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Coin's Been Good Investment for Owners
By David L. Ganz
February 07, 2013

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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The 1794 silver dollar is a coin destined to break records.

Quite possibly the first silver dollar ever struck by the U.S. Mint, it brought a price realized in a Stacks-Bowers auction of $10,016,875.

The $10 million price level has previously been the exclusive province of Old Masters, paintings and jewelry. This 1794 silver dollar was part of the Cardinal Collection.

Moving to this price comes 40 years after Lawrence Goldberg, then of Superior Galleries, told me in a 1973 interview that “We just sold the world’s first $100,000 coin,” also a 1794 dollar, that one in the Gilhousen collection that brought $110,000 from Television Producer Ralph Andrews for the uncirculated specimen.

The Cardinal Collection, according to the publicity brochure put out by Stack’s Bowers, was formed by Martin Logies, a coin connoisseur who previously assembled another set of rarities that included a different 1794 dollar in MS-64; that sold for $1,205,500 in 2010.

The coin sold in this auction was acquired by the Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation in 2010 in a private transaction with a well-known coin dealer. The price: $7,850,000.

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In his 2004 book on The Flowing Hair Silver Dollars of 1794, Martin Logies calls the Neil dollar, a MS-66 specimen, as the finest known. Jack Collins & Walter Breen in their 1794 The History & Genealogy of the first US Dollar (2007) grade the coin MS-65, but also call it “the finest known business strike.” Q. David Bowers in his silver dollar encyclopedia concurs.

I’ve been studying the 1794 dollar for years and have charts in my computer showing sales records of more than 168 auctions. The first is the Joseph N.T. Levik collection, sold Dec. 18, 1859 for $6. A century ago – in 1913– Samuel Hudson Chapman sold the Arthur Sargent collection; the auctioneer sold one for $60 that was later catalogued as VG-7.

By 1964, Quality Sasles (Abner Kriesbreg-Jerry Cohen) sold it at auction for $1,550 and called it “strictly VG.”

The 1794 dollar started out as a bullion coin when the U.S. Mint at Philadelphia accepted bullion deposits. It turned out a coin in the form of a silver dollar dated 1794, just two years after the Mint was founded, and when “free coinage of silver” made everyone a potential king maker.

Although the 1794 silver dollar began its existence as a bullion coin, it became rare fairly quickly. In 1876 when dealer Edward Cogan sold the Henry Adams collection, the 1794 silver dollar was already an $80 coin.

These coins did see circulation, but most are in better than average condition. Of under 2,000 pieces minted, the two major works that have undertaken condition census have found a nice surviving ratio or about 130 in “about uncirculated” or better.

Those two works are Collins & Breen’s History and Genealogy of the First U.S. Dollar, an unfinished work (2007) that George F. Kolbe and Alan Meghrig published, and Logies’ fine effort on The Flowing Hair Silver Dollars of 1794, a compilation of catalogues, auction descriptions, and annotations that must have taken years to compile.

For the record, Q. David Bowers suggests that there is near universal agreement today that there are probably no more than 120 to 130 1794 silver dollars, many of which have been sold multiple times. That also means that the coin is scarce as well as rare.

He also quantifies the auction population census: good (30), VG (13), fine (21), VF (34), XF (15), AU (4), MS-60 and above (12). Total: About 102.

Altogether, it is fitting that this coin is the first to weigh in at $10 million.



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