1804 Draped Bust Silver Dollar. Class I Original. Bowers Borckardt-304. Proof-68 (PCGS)
The Finest Known Example of the King of American Coins
Stack’s Bowers Pogue IV Auction – Lot 4020 on May 26th in NYC
“The President has directed that a complete set of coins of the United States be sent to the King of Siam, and another to the Sultan of Muscat.” — Secretary of State John Forsyth to Mint Director Samuel Moore, November 11, 1834
No other coin so singularly symbolizes the ultimate levels of rarity and desirability in American numismatics as does an 1804 dollar. It would be out of character for this august cabinet to settle for any 1804 dollar other than the finest one extant, the most beautiful and best preserved example, the one whose provenance is filled with the most history and mystery. In 1999, when this coin emerged from the Childs Family Collection after more than 50 years, D. Brent Pogue pursued it with determination, realizing the absolutely unique opportunity. Its sale price, in excess of $4 million, more than doubled the previous world record for an American coin, set just two years earlier by the Eliasberg 1804 dollar. In the passion-filled quest to obtain the finest specimen extant, success is binary, to be achieved or not. Among 1804 dollars, this is the ultimate, and only, prize.
When the Sultan of Muscat first opened the set of American coins presented to him by Edmund Roberts on October 1, 1835, this coin was undoubtedly the one that first caught his eye. Larger than any other American coin yet struck, it was placed squarely at the center of its plush crimson morocco leather case, its mirrored surfaces perhaps reflecting the colors of the blue velvet, bright gold, and red copper that surrounded it. Those surfaces remain mirrored today, not in the manner of a modern Proof, but majestically and profoundly reflective. The portrait of Liberty captures the spirit of America in the 1830s, her eyes wide open and peering upward, her profile expressing both seriousness and welcome. When Said bin Sultan first saw this coin, it was likely brilliant white, a gleaming circle of silver. After decades in its case, and years of careful preservation in the cabinets of Virgil Brand and the Childs family, superb toning has gathered on its surfaces. Light blue dominates, boldest in the right obverse field and above Liberty’s head, while gold frames the peripheries and covers the left obverse field. The effect is that of Liberty peering into a blue sky with a golden sunrise behind her. The reverse mingles pale gold and light blue, the gold perhaps clearest at arm’s length though the azure shades emerge further under well-lit scrutiny.
The importance of ensuring that the die faces and planchet were clean, well-polished, and reflective before striking is evident from the abundance of lintmarks seen on both sides. They are scattered across the fields and were left in the deepest recesses of the die in a concerted effort to produce the most magnificent coin the U.S. Mint’s technology allowed: below star 1, in the field above Liberty’s hair bow, hidden amidst her hair, close to her profile and throughout the right obverse field, above the bottom serif of the 4 in the date, around the olive branch, within the shield, amidst the reverse stars and legends. The arc of a single incuse lathe line crosses Liberty’s shoulder, drapery, and chest, evidence that the planchet was polished not just by hand, but also mechanically. The results of these efforts remain bright today.
The strike was forceful enough to raise the high relief of the central devices on both sides. The dangling curl beside Liberty’s ear is fully outlined if not completely struck. On the reverse, the eagle’s feathers are crisp and the shield is boldly rendered, offering an image of strength to oppose the softer allegory of American liberty. Peripheral design elements did not emerge from the coining press as well resolved. Only stars 6 and 7 show nearly full centers, and several are almost flat. Liberty’s lowest curl, left of the date, is ill-defined, as is the high wave of her hair below RTY of LIBERTY and the drapery at the tip of her bust. On the reverse, the olive branch and the talon that grips it displays incompleteness, as does the tip of the eagle’s tail and the wingtip at left. Only reverse stars 6, 11, 12, and 13 show central detail, and the cloud below O of OF appears flat. Two circles of natural planchet roughness were not struck firmly enough to be obliterated below star 1. Beyond these peripheral elements, the denticles and raised rim are distinct and rendered in fine relief, framing the designs and providing the outer limit to the luster that ranges across the surfaces.
There was not a single dollar die created at the United States Mint between 1803 and 1831 at the earliest, more likely 1834. The central punches for the dies remained in storage, but over that interval the punches decayed. The portrait of Liberty is peppered with rust pits, most concentrated along the line dividing her drapery from her shoulder but seen all over her lower neck and chest. Two small patches of die rust are seen outside star 9. On the reverse, light rust is present in the small field below NUM of UNUM and clustered close to the outside of the eagle and shield device. Light lapping lines extend outward from the upper right of the shield and downward from the right wingpit, likely remaining from efforts to remove some of this oxidized surface before the punch was applied. All genuine 1804 dollars show cracks on both the obverse and reverse dies, a witness to issues the Mint faced in hardening these handcrafted dies. An obverse crack begins above star 6, arcing above the tip of star 7 and intersecting the upper left serif of L. Another arc crack begins there, almost imperceptibly higher than the crack from above star 6, continuing above L and then through the tops of all remaining letters of LIBERTY. On the reverse, a crack that begins at the upper right serif of N of UNITED crosses through the tops of ITED and ends at the tip of the adjacent wing. A short raised lapping line is seen between the tops of ES of STATES.
The rim is square but uneven on a microscopic scale, revealing the handcraft involved in manufacturing a collar especially to produce the handful of 1804-dated dollars coined in 1834. The edge lettering imbued onto the planchet by an edge mill was crushed by the collar at the moment of striking, as also seen on the Crushed Lettered Edge half dollar essays dated 1833 through 1835 and discussed in detail at lot 3079 of the D. Brent Pogue Collection, Part III. The edge is among the technical aspects of the 1804 dollars that places the striking of the first 1804 dollars, known as Class I or Originals, in the mid-1830s. Before Eric Newman and Ken Bressett undertook their research project on 1804 dollars in 1959, even the most basic fact relating to 1804 dollars – the question of when they were struck – was not entirely settled.
