HomeUS Coins1794 Flowing Hair Dollar : A Collector's Guide

1794 Flowing Hair Dollar : A Collector’s Guide

Left: The Famous Lord St. Oswald-Norweb 1794 Flowing Hair Silver Dollar. Right: The Taffs-Miles-Blue Moon 1794 Dollar Reverse. Both Images Courtesy: Stack's Bowers.
Left: The Famous Lord St. Oswald-Norweb 1794 Flowing Hair Silver Dollar. Right: The Taffs-Miles-Blue Moon 1794 Dollar Reverse. Both Images Courtesy: Stack’s Bowers.

The United States silver dollar denomination was authorized by the Mint Act of April 2, 1792, but was not produced until the fall of 1794. The legislation called for the coins to be struck at a weight of 416 grains and a fineness of .89243.

In theory, the coin was meant to circulate as the American version of the Mexican eight reales, which saw regular circulation in the U.S. dating back to the colonial period. In reality, the new silver dollar struggled to satisfy domestic needs, and production of the denomination was abandoned in March of 1804, eight years after the Draped Bust design replaced the Flowing Hair type.

The first delivery of Flowing Hair dollars took place on October 15, 1794, two years after the passage of the Mint Act. A bonding issue kept Chief Coiner Henry Voight and Assayer Albion Cox from being able to produce silver coins in 1793. Once Congress reduced this burden, Engraver Robert Scot began work on creating the designs and dies for America’s silver coinage. Scot used as the basis of his obverse design Joseph Wright’s right-facing portrait of Liberty used on the obverse of the 1793 cent. While Scot’s version is not exact, it does not require a stretch of the imagination to see the similarities.

Scot’s reverse design, which features a primitive version of an American bald eagle atop a perch and surrounded by an olive wreath with UNITED STATES OF AMERICA encircling the design is similarly inspired by Wright’s quarter dollar pattern of 1792. Simple, yet elegant.

A quick look at the Red Book might lead one to the conclusion that the Mint also struck half dimes, half dollars, along with the silver dollar coins in 1794, but contemporary research points to 1795 as the likely date of production for all 1794-dated silver denominations except for the dollar.

Production of the first U.S. silver dollars took place in the fall of 1794 with an estimated total of 2,000 coins struck. Of this estimated total, only 1,758 were delivered to Mint Director David Rittenhouse on October 15. Due to poor strike quality, the remainder was held back and recoined in 1795. At least one 1795 dollar is known to have a visible 1794 undertype.

1794 Flowing Hair Dollar.
The record-setting 1794 Flowing Hair dollar. Image: Stack’s Bowers.

To get the word out, Rittenhouse took it upon himself to spend the newly minted coin. Although some examples saw circulation up and down the East Coast, every one of them entered the streams of commerce through the Mint’s host city of Philadelphia.

The typical 1794 dollar as struck exhibits weakness on the lower left of the obverse and on the corresponding part of the coin’s reverse. This weakness is partially explained by the fact that the Mint’s screw press was not designed to produce coins larger than a half dollar, this limitation could not be overcome on this first-year issue.

One final note about the fineness of the 1794 Flowing Hair dollar. Even though Congress set the fineness at the aforementioned .89243, Assayer Albion Cox convinced Rittenhouse that a better alloy for coining purposes was 0.9000 fine. Without altering the weight of the struck coins, the Mint broke the prescribed 15:1 silver to gold ratio and did so without notifying Congress or its depositors. The resulting scandal almost proved fatal for the struggling Mint and it would fall on the Mint’s third director, Elias Boudinot, to clean up the mess.

Historic Examples of the 1794 Flowing Hair Dollar

The most famous example of the 1794 Flowing Hair dollar is the Cardinal-Morelan specimen that Legend Numismatics purchased by a record $10,016,875 at a January 2013 Stack’s Bowers auction. Previously, the coin brought a reported $7,850,000 in a private treaty sale, breaking the record for the most money ever paid for a coin, which was set in 2001 with the $7 million sale of the only legal-to-own 1933 double eagle.

The sale of this coin was the highlight of an amazing collection and generated national attention for the hobby. Being the first rare coin to exceed $10 million at auction, this piece projected strength at the highest end of the U.S. rare coin market.

On May 24, 2016, the $10 million record almost fell when the finest known example of the Class I 1804 dollar failed to meet its reserve after the announced bid exceeded $10 million.

A second historic example of the 1794 dollar is the legendary Gem Lord St. Oswald silver dollar. This remarkable coin has an intact provenance dating back to 1794. The coin is fully lustrous, with lively cartwheels and hints of subtle golden toning. One of the key offerings at Stack’s Bowers second Pogue sale, the coin brought $4,993,750.

A third historic example of the 1794 dollar, the second Lord St. Oswald specimen, sold for $2,880,000 at an August 2017 Stack’s Bowers auction. One of only six mint state examples known, this highly original example was graded MS64 by PCGS and is CAC-approved.

