local coin clubs about seeing an 1804 dollar in a museum. The 1804 dollar has attracted more scholarly attention than any other issue. They are the focus of countless articles, presentations, and even entire books, among them the seminal 1962 The Fantastic 1804 Dollar by Eric P. Newman and Kenneth Bressett, and the Bowers reference already cited.
The silver dollars dated 1804 have been displayed at various exhibitions including Las Vegas, Boston, Philadelphia, Colorado Springs, New York City, and Washington, D.C. As prices rose, so did media attention. When 1804 dollars sold in recent years, people worldwide learned of it on their local news. Although numismatists know of only 15 1804 dollars today, their lore has reached tens of thousands of collectors who have entertained dreams of someday seeing (or owning) an example.
1804 Dollar Owners Famous, Infamous, and Little-Known
Each of those collectors is another reason why the 1804 dollar holds so important a place in American numismatics, as are the fortunate individuals who have had the privilege to possess one. Few coins carry the sense of history the 1804 dollar does. The personalities who have come in contact with the pieces are an endless source of fascination. The Class I Original 1804 dollars, in particular, have long and interesting provenances, including stays in faraway destinations such as Muscat in present-day Oman and Bangkok in what is now Thailand, as well as domestic locales such as Denver and Omaha. Those provenances have also forged unexpected connections across time. The King of Siam specimen, which has perhaps the most varied and fascinating pedigree, links the mid-19th century royals of that Asian nation to numismatic personalities such as David F. Spink, Lester Merkin, and Iraj Sayah. As Bowers notes, some collectors' reputations-H.G. Brown, James Dexter, L.R. French, Jr., R.H. Mull, Percy Smith, and George Weingart-are based almost entirely on ownership of an 1804 dollar.
For many others, however, an 1804 dollar was part and parcel of a widely known, highly publicized collection or numismatic career. It is impossible to think of Virgil Brand, Amon Carter, Walter Childs, Louis Eliasberg, John Work Garrett, Col. E.H.R. Green, Reed Hawn, Joseph Mickley, or Lorin Parmelee without acknowledging the role an 1804 dollar played in making them coin legends.
While B. Max Mehl's frequent offerings of 1804 dollars make him the most prominent dealer involved with them, many other noted numismatists have handled an 1804 dollar as a career highlight. David Akers, Bowers, the Chapman brothers, Thomas Elder, Sol Kaplan, Abe Kosoff, Dwight Manley, Wayte Raymond, Warren Tucker, and Farran Zerbe are among the famous professionals appearing in the provenances of various pieces.
The institutions that own or have owned 1804 dollars have benefited from the generosity of wealthy collectors, and many others have gained from their display. The magnanimous gifts of the Du Pont family added 1804 dollars (and many other pieces) to the Smithsonian and ANA collections. The ANA Museum also exhibits an 1804 dollar donated by the Bebees. The American Numismatic Society received its specimen from the Chase-Manhattan exhibit originated by Farran Zerbe. In Omaha, Nebraska, the Durham Western Heritage Museum exhibits the Byron Reed Collection, willed to that city more than a century ago.
The Massachusetts Historical Society no longer has the 1804 bequeathed from the William Sumner Appleton estate-it deaccessioned it in 1970-but the community greatly benefited from its presence, and the proceeds from the sale of Appleton coins have helped the society record and preserve state history.
The Power of Provenance
In the October 1970 catalog in a section titled "J.J. Mickley and His Dollar," Stack's wrote eloquently of the power of provenance, noting that the new owner "will become part of a great line, not only of distinguished numismatists, but outstanding personalities as well." Interestingly, the buyer of the piece is unidentified, purchasing the coin from Stack's and later consigning it to the same firm for private treaty sale. Subsequent purchasers Reed Hawn and David Queller, however, figure prominently in its provenance.
The Stack's section on Mickley concludes, "While it is true that all the 1804 Dollars have an interesting past, it seems to us that this particular specimen has been more closely connected with the history of our national coinage, and the best traditions of collecting in the past, than most. The pedigree of this piece gives it a special personality all its own."
Three collectors later, its provenance seems even more alive with history, and should the next owner desire it, that person can enjoy lasting numismatic fame.
Limited Market Availability of 1804 Silver Dollars
The 1804 dollars possess an unmatched mystique, combining legendary names of the past with absolute rarity. For all the questions surrounding the 1804 dollar in its various incarnations, it remains a numismatic icon. Even though a handful of U.S. coins have smaller mintages or fewer known specimens, each 1804 dollar in the three classes-15 in all-is extremely rare. The Newman-Bressett Class I coins, corresponding to the "originals" in other references, number only eight pieces, while only six Class III examples ("restrikes") are traced today. The Class II, "plain-edged restrike," is known only through history and a single surviving specimen in the Smithsonian, and as such is noncollectible.
Several Class I pieces are similarly inaccessible to eager potential buyers. Among the eight Class I dollars, just five are in private collections, with three in institutions due to the Byron Reed bequest of the Parmelee example to the City of Omaha, the Mint Cabinet-Smithsonian piece, and the Du Pont donation of the Cohen coin to the ANA.
Three of the six known Class III examples are also unobtainable: the Linderman-Smithsonian specimen, the Idler-ANA coin, and the ANS-Ellsworth piece. Such donations allow numismatists to see multiple examples of the famous 1804 dollar, while simultaneously complicating their efforts to own one. Museums have been known to divest themselves of coins-the present Mickley-Hawn-Queller piece was sold on behalf of the Massachusetts Historical Society after 65 years at that institution-but it is highly unlikely that an organization of national importance, such as the Smithsonian or ANA, would sell an 1804 dollar.