Independent of their inquiry into the 1804 dollar’s documentable history, Newman and Bressett studied the coins themselves, knowing that what is written in metal can reveal truths that go unsaid on paper. Among their findings were the “raised flat border and dentilation” common to all 1804 dollars, “a style first adopted at the U.S. Mint in 1828.” The size of the dies and the crushed edges both pointed to production in the age of the “collar die device [that was then] under development for the new Mint in the 1833-36 period,” as does the weight standard of all Originals, which conforms to the 416 grain pre-1837 standard.
The edge is among the technical aspects of the 1804 dollars that places the striking of the first 1804 dollars, known as Class I or Originals, in the mid-1830s. Before Eric Newman and Ken Bressett undertook their research project on 1804 dollars in 1959, even the most basic fact relating to 1804 dollars – the question of when they were struck – was not entirely settled. Independent of their inquiry into the 1804 dollar’s documentable history, Newman and Bressett studied the coins themselves, knowing that what is written in metal can reveal truths that go unsaid on paper. Among their findings were the “raised flat border and dentilation” common to all 1804 dollars, “a style first adopted at the U.S. Mint in 1828.” The size of the dies and the crushed edges both pointed to production in the age of the “collar die device [that was then] under development for the new Mint in the 1833-36 period,” as does the weight standard of all Originals, which conforms to the 416 grain pre-1837 standard.
Class I 1804 Dollars: The Originals
Newman and Bressett defined three classes of 1804 dollars, none of which were actually struck in 1804. Class I consists of the original 1804 dollars, those struck beginning in late 1834. Class II is defined as restrikes with a plain edge; just one is known, struck in 1858 or 1859. Class III 1804 dollars are restrikes with an edge lettered after strike, made by the United States Mint for collectors between 1858 and 1872. Before 1834, no 1804-dated dollars ever existed; all 19,570 dollar coins delivered to the treasurer of the Mint in 1804 were dated 1803.
While all genuine 1804 dollars share the same obverse die, only those of Class I are coined from Newman and Bressett’s Reverse X, which shows “the first S in STATES straddling the first two clouds on the left side and the O of OF entirely over the second cloud from the right.” The dollars struck in 1834 for presentation to the King of Siam and the Sultan of Muscat are both Class I, as are six others, making a total population of eight pieces. The Sultan of Muscat-Watters-Brand-Childs-Pogue specimen is widely considered the finest of all known. The King of Siam specimen remains as presented, with a cased 1834 Proof set that also contains an 1804-dated Proof eagle that was coined in 1834. The King of Siam 1804 dollar is considered the second finest known, graded Proof-67 (PCGS). Three are impounded in museums: the Mint Cabinet specimen in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution, the Byron Reed specimen that has been owned by the City of Omaha since 1891, and the worn Cohen-duPont specimen that was donated to the American Numismatic Association in 1994. Three others are owned privately. The Stickney-Eliasberg specimen, graded Proof-65 (PCGS), has not resurfaced publicly since its record-breaking sale in the 1997 Eliasberg auction. The Proof-65 (PCGS) Dexter-Dunham-Bareford coin was acquired by the Pogue family in 2000. The Mickley-Queller example, graded Proof-62 (NGC), is the Class I 1804 dollar to trade hands most recently, bringing $3,877,500 in August 2013.
By 1837, all Class I 1804 dollars had apparently already been struck. William E. DuBois, the keeper of the Mint Cabinet and an assistant assayer at the Philadelphia Mint, coauthored a work in 1842 with fellow assayer Jacob R. Eckfeldt entitled A Manual of Gold and Silver Coins of All Nations, Struck Within The Past Century. It was intended as a cambist, a guide for bankers and merchants, but became one of the first standard references for American coin collectors. Illustrated by the ingenious medal ruling machine invented by photographic pioneer Joseph Saxton, the Eckfeldt and DuBois Manual was the very first work to depict a genuine 1804 dollar. Mixed in with more commonplace coins on Plate II, it is described perfunctorily in the text, with no mention of its interest or rarity. The image caught the attention of Matthew A. Stickney, one of the preeminent collectors of the age. In May 1843, Stickney traveled from his home in Salem, Massachusetts to Philadelphia to visit the Mint Cabinet, where he successfully obtained a Class I 1804 dollar in trade for himself. He was offered another by DuBois less than two months later. In a July 12, 1843, letter, DuBois said of the second offered example: “this I was obliged to take out of the cabinet, where there happened to be a duplicate. It is out of the question to get a piece struck from dies earlier than 1837, since they are of a different standard, both weight & fineness, and as planchets are made.” This letter suggests that all Class I 1804 dollars were struck before 1837, and that while restrikes could be struck for some rarities, the differences mentioned precluded such production of new 1804 dollars.
Class II and Class III 1804 Dollars
After 1857, interest in coin collecting blossomed in America. The U.S. Mint was an active player in the marketplace, producing medals and medallic coins, today called “patterns” though they were never intended as trial or experimental pieces, to sell or trade for items lacking in the Mint’s cabinet. As the fame and market value of the Class I 1804 dollars grew, the Mint produced a new Heraldic Eagle dollar reverse die and struck several brand new examples to meet collector demand. Those struck in 1858 or 1859 were coined with plain edges, betraying them as restrikes; at least two of these were returned to the Mint according to the May 1868 issue of the American Journal of Numismatics, which suggested, “it is perhaps not generally known that in 1858, certain dollars of 1804, re-struck from the original dies, without the collar, and therefore having plain edges, found their way out of the Mint … both were on solicitation returned to their source.” DuBois later claimed five were struck, of which three were destroyed in his presence. One, struck over an 1857 Swiss shooting thaler, stayed in the Mint Cabinet and is the only surviving Class II 1804 dollar. The other may have been recycled and turned into a Class III specimen.
Having discovered the fatal flaw that revealed their dishonest plan, all further 1804 dollar restrikes had lettered edges, though the edge device was applied after striking, as the process that had created the distinctive crushed lettering of the Class I pieces had apparently been forgotten. Six additional pieces, comprising the total population of the Class III or “restrike” 1804 dollars, are known from those dies. Half of these are in institutions: the American Numismatic Society, the American Numismatic Association, and the Smithsonian Institution, whose example was the property of Mint Director Henry R. Linderman. Most of the Class III dollars first traded hands in the 1870s, though some authorities claim they were coined much earlier, perhaps even at the same time as the Class II coins. None, however, are traceable before 1875. Mint officials created elaborate guarantees of authenticity to cover the tracks of their activities, even as their restriking practices were well known. The Proof “restrike” dollars dated 1801, 1802, and 1803, using the now-cracked reverse from the Class I 1804 dollars with new obverses, also appeared in this era. Despite their troublesome origins, these manufactured rarities are avidly sought today.