The 1794 Dollar in Typical Grades

There is no typical grade for a 1794 Flowing Hair dollar. In an absolute sense, every surviving example is a treasure and would be the cornerstone of any collection. Looking at market levels for 1794 in certified grades of VG10 to VF20, this is a coin with scant supply and reported sales prices between $100,000 and $120,000. The price jumps to $250,000 to $300,000 in Extra Fine.

In the video clip above, super-collector Bruce Morelan discusses his pursuit of the famous Cardinal dollar that realized $10 million and also the kind of coin he advises collectors to look for when purchasing a circulated example.

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Market Data and Noteworthy Specimens

BB-1, B-1. Only known dies. Ranked #3 in Jeff Garrett’s 100 Greatest U.S. Coins, 5th Edition (2019). 125-150 known examples. Two most famous, the Cardinal Specimen and the Lord St. Oswald Specimen. The latter was owned by the Pogue family. Example sold by Superior for $110,000 in 1973 was at the time the record price paid.

  • PCGS SP66 CAC #00001794: “Will W. Neil Collection,” B Max Mehl. “The Amon G. Carter, Jr. Collection,” January 1984, Lot 207 – $264,000. As MS63. “The Hoagy Carmichael / Wayne Miller Collections Sale,” Superior, 1986, Lot 1173 – $209,0000; Purchased by Anthony Terranova (representing a client); “Knoxville Collection”; Knoxville Collection collector to Steve Contursi, May 2010 – $7.85 million. Record price paid for a United States coin. Private sale between Steve Contursi and the non-profit Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation. This sale was brokered by Spectrum Group International President Greg Roberts. As PCGS SP66 CAC #00001794. “The Cardinal Collection”, Stack’s Bowers, January 22, 2013 – $10,016,875. Record price paid for a United States coin. Neil/Carter/Contursi on insert. From 2004-2009, the coin was exhibited at the ANA Money Museum. It has also been displayed numerous times at ANA National Money Show and World’s Fair of Money Conventions.

Martin Logies discusses the Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation’s purchase of the 1794 dollar.

Martin Logies discusses the record breaking price that the 1794 “Cardinal” dollar brought at a January 24, 2013 auction.

Stack’s Bowers auctioneer Melissa Karstedt discusses the record breaking price that the 1794 “Cardinal” dollar brought at a January 24, 2013 auction.

Coin dealer Laura Sperber discusses purchasing the Cardinal dollar for a record $10 million.

Stack’s Bowers President Chris Napolitano discusses the record-breaking sale of the Cardinal 1794 dollar.

The Cardinal 1794 dollar sells for $10 Million.

Steve Contursi discusses the $10 million record setting sale of the 1794 “Cardinal” dollar. Contursi previously sold the coin to Martin Logies on behalf of the Cardinal Educational Foundation in 2010 for $7.85 million.

