Dollars – Draped Bust Dollar, Heraldic Eagle, 1798-1804

Two reverse designs were used on 1798 dollars. The first displayed a smaller eagle surrounded by a wreath, the second a larger eagle in a style that copied the heraldry of the Great Seal of the United States.

This second style also appeared on dimes in 1798, but not on half dimes until 1800, half dollars until 1801, and quarter dollars until 1804. It made an earlier debut on gold quarter eagles in 1796, and half eagles and eagles in 1797. The obverse retained the visage of Liberty that originated from a drawing by artist Gilbert Stuart and was promoted by Mint Director Henry William DeSaussure in his desire to improve the appearance of silver U.S. coins.

Though the silver dollar was considered the primary coin of the U.S. monetary system, the large coins were often exported and melted as bullion, and few were seen in circulation from 1800 forward. Acknowledging this reality, President Thomas Jefferson halted production of the denomination after 1804, and none were produced until the introduction of Gobrecht’s Liberty Seated design in 1836.

Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries

The Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle dollar series includes one of the rarest and best-known coins in the entire U.S. coinage history, the 1804 dollar.

The Mint produced dollar coins in 1804, probably using 1803 dies, so none of these early 1800s pieces were dated 1804. However, in 1834 the State Department requested of the Mint two sets of coins “of each kind now in use, whether of gold, silver or copper”, so that one set could be presented to the King of Siam (Thailand) and the other to the Imam of Muscat (Oman). At the time, neither dollars nor gold eagles were being produced, but to make the sets complete, both denominations were made for the sets with new 1804-dated dies. These “originals” are considered Class I 1804 dollars.

Class II and Class III dollars are restrikes but were apparently produced without the knowledge or approval of Mint Director James Ross Snowden. The earlier Class II restrikes were recalled by Snowden, and only a single example is known, which is kept at the Smithsonian Institution. Snowden seized the later Class III dies, but several coins of that issue were retained by collectors. The 14 Class I and Class III pieces are avidly sought when infrequently available, at prices that are among the highest for any U.S. coin.

The obverse prominently displays Liberty in the center of the coin, long flowing hair swept backward and down her neck, and tied at the back with a ribbon. Folded drapery is placed across the bust and over her shoulder. Six-point stars, seven to the left of Liberty and six to the right; LIBERTY at the top; and the date at the bottom form a circle inside the denticled or beaded border.

The reverse has in the center a left-facing eagle, wings outstretched with the tips extending nearly to the denticled or beaded border. A shield covers most of the body, and the eagle holds in its beak a loop of a ribbon that displays E PLURIBUS UNUM, positioned in front of the right wing and in back of the left. The eagle’s right claw clutches several arrows, the left an olive branch. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA nearly circles inside the rim, the words separated by the eagle’s wing tips and tail. Above the eagle are 13 small six-point stars in two arcs, six at the top and five below, with an additional star on each side of the eagle’s head. Some 1798 (possibly 1799 as well) issues have the stars arranged in two diamond-shaped groups of six each, the stars in straight lines, one group left and one right of the eagle’s head, and a single star in the middle. This arrangement is known as a cross pattern. Above the stars, below STATES OF is an arc of clouds. All coins were produced at Philadelphia and have neither mintmark nor denomination.

Several thousand Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle dollars are listed in census/ population reports, including a prooflike piece, though some varieties are represented by fewer than 100 examples. No proofs are known to have been minted from 1798 through 1804, but proofs or specimens dated 1801, 1802, and 1803 were produced later in the 1800s, apparently for collectors, and are considered by some to be fantasy pieces. The 1804 examples were likewise minted in the several decades after 1804, the first (Class I) in 1834 by the Mint and later Class II and Class III 1804 dollars in the mid-1800s. Only fifteen examples of all 1804 dollars are known today, though some believe that other pieces may exist, and 30 to 40 1801-1803 proofs (including at few cameo pieces) are known. Prices for circulation strikes are moderate only through low VF grades, rising to expensive as AU and very expensive to extremely expensive as Mint State. All proof examples are extremely expensive, with prices at or near one million dollars as Gem. The 1804 dollar, considered the classic and most desirable U.S. coin rarity by many, sells for several million dollars in all grades.

Designer: Robert Scot and John Eckstein, from a Gilbert Stuart Liberty drawing
Circulation Mintage: high 423,515 (1799), low 41,650 (1802)
Proof Mintage: none officially known, but proof or specimen coins were struck later in the 1800s for the dates 1801, 1802, 1803, and 1804 as presentation or collector pieces
Denomination: $1.00
Diameter: 39-40 mm, edge displaying HUNDRED CENTS ONE DOLLAR OR UNIT with decorations or ornaments between the words. The one known existing Class II 1804 piece (others were made but recalled by the U.S. government) has a plain edge.
Metal Content: 90% silver, 10% copper
Weight: 26.96 grams
Varieties: Many known, including examples from every production year, most minor die variations. Well-known varieties include 1798 cross pattern and arc pattern reverse stars; 1799 15-star reverse, with the two extra stars left on the die but nearly covered by enlarged clouds; 1800 AMERICAI, with a mostly but not completely removed extra letter A; 1799/8 and 1802/1 overdates; and the 1804 restrike examples.

Additional Resources:
PCGS CoinFacts:
Coin Encyclopedia:
A Buyer’s Guide to Silver Dollars & Trade Dollars of the United States. Q. David Bowers (author), John Dannreuther (editor). Zyrus Press.
The Rare Silver Dollars Dated 1804. Q. David Bowers. Bowers & Merena Galleries.
The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. R.S Yeoman (author), Kenneth Bressett (editor). Whitman Publishing.
A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Don Taxay. Arco Publishing.
Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Walter Breen. Doubleday.

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