American Foreign Policy Turns to the Pacific
The Class I 1804 dollars were created with royalty, not coin collectors, in mind. Since the end of the War of 1812, the foreign policy of the United States of America sought a more global perspective, realigning the Eurocentric strategies of the first decades of the American republic to place the United States’ thriving economy in a position to compete internationally. The United States first reached out to Asia before the nation’s boundaries ever reached the Pacific. The Empress of China left New York on February 22, 1784, just five weeks after Congress ratified the Treaty of Paris and officially ended the Revolutionary War. The ship returned in May 1785, stuffed with cargo from Canton, setting off an era of exploration and trade with the nations of the Pacific Rim that would reach its denouement when Commodore Matthew G. Perry signed the Treaty of Kanagawa with Japan in March 1854. American interests in the Pacific and Indian basins expanded dramatically during the first decades of the 19th century, as whalers struck riches with harpoons in the South Pacific, furriers carried pelts across the North Pacific, and American-flagged ships were frequent guests in ports from Smyrna to Singapore.
On the farthest shores of the Indian Ocean, the Omani Empire was blossoming. From the capital at Muscat, a city in the southeastern corner of the Arabian Peninsula, the Sultan mastered the trade of a vast region, regulating entry to the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, the two Indian Ocean byways to the riches of the Ottoman Empire. The Horn of Africa was controlled by the Sultan, including the international island-city of Zanzibar, the seat of the slave trade on the east coast of Africa, but also a major supplier of spices, foodstuffs, ivory, and gum copal, a resinous substance with a variety of uses. While much of Africa and India fell to European colonizers, the Sultanate remained independent, assisted by a powerful navy and friendly diplomacy, trading freely but profitably with all who arrived peaceably.
In 1827, Edmund Roberts, a trader from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, arrived in Zanzibar. At its outset, Roberts’ first visit to the city was neither pleasant nor profitable. American traders had little track record trading in Zanzibar, and Roberts found himself on unequal footing with men from other nations. A Frenchman intervened and wrote a letter of introduction for Roberts to meet the Sultan of Muscat himself, who happened to be in Zanzibar at the time. Q. David Bowers’ book length treatment of Roberts’ travels, The Rare Silver Dollars Dated 1804 and the Exciting Adventures of Edmund Roberts, notes that the Sultan “suggested that a treaty be arranged between Muscat and the United States.” Roberts “offered his assistance in conveying the Sultan’s wishes to the appropriate officials in Washington.”
Roberts returned to Portsmouth. Fatefully, his kinsman Levi Woodbury was appointed Secretary of the Navy by Andrew Jackson in 1831. Intercession with Woodbury yielded an appointment as “special agent” of Jackson’s administration in January 1832. Roberts was given the government’s imprimatur to return to Muscat and other nations of the Indian Ocean basin. Aboard the warship USS Peacock, Roberts returned to the Indian Ocean on behalf of the United States. He arrived in Muscat on September 18, 1833, and presented the Sultan with gifts including cloth, sweetmeats, a gold watch set in pearls, and more. Roberts was forced to decline the Sultan’s offering of “two stud horses and two mares of the true Arabian breed.”
Upon departing on October 7, 1833, Roberts was given a letter from the Sultan to President Andrew Jackson, “whose name shines with so much brilliancy throughout the world.” The Sultan extended offers of friendship and commercial consideration, affirming the desirability of a treaty of friendship and commerce and guaranteeing the United States status as a favored trading partner. Roberts had succeeded in establishing a relationship with the Sultan of Muscat, but work remained: a treaty would need to be signed and ratified on a subsequent visit. Planning for the next visit began soon after Roberts’ return.
Roberts Returns to Muscat
The following September, in 1834, Secretary of State John Forsyth began discussing the arrangements with Roberts. “Although you mention in one of your letters that you had not promised to the Sultan of Muscat any additional presents,” Forsyth wrote to Roberts on September 26, “it may be proper, and may be expected in conformity with usage, that some gifts should be made on that occasion.” In the same letter, Forsyth asked Roberts for gift suggestions “without requiring any large expenditure of money.” Newman and Bressett discussed Roberts’ October 8 response, which “pointed out that United States’ presents are cheap, inadequate, and insulting from an Asiatic point of view and that such actions make America appear provincial instead of important.” Roberts had an idea of a gift that would make the opposite impression.
I am rather at a loss to know what articles will be most acceptable to the Sultan, but I suppose a complete set of new gold & silver & copper coins of the U.S. neatly arranged in a morocco case & then to have an outward covering would be proper to send not only to the Sultan, but to other Asiatics.
Just over a month later, on November 11, 1834, Secretary of State John Forsyth wrote to Samuel Moore, the director of the United States Mint:
The President has directed that a complete set of the coins of the United States be sent to the King of Siam, and another to the Sultan of Muscat. You are requested, therefore, to forward to the Department [of State] for that purpose, duplicate specimens of each kind now in use, whether of gold, silver, or copper. As boxes, in which they are to be contained, may be more neatly and appropriately made at Philadelphia, under your direction, than they could be here, you are desired to procure them, if it will not be too much trouble, and have the coins suitably arranged in them before they are sent on. They should be of as small a size as is consistent with the purpose in which they are intended; and should be of wood, covered with plain morocco. The color of one should be yellow, and the other crimson.
