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.
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.
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.
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.
The edge of the 1794 Flowing Hair silver dollar features the inscription ONE HUNDRED CENTS ONE DOLLAR OR UNIT.
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.
|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|
|Edge:||Lettered: ONE HUNDRED CENTS ONE DOLLAR OR UNIT|
|OBV Designer||Robert Scot|
|REV Designer||Robert Scot|
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