The 1795 B-14, BB-51 Bust dollar with an off-center Draped Bust represents the first appearance of the new Draped Bust Dollar obverse design. The Small Eagle reverse also made its first appearance here. The circumstances surrounding the coin’s issuance are subject to a certain amount of speculation. The designer and engraver remain unidentified, the exact timing of the Mint’s transition from the Flowing Hair design to the Draped Bust type is uncertain, and the actual mintage of the new design is a further unknown variable relating to the production of the 1795 Draped Bust dollar.
Much speculation about the designer of this coin type has appeared in print over several decades. The 19th-century Mint Director James Ross Snowden wrote in 1861 that Gilbert Stuart designed the Draped Bust obverse, information that he received from “a relation of the family.” Conflicting evidence exists in the form of a September 9, 1795 payment of $30 to John Eckstein for “two models for dollars”. While we don’t know the specifics of those models, the timing is right for obverse and reverse models for the Draped Bust, Small Eagle dollars.
William Nyberg argues Chief Engraver Robert Scot was a far more likely source of the Draped Bust design. There is no contemporary evidence to support Gilbert Stuart’s involvement, while Scot had extensive experience in drapery designs from his time preparing engravings for Dobson’s 1792 Encyclopedia.
In Robert Scot, Engraving Liberty, Nyberg writes (pp. 123-4): “The iconic Draped Bust designs were allegorical representations that were ’emblematic of liberty,’ as required by law in the Coinage Act of 1792, and were designed and engraved by the person commissioned specifically for that purpose, Robert Scot.”
Silver dollars were delivered from the Coiner to the Mint Treasurer on August 29, 31, September 1, and 12, and again on September 24. While there are no existing Mint records that discuss the design change, the September 24 or October 3 deliveries are likely. Researcher R.W. Julian suggests a mintage of 78,238 Draped Bust silver dollars, the total of deliveries in the fourth quarter of 1795, from October 3 through the final delivery of the year on October 24. Although we don’t know if examples were struck in 1796, Julian’s mintage figure is probably accurate. The actual number may have been smaller as only two die pairs are identified.
There are several prooflike Mint State 1795 Draped Bust silver dollars known, but the coin featured in our upcoming January 3-8 FUN Signature Auction, while not the highest-graded example, clearly has a special look – as evidenced by the Specimen-62 grade assigned by NGC. It features full strike definition throughout, including Liberty’s curls and the eagle’s breast, wing, and leg feathers. Both sides are fully mirrored with silvery, steel-gray color and splashes of pale lavender. A few light striations appear over the central obverse, and tiny ticks limit the technical grade. Still, this amazing specimen is nearly in a class of its own, made with care and lacking any adjustment marks.