On December 18, 1834, Chief Coiner Adam Eckfeldt issued a bill to Samuel Moore in the amount of $43.83, covering the total face value of the sets prepared for the King of Siam and Sultan of Muscat. This total includes two quarter eagles for each set at their face value of $2.50. R.W. Julian, who illustrated the Eckfeldt bill in his January 1970 article in The Numismatist, suggested that the duplication may represent a specimen of each design type of quarter eagle struck in 1834, though the Old Tenor type, with motto, was then current. In modern times, a gold Andrew Jackson inaugural medal in gold has been added to the King of Siam set, fitting neatly into the quarter eagle-sized (18 millimeter) space that was empty when the set was rediscovered in 1962. It may be that one of these medals was what was intended, rather than a duplicate quarter eagle of a different type.
The sets included one of every coin then in active production, all dated 1834: a half cent and cent in copper; a half dime, dime, quarter and half dollar in silver; and a quarter eagle and half eagle in gold. Without the addition of a silver dollar and a gold eagle, the half dollar would have been the largest of these, leaving the presentation sets devoid of grand, impressive coins that would overcome the appearance of the United States being “provincial instead of important.” Mint records would have revealed that the last dollars and eagles were struck in 1804. No legislation was ever passed banning their production, only an executive order by Thomas Jefferson. R.W. Julian found a countermanding order, dated April 18, 1831, raising the legal possibility of resuming the coinage.
No document at the United States Mint or anywhere else would have indicated that the dollars delivered in 1804 were actually dated 1803. Adam Eckfeldt, the self-appointed historian of the Mint, apparently was not consulted or did not recall. At some point between the second week of November 1834 and the third week of the following December, the Mint struck the coin presently offered. The device punches of Liberty and the eagle and shield were easily found in Mint storage. The dies for the Class I 1804 dollars may have been made in late 1834, when Secretary Forsyth ordered two sets for presentation, or they may have been made dateless as early as 1831, in expectation of a recommencement of dollar production. When the fateful 4 was punched into the obverse die, the United States Mint unwittingly created a coin that had never before existed. Before 10 years had passed, it would be recognized among the greatest of all American coins.
The two sets intended for the King of Siam and the Sultan of Muscat were apparently delivered to the Department of State by John Forsyth’s December 20, 1834, deadline. Edmund Roberts received the final, detailed instructions for his mission to Asia in late March in a letter from Secretary Forsyth dated March 20, 1835. Before March was over, Forsyth decided to have two more sets produced, for presentation to the leaders of Cochin-China and Japan. These were delivered within a few days of April 17, 1835, and the USS Peacock left New York shortly thereafter. Edmund Roberts carried four Class I 1804 dollars with him. This coin was one of them.
From New York, to Rio de Janeiro, across the Atlantic, around the Cape of Good Hope, and into the Indian Ocean, Roberts traveled with his precious cargo. Landing at Zanzibar on September 1, 1835, he was once again in the realm of the Sultan of Muscat. Within a month, the harbor at Muscat itself was in sight, and on September 30, 1835, the treaty of amity and commerce between the United States and the Sultan of Muscat was signed. The next day’s events called for an exchange of gifts, as was “universal custom amongst the nations of Asia, to make gifts to each other on all occasions of friendly intercourse; and in negotiating treaties,” as the USS Peacock’s ship surgeon, Dr. William S.W. Ruschenberger, noted in his memoir of the trip. Ruschenberger listed “a variety of articles … presented to the Sultan by the United States, amongst which were a sword and attagan [also called a yatagan, a Turkish short sword], with gold scabbards, and mountings, Tanner’s map of the United States, an American flag” and other items, including “a set of American coins.”
The next day, as feasts were enjoyed at the palace in Muscat, the set of coins presented to the Sultan disappears from the historical record. Edmund Roberts and the others aboard the USS Peacock and her escort, the schooner USS Boxer left Muscat on October 10, with three more presentation sets still tucked away for safekeeping. On April 6, 1836, Roberts met with the King of Siam, presenting him with his very own United States Proof set, encased in yellow leather. That set, too, would disappear from the historical record, resurfacing nearly intact in 1962 as one of the greatest surprises in American numismatic history. Nothing more would ever be heard of the other two sets, prepared for dispersal in Cochin-China and Japan. Illness abbreviated the visit at Cochin-China (modern Vietnam), and no record of any exchange of gifts is recorded by Dr. Ruschenberger. The illness among the American delegation spread, and three weeks later, on June 12, 1836, Edmund Roberts died off the coast of China. The visit to Japan was cancelled, and Commodore Edward P. Kennedy of the USS Peacock directed that “the presents be forwarded to the United States by the first vessel directed to the State Department” on June 30, 1836. The not-yet-presented Proof sets, with their 1804 dollars, likely returned to the United States. The coins themselves may have been added to the Mint Cabinet; at least three were in the Mint in 1843, when Matthew Stickney acquired one for his own collection and, on July 12, 1843, was offered another one in trade by Mint assayer (and keeper of the cabinet) William E. DuBois. One of the Class I 1804 dollars remains in the Mint Cabinet to this day.
Over the decades that followed, the wealth and influence of the Sultan of Muscat declined. After Said bin Sultan died in 1856, his empire was divided among his sons, one of whom presided over Zanzibar, another ruled Muscat and Oman. One of the sons may have inherited the set of coins the Sultan received from Edmund Roberts. Whoever had possession of the set, they kept the coins in pristine condition. By sale, or trade, or gift, the coins left Muscat. About a decade after the Sultan died, this 1804 dollar and several other pieces from the original Proof set turned up in England. They next surfaced in the cabinet of Charles A. Watters, a wealthy Liverpool merchant.
From Muscat to Liverpool
The story of this coin’s arrival in Liverpool is obscure. Two sources have placed the dollar in the hands of Mr. Eschwege, a pawn dealer in Liverpool, but this information appears inaccurate. Leonard Forrer, the longtime British numismatist, wrote to Charles Green in 1945 that “to the best of my recollection and belief, it was said that [Watters] had purchased it from a Mr. Eschwege of Liverpool … I believe that on inquiry from Mr. Eschwege he could not recollect from whom he had bought the coin, and alleged that it had turned up in an odd lot in Liverpool, which would not be at all surprising.” A few decades later, in 1962, Eric Newman sat down with Forrer’s contemporary Fred Baldwin, the dean of London numismatists of that era. Newman related in 1964 “Baldwin knew Watters well and had seen the 1804 dollar in his possession almost 60 years before . Baldwin explained that Watters bought the 1804 dollar for six shillings from Maurice Eschwegge, a money changer, pawn broker, and coin dealer at 47 Lime Street, Liverpool.” Newman also recounted Baldwin’s story that “Phineas T. Barnum, the great American showman, tried relentlessly to buy the coin from Watters for a spectacular exhibit in America.” None of these stories line up with provable facts about Eschwege and Watters’ acquisition. By 1879, Watters’ ownership of the 1804 dollar had been acknowledged in print, about the same time he told Jeremiah Colburn by letter: “I bought it about the years 1867 or 1868 but cannot say where or from whom with any certainty.”
