1794 Flowing Hair silver dollar
By Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez for Coinweek …….
A 1794 Flowing Hair silver dollar made headlines when it sold at auction for more than $10 million in 2013.
Today, this same coin is once again making headlines as it takes a trip across the pond to Europe, where it will be exhibited before crowds in some of the continent’s most famous museums and institutions.
While the 1794 Flowing Hair dollar is a rare coin worthy of such attention – around 150 specimens are known to exist – this specific piece has unique qualities, well beyond its record-crushing hammer price. “It’s the first American metal dollar struck and the finest known,” explained Q. David Bowers, Stack’s Bowers chairman emeritus in a 2013 Reuters interview. “You have these combinations coming together. No museum has an equal piece.” It was certified by Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) as a Specimen-66, making the coin the finest of its kind.
Its current owner, Bruce Morelan of Legend Rare Coin Auctions, saw a rare opportunity to buy the coin in 2013.
“It was perhaps the final chance to own it privately – if a museum bought it, then it was off the market for my lifetime,” explains the 53-year-old numismatist.
Still, he isn’t keeping a coin he proudly describes as a “national treasure” all to himself.
1794 Flowing Hair Dollar European Tour Schedule
“I was approached about doing a numismatic tour similar to what the 1933 $20 [Saint-Gaudens double eagle] did several years back,” explains Morelan. “It seemed to me that no other coin had the allure to the general public of the first dollar struck for the United States and that [exhibiting] it was a great way to promote numismatics.”
During its European tour, the 1794 silver dollar will be making appearances at prestigious venues throughout February and March 2016, including:
● The National Museum in Prague, Czech Republic – February 9-12
● The Royal Castle in Warsaw, Poland – February 15-18
● The National Museum in Tallinn, Estonia – February 22-23
● The National Museum in Helsinki, Finland – February 25-26
● The Royal Coin Cabinet in Stockholm, Sweden – February 29-March 1
● The National Museum in Oslo, Norway – March 3-6
● The Royal Dublin Society in Dublin, Ireland – March 11-13
● La Galleria Pall Mall in London, England – March 18-20
When the 1794 Flowing Hair dollar returns to the United States at the end of March, Morelan will deposit it among the many other 18th- and 19th-century silver dollars that compose the majority of his coin collection.
The self-described “Trade Dollar Nut” got his start in the hobby at the age of six with coins from the Civil War era and Gilded Age passed down to him from his great-grandmother. However, it was the prospect of owning the historic 1794 dollar, a relic from the nation’s formative years, that really thrilled the noted numismatist.
Why The 1794 Flowing Hair Dollar Reigns Supreme for Collectors
The 1804 Draped Bust silver dollar may be the long-heralded “King of American Coins,” but the striking of the 1794 Flowing Hair dollar – particularly Morelan’s specimen – is how our nation’s unit of currency officially debuted. The coin, believed by leading numismatic professionals as being the very first U.S. silver dollar struck, warrants the extraordinary sum it posted at auction in 2013.
“It certainly [is] the earliest strike known and logically the very first silver dollar struck by the United States,” Morelan relates. “It matches the die state exactly of the first copper pattern donated to the Smithsonian by Stack’s and is the only early die state and specimen coin known. If you logically conclude that the first struck was more likely specially made than the fifth, 10th, or 20th, then it isn’t that far of a stretch to call it the first.”
It is also the only known 1794 dollar to have a silver plug, a feature that was used to adjust the weight of the coin – something more common with 1795 Flowing Hair silver dollars.
Morelan’s confidence that the coin is indeed the first struck was demonstrated by the amount he was willing to shell out to buy the coin.
“In determining what I had to pay for the coin, I felt it had been satisfactorily demonstrated it was the first dollar struck,” Morelan says. “I was building the absolute finest early dollar collection and this was to be the centerpiece. [I] was prepared to pay much higher … My limit was $12.5 million hammer.”
Tracing the Origins of the Record-Breaking 1794 Dollar
Morelan’s 1794 Flowing Hair dollar was struck by hand on a screw press at the Philadelphia Mint on October 15 of that year. It was (by all reliable estimations) the first of 1,758 silver dollars minted for the year, all of which were struck on that same day.
The coins were made from silver that was donated by then-Mint Director David Rittenhouse. There is no official record of who owned the coin between 1794 and the 1920s, when Colonel E.H.R. Green bought it for his legendary collection. However, a multitude of numismatists agree on at least one thing about its 19th-century custodian: whoever he or she was they took special care of the coin.
The Col. E.H.R. Green collection was purchased by Burdette G. Johnson and the St. Louis Stamp & Coin Company. From there, the 1794 dollar wound up in the inventory of dealer James Kelly in 1945. It was then sold to collector C. David Pierce, whose collection was offered in 1946 by the Hollinbeck-Kagin Coin Company.
Afterward, Abe Kosoff and Abner Kreisberg of Numismatic Gallery sold the coin to Will W. Neil. In 1947, popular Fort Worth coin dealer B. Max Mehl offered the Neil Collection, touting the silver dollar as “probably the finest-known specimen.”
Mehl sold the coin in a mail-bid auction for $1,250 to Amon Carter, Sr., who owned stock in American Airlines and ran the Fort Worth Star-Telegram newspaper.
The coin remained with the Carter family until 1984, when Amon Carter, Jr., died. Stack’s sold the coin that year to Hugh Sconyers for $264,000.
The coin went through many hands over the next several years, selling for various amounts between $209,000 in 1986 and $506,000 during a 1991 sale.
Steven L. Contursi bought the coin for $2.5 million during a private transaction in 2002. Contursi owned the coin for eight years, and during the years 2004 through 2009 it was featured at the American Numismatic Association’s Edward C. Rochette Money Museum in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Martin Logies, author of The Flowing Hair Silver Dollars of 1794, bought the coin for $7.85 million on behalf of the non-profit Cardinal Collection Education Foundation in 2010.
Morelan bought the coin during the sale of the Cardinal Collection at a Stack’s Bowers auction in January 24, 2013. The final price for the 1794 dollar, including the buyer’s fee, was an astronomical $10,016,875.