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1804 a Great Year for Coinage
By Ginger Rapsus, Numismatic News
August 29, 2013

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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What numismatic year could be more exciting than 1804? The famous dollar, the “King of American coins,” is probably the most famous coin bearing this date. But quite a few other issues are scarce and desirable.

A Draped Bust design appears on the obverse of all copper and silver coins minted at this time. The reverse of the copper coins bears a wreath; the silver coins show the heraldic eagle with a shield and stars.

Starting with the lowly half cent, the 1804 copper coinage saw many varieties that are in demand from specialists. The half cent comes in five varieties, out of a mintage of a little over a million. The major varieties are seen in the wreath on the reverse, whether the wreath bears stems at the bottom or is stemless. There are also subtle differences in the “4” in the date, some with a plain “4,” some with a small crosslet on the “4.” One famous variety is visible at a glance, the “spiked chin” coin, where Miss Liberty’s chin has a protruding like a spike.

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The 1804 large cent is a scarce coin in demand from cent specialists. Only 96,500 were minted. Even lower grade good coins command prices of four figures. All genuine 1804 cents have a crosslet on the “4,” unlike the half cents.

A restrike of this coin was manufactured about 1860. This coin shows a rusty obverse die with a date re-engraved from an 1803 cent. The reverse shows a wreath design that was not even used in 1804, but was used in 1820. Even though this piece is poorly executed, this restrike is in demand from large cent lovers and coin historians who want something a bit different.

Only 8,265 dimes were struck in 1804. This, too, is a scarce date, with two distinct varieties: with 13 or 14 stars on the reverse; the 14-star variety is a bit scarcer.

Quarter specialists know the 1804 coin is a tough date, with 6,738 struck. One beautiful MS-65 specimen sold for $345,000 in 2011.

No 1804-dated half dollars are known, although there is an overdate, 1805/4, the closest a numismatist can come to owning an 1804 half dollar. It’s not all that expensive, compared to some other more famous scarcities. The exact mintage is unknown, and it’s a 90 percent silver half dollar more than 200 years old. Collectors who enjoy early coins, overdates and scarce varieties would appreciate this coin.

Quarter eagles, half eagles and eagles bear the 1804 date. The quaint Capped Bust design, with heraldic eagle reverse, was used on all three gold coins. The quarter eagle is rare, struck in small numbers, as most early gold coins. Out of a tiny mintage of 3,327, this coin also comes in two varieties, with 13 or 14 stars on the reverse. The 13-star coin is much harder to find, and is a genuine rarity. One specimen in AU sold for $322,000 in 2009.

The half eagle is a bit easier to find and to afford. With a mintage of over 30,000 and two major varieties, this coin is expensive but not entirely out of reach.

Early $10 gold coins are all rare and expensive. The 1804 eagle is a prize for any gold lover. Only 3,757 were minted, all with a crosslet in the “4.” A number of proof restrikes were struck for presentation sets in 1834; these coins have a plain “4.” The proof specimens – perhaps three or four are known – show superb strikes and brilliant fields, and are beautiful works of the coiner’s art.

Even beginning and casual collectors know of the famed 1804 silver dollar. Long regarded as the “King of American coins,” 15 specimens are known in three varieties. These coins were not struck in 1804. The so-called “originals” were minted for inclusion in presentation sets in 1834. A number of “restrikes” were made in the 1850s and 1860s. The Smithsonian has one of each variety; the American Numismatic Association Money Museum in Colorado Springs, Colo., has two. Of the 15 1804 dollars, seven are impounded in museums.

The appearance of an 1804 dollar at auction causes much excitement. Of the top five prices paid for United States silver dollars, the 1804 owns all five, including $4.1 million for a coin sold in 1999. Catalog descriptions of the 1804 dollar often run to many pages, lists of previous owners, and multiple photos.

Entire books have been written about this one coin, including The Fantastic 1804 Dollar by Eric Newman and Kenneth Bressett, and The Rare Silver Dollars Dated 1804, by Q. David Bowers. Many copies and reproductions of this coin can be found. Many collectors can never read enough about this famous coin.

The year 1804 is special to numismatists not only for the King, the 1804 silver dollar, but also for a number of scarce coins that bear that magic date.

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• See what guides and supplies our editors recommend for keeping up with your collection.


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