As Watters penned those words to Colburn, Maurice Eschwege’s first breath was still four years in the future. Born in 1871, he still hadn’t entered the pawn business in 1891, the year P.T. Barnum died. When the census taker showed up at Eschwege’s parent’s door in 1891, he left the space for young Maurice’s occupation blank, though his younger brother Michael was listed as “pawnbroker assistant.” A decade later, at the time of the 1901 census, Michael’s lot in life hadn’t changed much: he was still a pawnbroker assistant, though now living with his brother in Liverpool. Maurice, however, was listed as “Manager / Pawnbroker.” He may have followed his father Simon into the business. Simon, a German émigré, was listed in the 1871 London census as “jeweller & fancy warehouseman,” the 1881 Lancashire census as an “importer of fancy goods, textiles” and in the 1891 Lancashire census as “jeweller.” Simon’s London business, an import firm established with his brother Charles, failed in February 1874. He likely removed to Liverpool to reinvent himself soon thereafter, and he could have run a pawn counter in his fancy goods and jewelry shop. However, by the time the Eschwege family arrived in Liverpool with toddling Maurice in tow, this coin was already comfortably at rest in the Watters cabinet and had been for several years.
Watters told Colburn in June 1879 that about the time he acquired the 1804 dollar, “I obtained a small collection of American silver coins in London and it may have been amongst them.” Independent of the discovery of new documentation, this is as close as modern scholars can get to knowing the owner of this dollar who preceded Charles Aloysius Watters. After Colburn’s correspondence, other letters from the United States followed. Philadelphia dealer Ebenezer Locke Mason, Jr. was apparently the first American to have seen it in July 1878. A year later, Watters told Mason: “I have had several letters from America respecting this dollar, and an offer of $200 for it, I however declined it, having no desire to part with it at present.”
Glendining and Co., a London auction house, was selected to sell “the property of C.A. Watters, Esq, Liverpool” in two sales. The first, held in May 1917, focused on Watters’ extensive and well-known collection of English coins. The second sale, held on June 14 and 15 of the same year, included Watters’ collection of coins of the Isle of Man, which incorporated scholar Philip Nelson’s entire collection of Manx coins, along with coins from other British possessions, and some Greek and Roman pieces. The second day’s sale offered mostly American coins and medals, beginning with a 1652 New England shilling that had come from the famous Nelson cabinet. The following 138 lots ranged widely in quality and rarity, a hodgepodge that included an 1855 $50 Wass, Molitor gold piece, an 1836 Gobrecht dollar, and a lot of 22 circulated three-cent silvers. Watters was a collector of substantial means, dying in 1932 with an estate worth in excess of £13,000, but his American cabinet was a miscellany, formed with neither completion nor condition in mind. The announcement of the sale made at the 60th annual meeting of the American Numismatic Society in January 1918 detailed many of Watters’ numismatic specialties but didn’t even mention that any American coins were sold.
Lot 227 stood out, earning more description over its three and a half lines of text than any other lot sold that day.
AR Dollar, 1804, excessively rare, in perfect condition, considered one of the finest specimens known. See plate. Shows the same slight flaw in die at the top of the letters in Liberty as the Parmelee specimen.
On its own, such a coin would stick out prominently in a collection like Watters’. But in the next few dozen lots, among the holed 1807 quarter, the Proof coins of the 1880s and 1890s, and the large lot of circulated nickels, were coins that arranged like a constellation around the Watters 1804 dollar, forming something together that was greater than the sum of their parts. Lot 240 included eight half dollars, all of which were graded “fine,” dated from 1836 to 1846, but for one: “1834, proof.” Lot 246 offered 10 quarter dollars, an assortment from 1836 to 1856 that included a single New Orleans Mint issue and all graded “very fine” but one: “1834, proof.” Lot 254 was an unspectacular dozen half dimes, including a 1795 called “good,” 10 pieces from 1829 to 1834, including several duplicates, called “very fine,” and another half dime that seemed not to belong: “1834, a proof.” While the gold was nowhere to be seen, clearly Watters owned most of an 1834 Proof set. If he owned the dime, cent, and half cent that went with it, they were unappreciated and mixed into other lots, namely lot 250 (nine dimes, including an 1834), lot 278 (23 cents from 1821 to 1839) and lot 283 (20 half cents from 1809 to 1857). What Watters had acquired, probably in London about 1867, was the remains of a set of United States coins distributed in 1834 by the United States Department of State. Watters had purchased what was left of the set given to the Sultan of Muscat on October 1, 1835.
The Sultan of Muscat Dollar Returns to the United States
The Watters 1804 dollar brought £330, or $1,600, purchased by Henry Chapman of Philadelphia. Then a veteran of more than 40 years in the coin business, Chapman likely remembered the letters about the Watters 1804 dollar that were published in Ebenezer Locke Mason, Jr.’s house organ in 1879 and 1885, when Mason tried unsuccessfully to acquire Watters’ prized dollar. The price at the 1917 Watters sale was high enough to indicate that Chapman was not the only knowledgeable bidder, but his underbidders are unknown. Chapman kept the coin for just over a year, making delivery to Virgil Brand on the 370th day, June 20, 1918. Though Brand owned hundreds of thousands of rare coins, from all nations and eras, this coin was the only 1804 dollar his enormous collection ever included.
