United States 1798 Draped Bust Silver Dollar

Issued only six years after the United States Mint was established by the Coinage Act of April 2, 1792, the 1798 dollar represents one of the most popular early denominations for modern collectors. Still a fledgling department, the early Mint was not known for its meticulous record keeping, and coming up with solid mintage figures for early Mint issues is notoriously complicated. As the late David W. Lange pointed out in his 2005 book History of the United States Mint and Its Coinage, “dies were not taken out of service until they were no longer usable.”

In fact, author Q. David Bowers estimates that upwards of 140,000 to 150,000 pieces dated 1798 were actually struck sometime between 1795 and 1797. The 1798 dollar was no different, with a number of examples being struck in 1799 and 1880. Despite this confusion, the estimated mintage of 327,536 pieces dated 1798 is quite large for the series. In fact, it is the second largest, with only the 1799 mintage being larger.

Furthermore, quality control was not quite as important at the early Mint as it is today. This was reflected in the number of pieces issued with die cracks around the legends and stars and with weak strikes affecting the coins’ center.

The 1798 Silver Dollar in Today’s Market

The 1798 Silver Dollar market can be simple or complex depending on how one wishes to collect. Despite the 1798’s comparatively large mintage, the total graded population consists of only 4,754 pieces across all types (Small Eagle and Heraldic) and across all die marriages. There are, no doubt, resubmissions included in this figure and when one drills down into die marriages, there are almost certainly mistakes and omissions.

Suffice it to say, there are not nearly enough pieces to go around, and even in midrange circulated grades of F to VF, one will have to commit $2,000 to $3,000 at a minimum for the more frequently encountered Heraldic type. The range increases to $4,000 to $6,000 for the common die marriages. In our opinion, AU 58 is an optimal collector grade for the date. Expect faintly circulated pieces with the correct look to command about $12,000. This is a fair price for a great coin with tons of history.

In Mint State, the 1798 becomes significantly rarer, with only one to three examples per year selling at auction. At the time of original publication, the last auction record dates to September 2020 – over two years ago. These pieces can range from an estimated $20,000 in MS 61 or 62 to upwards of $90,000 for MS 64.

This top population coin (the MS 64), a Pointed 9 type and BB-113 variety, was sold in 2020 for $90,000 by Heritage Auctions.

As for interesting die marriages, the 1798 offers plenty. BB-81 is a Rarity-3 variety with a Small Eagle reverse that features 15 obverse stars. This die was likely prepared before Tennessee was admitted into the Union as the 16th State. The 8 date punch was added to a die that already had the 179 punched onto it. A nice PCGS AU55 example from the famous T. James Clarke Collection was sold by Legend Rare Coin Auctions in April for $52,875.

BB-82 is a Rarity-3 variety that features the Small Eagle reverse and 13 stars on the obverse. The stars are oriented seven to the left and six to the right. The combination is unique to this Red Book variety. Legend also sold one of these in April when it was disposing of the Dale Friend collection. That piece, graded PCGS AU58 CAC brought $205,625. This was a fantastic result, as a PCGS AU55 example sold just three years prior for only $48,000.

Outside of the BB-113 Pointed 9 with the Heraldic reverse, mentioned above, the 1798 features a number of die marriages with wide dates and close dates. These vary in terms of rarity. There are some Rarity-5 examples that pose good value in today’s market.

To really have fun with this series, it is important to arm yourself with proper numismatic knowledge. Buy the book before you buy the coin.

Design

Obverse:

The obverse prominently displays Liberty in the center of the coin. While most of her long flowing hair is swept backward down her neck, some locks are tied at the back of her head. Folded drapery is placed across the bust and over her shoulder, and her dress’s bust line is quite low. The legend “LIBERTY” is found at the at the top of the design, with a number of six-point stars on both sides: seven to the left and six to the right. These symbolize the 13 original states of the Union. The date (1798) is located at the bottom of the design, which is located inside the denticled or beaded border. On some pieces, the “9” in the date has a small bulge at the end of its arm, giving the name “Knob 9” to the type. The other, more common type has a sharp end, and is called “Pointed 9”.

Reverse:

1798 saw a distinct transition in reverse design. Perhaps 35,000 pieces dated 1798 were struck with the previous Small Eagle design, which depicted an eagle standing on clouds within a wreath and ringed by the legend “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA”.

The new heraldic reverse was based on the new Great Seal of America and is centered on a left-facing eagle with its wings outstretched. The wingtips are extending nearly to the denticled or beaded border. Interestingly, there are a number of varieties for this reverse design.

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 the back of the left. On some types, the shield’s vertical bars have five lines in each vertical bar while others only have four. The eagle’s right claw clutches several arrows; the left clutches an olive branch. At one point, a reverse die was engraved with a slight mistake. The number of arrows was reduced from 13 to 10. According to numismatist Ron Guth, the engraver “simply forgot (or neglected) to add them”. The country of origin (UNITED STATES OF AMERICA) nearly circles inside the rim, and the words are 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 and below STATES OF is an arc of clouds.

Currently, there are 33 known die varieties from this issuance. Two of these have the Small Eagle and 31 have the Large Eagle reverse.

All coins were produced at the Philadelphia Mint and have neither mintmark nor denomination.

Edge:

The edge of the 1798 dollar features the lettering HUNDRED CENTS ONE DOLLAR OR UNIT, with decorative elements between the words.

Designer

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.

Coin Specifications

Country:  United States
Year Of Issue:  1798
Denomination:  One Dollar (USD)
Mint Mark:  None (Philadelphia)
Mintage:  327,536
Alloy:  89.24% silver / 10.76% copper
Weight:  26.96 grams
Diameter:  39 – 40 mm
Edge Lettered
OBV Designer  Robert Scot
REV Designer  Robert Scot
Quality:  Business Strike

 

1 COMMENT

  1. I HAVE A 18O7 DRAPED BUST SILVER, NOT SURE IF IT’S A HALF DOLLAR OR DOLLAR. I FOUND IT WITH A METAL DETECTOR. IT’S WORN DOWN BUT STILL IN GOOD ENOUGH CONDITION TO SEE BOTH SIDES OF COIN. I WOULD LIKE TO SEND PICS TO SOMEBODY WHO COULD IDENTIFY IF IT IS HALF OR FULL DOLLAR. AND PROPER VALUE OF COIN.

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