Collecting Classic American Coins – The Silver Dollars of Our Founding Fathers

You might be surprised how affordable some of the first US silver dollars are

Through Jeff Garrett for Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) ……

Silver dollars were first authorized under the presidency of george washington in 1792. The first coins were produced two years later in 1794, with only 1,758 coins leaving the fledgling Mint in philadelphia cream.

The tiny mintage of 1794 launched one of the most interesting and exciting series of coins ever minted by the United States. Silver dollars dated from 1794 to 1804 are commonly referred to as “bust bucks“, although the first types of 1794 and 1795 are generally called “Flowing Hair Dollars”. The nicknames are obvious references to the classic artistic conceptions of the time.

There are three main types of early United States silver dollars:

  1. Floating hair (1794-1795)
  2. Little Eagle Draped Bust (1795-1798)
  3. Heraldic Eagle Draped Bust (1798-1804)

The series begins with one of the most famous coins in all of numismatics, the 1794 silver dollar. This issue is one of the most sought-after rarities and fetches six-figure prices even for lower quality examples. The 1794 silver dollar is best known for having the highest auction record for any coin ever sold at auction. An incredible example of Specimen Gem sold for over $10 million in 2013.

The series ends with one of the greatest coins in all of numismatics, the 1804 silver dollar. This question has been highly coveted since the birth of numismatics in the 1850s and has always generated excitement when an example exchanges hands. The piece has consistently ranked in the top five of my popular 100 largest coin of the United States pounds, often landing in first place.

The 1804 silver dollar has a long and complicated history, and several books have been written about them. The revolutionary book The Fantastic Dollar of 1804 through Eric P. Newman and Ken Bresset which was published in the 1960s established that they were not minted in 1804. They were first produced in 1834 for diplomatic proof sets and again in the 1850s for collectors of the ‘era.

There are three types of 1804 silver dollars: Class I, struck in 1834; Class II, minted in the 1850s smooth edge (single); and Class III, struck in the 1850s with lettered edge. the Smithsonian Collection has all three types, and they can be seen in the Value of Money Exhibition to American History Museum in washington d.c..

the United States currency also produced draped Proof bust dollars dated 1801, 1802, and 1803. The coins were minted to satisfy collector demand in the late 1850s and early 1960s. They are all very rare, and among the most coveted coins in numismatics. A proof draped bust dollar is truly special to behold.

Even though this enigmatic series is surrounded by two major rarities, they are still highly collectible. The remaining dates struck from 1795 to 1803 were produced in sufficient numbers to be available to modern collectors of relatively modest means.

There are many ways to collect the first United States Silver Dollars 1794-1804. The easiest collection to put together would be one of each major type.

Character set

The first US dollars are all condition rarities. Collectors can purchase attractive (but well-worn) examples, for prices starting at under $1,000 for the Heraldic Eagle Draped Bust numbers from 1798-1803. Prices increase rapidly with each grade increment and Mint States coins start at around $20,000. Floating hair and Little Eagle types start around $2,000 for circulating specimens.

The terms of the first three presidents overlap with the era of the first silver dollars

The mandates of the presidents Washington, Adam and Jefferson superimposed with the country’s first silver dollars.

These silver dollars were all minted during the administrations of the founding fathers of the United States: George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. They are a tangible link with the primitive formation of our country, and it is certain that these men were interested in our coinage.

Fixed date

Most collectors begin their date sets of the first United States silver dollars with the 1795 Floating Hair and end with the question of 1803. A date set would have only nine pieces: 1795, 1796, 1797, 1798, 1799, 1800, 1801, 1802, 1803. Fortunately, no major rarity and example can be found with relative ease. More advanced collectors would add two main types as follows:

  • 1795 Floating Hair
  • 1795 Draped Bust-Little Eagle
  • 1796 Draped Bust-Little Eagle
  • 1797 Draped Bust-Little Eagle
  • 1798 Draped Bust-Little Eagle
  • 1798 Draped Bust-Great Eagle
  • 1799 Draped bust
  • 1800 Draped Bust
  • 1801 Draped Bust
  • 1802 Draped Bust
  • 1803 Draped Bust

Various sets

The most ardent student of numismatics may consider assembling a set of early United States silver dollars by variety of dies. It can be an exciting and fun activity for serious coin collectors.

The first great book on the subject was published decades ago: The first United States silver dollars from 1794 to 1803. More recently, Q. David Bowers broached the subject with his The Encyclopedia of United States Silver Dollars 1794-1804.

It is also quite common for collectors to assemble sets based on the main varieties listed in The Guide to United States Coins (red book). A few large collections of Early Silver Dollars have crossed the auction block in recent years. This is usually the best way to study the prices of rare varieties, some of which are unique.

Whatever your approach to collecting Early Silver Dollars, you will find the series historically fascinating and thought-provoking on every level. These pieces are big, beautiful, and fun to own, even if you only buy one great example that fits your budget. Maybe if you win the lottery, you might be one of the few collectors to own a complete set.

Biography of Jeff Garrett

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