Exactly eight years to the day after purchasing this coin, Virgil Brand died. When the estate was initially divided in 1933, the dollar descended to his brother Armin, but at some point over the next decade, it was traded to Virgil’s other brother, Horace. Many of Armin Brand’s coin were sold off over the next decade, principally through Burdette G. Johnson, though those that remained unsold descended to his daughter, Jane Brand Allen and were eventually sold after her death in 1981. Horace Brand’s share of his brother’s estate traveled a more circuitous route, as Horace tried his hand at coin dealing, consigned parcels to dealers across the country, and even cataloged auction sales. In 1939, divorce proceedings began between Horace and his third wife, Erna, who was 30 years his junior. The divorce was granted in September 1940, but their division wasn’t complete: Horace had not followed through on delivering Erna her share of her late ex-brother-in-law’s coins.
In late 1941 or early 1942, Horace Brand and his former wife agreed to consign the Sultan of Muscat 1804 dollar to Chicago dealer Charles E. Green, better known in the numismatic world by the nom-de-coin of R. Green. The first initial was borrowed from his wife, Ruth, who was a co-owner of the business. Green first offered Virgil Brand’s 1804 dollar in the pages of The Numismatist in April 1942, describing it as “a world-famous coin from a world-famous collection, the most popular and most sought-after coin of the entire United States series … perhaps the finest condition of any piece known, light blue, evenly colored, a perfect proof.” It found no buyer for the duration of World War II. In August 1945, apparently tired of being numismatic business partners, 83-year-old Horace Brand and ex-wife Erna sold Virgil Brand’s prized 1804 dollar to Green for $3,150. Nearly 20 years had elapsed since Virgil’s passing.
Within two months of its acquisition by Charles and Ruth Green, the Sultan of Muscat 1804 dollar found a new home, where it would remain for more than a half century. The sale didn’t require the Greens to travel the coin show circuit, or print a catalog, or even visit the post office. All they needed was an elevator.
From the R. Green company office on the 10th floor of the Board of Trade Building on Jackson Boulevard in Chicago, the new owners were directly overhead, on the 37th floor, in the offices of C.F. Childs & Co. Billed as “the oldest house in America specializing in government bonds,” the Greens had long used the Childs firm to vouchsafe their liquidity in numismatic advertisements. Further, the chief executive of C.F. Childs & Co., Charles F. Childs, had inherited his father’s magnificent coin collection. The Childs Family collection was begun in the late 19th century, as Walter H. Childs of Brattleboro, Vermont filled a cabinet with elegant copper and silver coins. Few gold coins were added due to their expense, but once the family tasted greater success in Chicago, Charles F. Childs began remedying some of the gaps among higher denomination issues in the collection. The Green firm assisted in this regard, and the two families developed a trusted rapport.
Acquiring a coin as expensive as the Sultan of Muscat 1804 dollar was not an easy decision for Childs. He vacillated. He sought out other advisors. With his inaction hanging in the air, Green offered the coin to Louis Eliasberg, and Eliasberg agreed to purchase the coin if the other interested party passed. Charles F. Childs was talked into the purchase by his son, F. Newell Childs. Green wrote up the paperwork, and title passed to the Childs family on October 2, 1945. The coin was described as a “beautiful blue proof, I believe the finest condition of any known original 1804 dollars.” The price was $5,000, and the invoice was marked paid in full. Charles F. Childs sent a six-word telegram to his son, then serving in the U.S. Navy in Washington D.C., confirming the transaction: “You bought it. Mailing you story. CFC.”
Three successive generations of the Childs Family cherished this coin, nestled into the cabinet of Walter H. Childs, their father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. The collection was gifted to the youngest Childs, Charles F. Childs II, in 1952, when he was 8, young enough that his father continued to act as caretaker. In 1999, the Childs family consigned the coin for sale, along with the rest of their family’s coin cabinet. Their 1804 dollar had not been offered at auction since 1917, when it first emerged from the cabinet of Charles A. Watters of Liverpool.
In the meantime, the Watters-Brand-Childs 1804 dollar had been largely forgotten. When B. Max Mehl appended a list of 1804 dollars and their provenances to his reprint of the Haseltine Type-Table in 1927, he omitted the Watters coin, though his Mehl’s Numismatic Monthly had published a lengthy remark upon it 10 years earlier. In 1953, as Walter Breen was quickly becoming known as the latest up-and-comer in the field of numismatic research, he wrote extensively upon the history of the 1804 dollars in his monograph Proof Coins Struck by the United States Mint 1817-1921, including the story of the presentation sets prepared for the King of Siam and the Sultan of Muscat. He enumerated 13 different specimens among the three classes and their provenances. This coin was again forgotten. The King of Siam specimen, with its remarkable Proof set, had not yet been rediscovered.
Between its acquisition in 1945 and its eventual consignment to auction, only members of the Childs family and their appointed numismatic consultants, Kenneth and Phillip Bressett, saw this coin. Ken Bressett was, along with Eric Newman, a co-author of The Fantastic 1804 Dollar. “My fascination with the 1804 dollar started over 75 years ago when I chanced upon an old copy of a promotional piece sent out by Texas coin dealer B. Max Mehl to stimulate sales of his Star Rare Coin Encyclopedia,” Ken recalls. Before research for The Fantastic 1804 Dollar began in earnest in 1959, Ken had a chance to study the Mickley-Appleton coin, then at the Massachusetts Historical Society, as well as the Class I and Class II specimens at the Smithsonian Institution. As the project ramped up, Ken sought out the other specimens of the 1804 dollar, including this one.
During the period of research for the book, I found the opportunity to locate and examine most of the other known specimens of the legendary coin. One was rumored to be in Chicago. The piece had been sold by dealer R. Green in 1945. I was fortunate to have known Ruth Green for many years, and asked her one day if she would introduce me to the owner so that I could see the coin. Within a few months arrangements were made for me to visit the present owner, F. Newell Childs, who was the son of the man who had originally purchased the coin. The meeting was one of the most enjoyable and fortunate ever for me, and the beginning of a lasting friendship with years of sharing information and knowledge between the two of us.