Certain U.S. issues are known to have smaller surviving populations today. The mysterious Liberty nickels dated 1913, the 1885 Trade dollar proofs, and the singular 1870-S half dime and three dollar gold are examples. Still, as previously noted, the 1804 dollar was well-recognized as a rarity before any of those coins were struck. Numismatists of the 19th century knew of fewer examples than do contemporary numismatists. The Mint Cabinet, Stickney, and Mickley specimens were at the forefront of collectors' minds in the mid-19th century, but the King of Siam piece was a mid-20th century revelation, one that caught even Eric Newman and Kenneth Bressett by surprise as they wrote The Fantastic 1804 Dollar. The scandalous debut of the Class II pieces led their creators to keep the clandestine Class III coins off the market until at least the early 1870s.
The emergence of new examples did not negatively affect prices or the passion of collectors for the 1804 dollar. While the academic side of numismatics has sometimes harshly criticized the pieces in general, the 1804 dollars have never lacked willing buyers. In the 21st century collector enthusiasm has flourished for these famous, important numismatic delicacies. Heritage's offering of the Mickley-Hawn-Queller Class I Original 1804 silver dollar will give prospective bidders an opportunity to acquire one of the world's most legendary coins.
Deep silver-gray patina covers the surfaces of this attractive coin. Closer examination reveals subtle iridescence and strong undercurrents of golden-tan patina. The left obverse field shows a strong element of bold blue, and areas of dusky pewter-gray appear around the peripheral devices. Minor, scattered contact marks are present on the obverse, though only a few of them would attract attention if this were a circulation strike. They appear in pairs, two on Liberty's cheek and two to the left of the hollow of Liberty's neck.
On the reverse, three reeding marks appear in the field between the shield and the olive branch, and a few smaller points of contact are present elsewhere in the fields. Such minor flaws are consistent with the belief that a teller at the Bank of Pennsylvania, Henry C. Young, found the coin mixed with others in a deposit sometime in the early 1850s. Both sides are luminous beneath the patina with a distinct, glossy sheen. Slight striking softness at the uppermost parts of the design and the star centers is consistent with other examples of Original or Class I 1804 dollars. A thin die crack-one that is present on both Original and Restrike pieces-passes across the tops of stars 5 through 7 and all but the last letter of LIBERTY.
The lettering on the edge is "crushed," the result of a lettered-edge planchet entering a press with a smooth collar. The strike squeezed and distorted the edge design, rendering many letters unreadable-a distinctive diagnostic for the Class I 1804 dollars. The coin's holder precludes viewing of this detail, but Bowers describes it in The Rare Silver Dollars Dated 1804 and the Exciting Adventures of Edmund Roberts, which was published before this piece's encapsulation.
Researchers and catalogers over the past 50 years have graded this coin as PR50 (Bowers, 1999) and "very nearly Uncirculated" (Newman-Bressett, 1962). Stack's, despite selling this specimen twice at auction, opted not to grade the coin. Instead, it reprinted the Newman-Bressett assessment in its catalogs for both the Massachusetts Historical Society Sale (1970) and the Reed Hawn Collection Sale (1993).
The NGC-certified present grade, PR62, does not affect the coin's consensus ranking among the eight Class I or Original 1804 dollars. The Mickley-Hawn-Queller piece, as the pedigree on the NGC holder states, is superior to the Mint Cabinet specimen and the Cohen coin, but does not rate as highly as the Sultan of Muscat, King of Siam, Stickney, Dexter, or Parmelee examples. While this specimen is not the finest known 1804 dollar, the Class I issue is so rare and famous that the relative ranking of a particular survivor diminishes in importance.
Aside from the two Stack's sales, this specimen's only other auction appearance took place in the 19th century, when W. Elliot Woodward offered it in October 1867 on behalf of Joseph Mickley. The first part of its lot description reads: "This piece is regarded by all American collectors as the gem of Mr. Mickley's collection. It has been in circulation, but it is still in the finest condition, retaining its brilliancy of surface, and being entirely uninjured." Woodward then goes on to recount the coin's (brief) history to that time, including its purported discovery at the Bank of Pennsylvania and its status as one of only two Class I (to use a modern term) 1804 dollars known at that time.
The importance of this opportunity to acquire an 1804 dollar-the first 1804 dollar of any variety to appear at auction since 2003-cannot be overstated. No Class I Original example has sold at auction since 2000. Private transactions are infrequent at best, with only five Originals available to individuals and most tightly held in private collections. At one point this specimen was off the market for more than a century, and since 1970 more than a decade has passed between its auction appearances. A second chance to purchase this historic coin, widely proclaimed as the "King of American Coins," may be years or even generations away.
Ex: Chief Coiner Adam Eckfeldt; unknown intermediaries; Henry C. Young, a teller at the Bank of Pennsylvania (c. 1850); Joseph J. Mickley (c. 1858); Joseph J. Mickley Collection (W. Elliot Woodward, 10/1867), lot 1676, $750; William A. Lilliendahl; Edward Cogan; William Sumner Appleton (c. 1868); Appleton estate; Massachusetts Historical Society (1905); Property of the Massachusetts Historical Society (Stack's, 10/1970), lot 625, $77,500; Chicago collection; Reed Hawn, via Stack's (1974); Reed Hawn Collection (Stack's, 10/1993), lot 735, $475,000; David Queller; Queller Family Collection.
From The Queller Family Collection of Silver Dollars.