  • PCGS MS66+ CAC #40267935: Purchased by William Strickland, while on tour in the US in 1794-1795; Charles Winn, by sale 1834; Rowland Winn, 1st Baron St. Oswald of Nostell, by descent, 1874; Rowland Winn, 2nd Baron St. Oswald of Nostell, by descent, 1893; Rowland George Winn, 3rd Baron St. Oswald of Nostell, by descent, 1919; Rowland Denys Guy Winn, Major the Lord St. Oswald, M.C., by descent, 1957; “English, Foreign, and Important American Coins, the Propoerty of Major the Lord St. Oswald, M.C.,” Christie, Manston & Woods, October 1964, Lot 138; “Jacque C. Ostheimer; Jacque C. Ostheimer to Superior Stamp and Coin Company, September 29, 1969; Edwards Hungington Metcalf; “The Clark E. Gilhousen Collection, Part III,” Superior, October 1973, Lot 1209; Jonathon Hefferlin; “The Newport Collection,” Bowers and Ruddy, January 1975, Lot 371; Julian Leidman to Michael Kirzner to Bowers and Ruddy Galleries to Phil Herres (DollarTowne); Leon Hendrickson (SilverTowne), by sale, via John Dannreuther, January 1983; Jimmy Hayes; “The Jimmy Hayes Collection of United States Silver Coins,” Stack’s, October 1985, Lot 72; D. Brent Pogue Family Collection. As PCGS MS66+ #31529963. “The D. Brent Pogue Family Collection, Part II,” Stack’s Bowers / Sotheby’s, September 30, 2015, Lot 2041 – $4,993,750. As PCGS MS66+ CAC #40267935. “The Bob R. Simpson Collection, Part VI,” Heritage Auctions, August 18, 2021, Lot 3021 – $6,600,000. Pedigree research assisted by Stack’s Bowers.
  • PCGS MS66+: “Colonel” E.H.R. Green; F.C.C. Boyd Collection; “The World’s Greatest Collection,” Numismatic Gallery, 1945, Lot 1; Adolph Friedman; Charles Williams; 1949 ANA Convention Sale, Numismatic Gallery, August 1949, Lot 140; Beverly Hills Stamp & Coin Shop Fixed Price List of 1957; 1958 ANA Convention Sale, Numismatic Gallery, August 1958, Lot 1678; James Kelly; Lelan Rogers; “Numisma ’95,” Stack’s, November 1995, Lot 1315; Jay Parrino; The Mint Fixed Price List of 1996; Stellar Collection. Pedigree research assisted by Heritage Auctions.
  • PCGS MS64 CAC #02407861: Purchased by William Strickland, while on tour in the US in 1794-1795; Charles Winn, by sale 1834; Rowland Winn, 1st Baron St. Oswald of Nostell, by descent, 1874; Rowland Winn, 2nd Baron St. Oswald of Nostell, by descent, 1893; Rowland George Winn, 3rd Baron St. Oswald of Nostell, by descent, 1919; Rowland Denys Guy Winn, Major the Lord St. Oswald, M.C., by descent, 1957; “English, Foreign, and Important American Coins, the Propoerty of Major the Lord St. Oswald, M.C.,” Christie, Manston & Woods, October 1964, Lot 137; Lester Merkin, on behalf of Ambassador & Mrs. R. Henry Norwerb; “The Norweb Collection, Part III” Bowers and Merena, November 1988, Lot 3741; marketed in Bowers and Merena’s Rare coin Review, Issue 78, 1990, Lot 129; Hugh Sconyers for the American Rare Coin Fund Limited Partnership, 1992; William Morton-Smith; As PCGS MS64. Stack’s Bowers, August 2017 – $2,820,000. Pedigree research assisted by Stack’s Bowers.
  • PCGS MS63+: Virgil Brand; B. Max Mehl; F.C.C. Boyd; “The World’s Greatest Collection,” Numismatic Gallery; Stack’s FPL #47, 1950; B.M. Eubanks – $1,595; Quality Sales, September 1973, Lot 464 – $51,000; Abner Kreisberg, October 1978, Lot 633 – Passed; Bowers and Ruddy’s FPL #41, 1981; “The Charmont Sale,” Steve Ivy, October 1983, Lot 3769 – $121,000; “The Somerset Collection”, Bowers and Merena, May 1992, Lot 1300; Jeff Isaac; The Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation; “The Cardinal Collection,” As NGC MS64. American Numismatic Rarities, June 30, 2005, Lot 5 – $1,150,000; Private Collector; Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation, re-acquired 2008; Bowers and Merena, August 7, 2010, Lot 1005 – $1,207.500. Lower left stars flatly struck. Clashed dies. Since this sale, the coin has been regraded MS63+ by PCGS. Pedigree research assisted by Stack’s Bowers.
  • NGC MS62 #601234-001: Austrian Collection – Paul H. Wittlin; “1965 ANA Sale,” James Kelly, Lot 1509. Stack’s; sold to private collector; Stack’s, 1975. Sold to Julian Leidman and Mike Brownlee; Paul Nugget; Dave Berg; Private Owner. “Dr. Edward B. Willing Collection,” Bowers and Ruddy, June 1976, Lot 312; “Father Flanagan’s Boys Home Collection,” Superior, May 1990, Lot 3875. “The the Larry H. Miller Collection,” Stack’s Bowers, December 2020, Lot 1089 –  $1,050,000.
  • NGC AU55* (in 2010 ad). Parmelee, #1508259-001. Before NGC AU55. Cert has since been deleted.

Design

Obverse:

Right-facing portrait of Liberty surrounded by 15 stars (8×7) representing the number of states in the Union at the time. Above: LIBERTY. Below: 1794. Dentils at the rim.

Reverse:

Right-facing eagle standing on a perch, wings extended, surrounded by a wreath. Legend: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA encircles the design. Dentils at the rim.

Edge:

The edge of the 1794 Flowing Hair silver dollar features the inscription ONE HUNDRED CENTS  ONE DOLLAR OR UNIT.

Designer

Robert Scot was the second engraver employed by the United States Mint. Born in England in 1744, Scot immigrated to the United States in 1775, first settling in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He moved to Philadelphia around 1783, where he produced portraits for the Rees Encyclopedia. He received an appointment with the Mint on November 23, 1793, where he got to work producing designs for the cent. Scot worked with the Mint until the time of his death on November 1, 1823. He was succeeded by engraver William Kneass.

Coin Specifications

Country: USA
Year Of Issue: 1794
Denomination: One Dollar (USD)
Mint Mark: None (Philadelphia)
Mintage: 2,000 Estimated (Net Mintage: 1,758)
Alloy: .900 Silver, .100 Copper
Weight: 27.0 g
Diameter: 40.00 mm
Edge: Lettered: ONE HUNDRED CENTS  ONE DOLLAR OR UNIT
OBV Designer Robert Scot
REV Designer Robert Scot
Quality: Business Strike

 

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CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of CoinWeek.com.

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