On one memorable visit to see Newell Childs, Ken recalled that at lunchtime, Mr. Childs “casually placed [the 1804 dollar] on top of the china cabinet where, he said, no one would think of looking for it.” After several weeks, “Newell called me to say that he could not find the dollar … I asked if he had checked the top of cabinet.” After rediscovering the coin in its hiding place, it was returned to the vault, “never again seen by anyone aside from his son Fred until being consigned to Bowers and Merena Galleries in 1998 for auction in 1999.”
The 1999 Walter H. Childs Collection Sale
If you had opened a Guinness Book of World Records in 1998, an 1804 dollar was listed as the world’s most valuable coin. Sold in 1997, the Stickney-Eliasberg Class I 1804 sold for $1,815,000, becoming the second coin to bring over $1 million at auction. In 1989, the million-dollar mark was nearly reached by another 1804 dollar, the Class I Dexter specimen, which sold for $990,000 that year. When the news that the finest known 1804 dollar would be auctioned was announced in July 1999, the numismatic community pulsed with excitement. The Professional Coin Grading Service graded the coin Proof-68. In a July 8, 1999 press release, PCGS founder John Dannreuther commented that “it’s a 100% original coin, as perfect an early Proof coin as one could imagine … obviously the subsequent owners have treated the coin with the distinction befitting its title, ‘the King of Coins.’”
“Because the Childs example was the finest 1804 Silver Dollar in existence, there was considerable speculation as to what it may bring,” recalled PCGS CoinFacts founder Ron Guth in Coin Collecting for Dummies. “The buzz was that the Childs 1804 Silver Dollar would bring at least $2,000,000 and possibly as much as $2.5 to $3 million.” Guth listened in southern California to a live simulcast of the auction, held in New York City. “The coin quickly broke through $2,000,000, then $3,000,000, and in less than two minutes sold” for its final price, $4,140,000, a new world record for any coin. Ambassador Fuad Mubarak Al-Hinai, the representative of Sultan Qaboos bin Said, the modern-day monarch of the nation of Oman, watched from the gallery.
No overview on American numismatics is complete without a mention of the 1804 dollar, and the 1804 dollar’s story is incomplete without notice of the sets of coins made in the name of diplomacy for the King of Siam and the Sultan of Muscat. Hyperbole is barely required to suggest that every general reference published on United States coins for the last 150 years has mentioned this precise coin. Before this coin was even known, before its current existence was rumored on the left side of the Atlantic, W. Elliot Woodward was the first to recount the story of this coin’s creation and presentation in the pages of the American Journal of Numismatics in 1867.
Some time during the administration of President Jackson, a present was received from the Imaum of Muscat, and our government, wishing to make a proper return to that magnate, caused, amongst other things, a set of coins to be made for him …
It may interest numismatists to know that the one sent to Muscat is no longer to be found. The enthusiasm with which coin collecting is pursued may be illustrated by stating the fact that a gentleman of New York City caused an investigation to be made in the palace of the Imaum in 1865, and learned that the dollar was not there, and had not been for a long time.
Woodward, a renowned bibliophile, had likely heard of the set of coins made for the Sultan of Muscat from the memoir of Dr. William S.W. Ruschenberger, published in 1838 about his time aboard the USS Peacock. Doubt followed Woodward’s words. The extremely rare 1804 dollar the sumptuous set was said to contain was generally evoked with disbelief, an aspect of the tale that veered too close to fantasy to ring with truth. In 1962, before the announcement of the discovery of the King of Siam set, Newman and Bressett had written a chapter for The Fantastic 1804 Dollar called “The Diplomatic Gift Delusion.” But proof of Woodward’s comments arrived housed in a yellow leather box. The display of the King of Siam set at the 1962 American Numismatic Association quieted all doubters, and, after a hasty rewrite, Newman and Bressett’s research has held up to scrutiny ever since.
If the D. Brent Pogue Collection is a rhapsody in metal, this is its crescendo. Legendary beyond the insular world of numismatics, no other American coin has caused as many empty inkwells as the 1804 dollar, inspiring several full length books and countless articles and commentaries. Its creation required the best efforts of the United States Mint, its delivery essentialized the summed power of the United States Department of State, and its first American auction offering set a world record that would be trumpeted in headlines around the world. It owes its existence to a single historic instance of the desire to make a good first impression. It was minted to transcend its basic purpose as an article of money, serving instead as a tool to communicate sophistication and power, peace and strength. From the moment the ingot of silver that would become this coin first felt the tug of the rollers, this coin was produced to be not only an object invested with the hopes of American diplomacy, but also a gift fit for a king. ■
PCGS Population: 1, none finer.
Publications: Alexander, David T. Coin World Comprehensive Catalogue and Encyclopedia of United States Coins, 1990, p. 199. Berman, Neil. “The Intriguing 1804.” The Numismatist, July 2008, pp. 31-32. Bowers, Q. David. Adventures With Rare Coins, 1979, p. 71. Bowers, Q. David. Virgil Brand: A Man and His Era, 1983, p. 170. Bowers, Q. David. Silver Dollars and Trade Dollars of the United States: A Complete Encyclopedia, Volume One, 1993, pp. 469-470. Bowers, Q. David. The Rare Silver Dollars Dated 1804 and the Exciting Adventures of Edmund Roberts, 1999, pp. 12, 195, 200, 235, 347, 351, 353, 359-361, 372, 376, 377, 379, 381, 383-385, 398, 417, 430, 437, 451, 452-455, and 478. Plated on p. 353, the title page, and the front cover. Bowers, Q. David. A Buyer’s Guide to Silver Dollars and Trade Dollars of the United States, 2006, pp. 49, 56, 58. Bowers, Q. David. The Encyclopedia of United States Silver Dollars 1794-1804, 2013, pp. 298-299. Plated on p. 296 and the rear cover. Breen, Walter. “How Our Coinage Became Mechanized.” The Numismatist, March 1951, p. 286. Breen, Walter. Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, 1988, pp. 431-432. Breen, Walter. Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of United States and Colonial Proof Coins 1722-1989, 1989, p. 251. Bressett, Kenneth. Collectible American Coins, 1991, p. 80. Dannreuther, John. “Thoughts on Proof 1804 Original and Restrike Silver Dollars (and Their Cousins, the Proofs of 1801-1803).” PCGS Market Report, July 2001 (Number 9), pp. 6-8. Ferguson, Mark. The Dollar of 1804: The U.S. Mint’s Hidden Secret, 2014, pp. 1-2, 203-205, 210, 242, 244, 251-254, 260, and 262. Ganz, David L. Rare Coin Investing: An Affordable Way to Build Your Portfolio, 2010, pp. 97-98. Garraty, John Arthur and Carnes, Mark Christopher. American National Biography, Volume 6 [William E. DuBois], 1999, p. 949. Garrett, Jeff and Guth, Ron. 100 Greatest U.S. Coins, 2003, p. 8. Plated on p. 9 and on the front cover. Guth, Ron. Coin Collecting for Dummies, 2001, p. 326. Hoge, Robert. “Welcoming the King of American Coins.” The Numismatist, April 1991, p. 629. Mason, Ebenezer Locke. “Correspondence.” Mason’s Coin Collectors’ Herald, September 1879, p. 12. Mason, Ebenezer Locke. “Editorial Excursion — No. 3.” Mason’s Coin Collectors’ Herald, December 1879, p. 24. Mason, Ebenezer Locke. “A Numismatic Trip to Europe.” Mason’s Coin Collectors’ Magazine, May 1885, p. 119. Mishler, Clifford. Coins: Questions and Answers, 1987, p. 81. Montague, L.A.D. “The Watters 1804 Dollar.” The Bazaar, Exchange, and Mart, July 27, 1917. (Reprinted in Mehl’s Numismatic Monthly, October 1917, p. 131.) Newman, Eric P. “Updating the Fantastic 1804 Dollar.” Whitman Numismatic Journal, September 1964, pp. 44, 47. Newman, Eric P. “Keeping Up with the 1804 Dollar Story.” The Numismatist, March 1970, p. 313. Newman, Eric P. “1804 — More! No.” The Numismatist, November 1970, p. 1620. Newman, Eric P. and Bressett, Kenneth E. The Fantastic 1804 Dollar, 1962, pp. 62-65, 66-67, 116, 126, and 142. Plated on p. 126. Newman, Eric P. and Bressett, Kenneth E. “The Fantastic 1804 Dollar: 25th Anniversary Follow-up.” America’s Silver Coinage 1794-1891, American Numismatic Society Coinage of the Americas Conference, 1986, pp. 163-164, 168. Orosz, Joel J. “Gilmor and the 1804 Silver Dollars.” The Numismatist, June 2000, p. 614. Orosz, Joel J. “Tradition’s 1001st Tongue: A Critical Review of Mark Ferguson’s The Dollar of 1804: The U.S. Mint’s Hidden Secret … As Revealed by the ‘Dexter Dollar,‘ The King of American Coins.” American Numismatic Society Magazine, 2015 Issue 2, pp. 31-33. Pearlman, Donn. “Pearlman’s People.” The Numismatist, December 1999, p. 1540. Reiter, Ed. The New York Times Guide to Coin Collecting, 2002, pp. 189-191. Risk, James C. “1804: The Continuing Story.” The Numismatist, August 1970, pp. 1106 and 1109. Ruschenberger, Dr. William S.W. A Voyage Round the World, Including an Embassy to Muscat and Siam in 1835, 1836, and 1837, 1838, p. 344. Schwarz, Ted. Coins as Living History, 1976, p. 143. Spink, David F. and Risk, James C. “New Facts About an Old American Coin.” The Numismatist, November 1962, pp. 1443, 1446-1447. Taxay, Don. The U.S. Mint and Coinage, 1966, p. 177. Taxay, Don; Rose, Joseph and Hazelcorn, Howard, editors. The Comprehensive Catalogue and Encyclopedia of United States Coins, 1976, p. 196. Thomas, Robert. The Old Farmer’s Almanac, 1992, p. 157. Travers, Scott A. One Minute Coin Expert, 2007, pp. 147-148. Tripp, David. Illegal Tender, 2004, p. 284. Woodward, W. Elliott. “American Coins: To the Editor of the Transcript.” American Journal of Numismatics, June 1867, p. 24. Yeoman, R.S. Bressett, Kenneth E., editor. A Guide Book of United States Coins, 2000 to 2016, p. 220 (2016 edition). “Another ‘Four’ Dollar.” American Journal of Numismatics, May 1868, p. 7. “Numismatic Myths: 1804 Dollars.” American Journal of Numismatics, July 1899, p. 32. (Reprinted in The Numismatist, October 1933, pp. 605-606.) “1834 Silver Dollar Brings $4.14 Million.” Associated Press, August 31, 1999. “Rare 1834 U.S. Silver Dollar Sold for $4 Million at Auction.” The New York Times, August 31, 1999, p. B5. “1804 Dollar Brings a Record Price.” Numismatic News, September 1, 1999, p. 1. “Finest 1804 Dollar Brings Record $4.14 Million.” The Numismatist, October 1999, p. 1258. “King of Siam Coin Set Shatters Sales Records.” The Numismatist, July 2001, p. 858. “PCGS Reaches Milestone.” The Numismatist, June 2003, p. 32.
Provenance: United States Department of State, by transfer from the United States Mint, December 1834; Said bin Sultan Al-Said, Sultan of Muscat and Oman, by presentation from Edmund Roberts, October 1, 1835; unknown intermediaries; a source in London; Charles A. Watters Collection, by sale, 1867 or 1868; Glendining and Co.‘s sale of the C.A. Watters Collection, June 1917, lot 227; Henry Chapman; Virgil Brand Collection, by sale, June 1918; Horace and Armin Brand, by descent, 1926; Armin Brand, by division, November 1933; Horace Brand and Erna M. Brand, by exchange, before 1942; Charles E. Green, by sale; August 1945; Charles Frederick Childs, by sale, October 1945; Frederick Newell Childs Collection, by gift, October 1945; Charles Frederick Childs II Collection, by gift, 1952; Bowers and Merena’s sale of the Walter H. Childs Collection, August 1999, lot 458, via David Akers.