The 1794 Silver Dollar
The 1794 Silver Dollar holds the distinction of being the very first one-dollar coin issued by the United States Mint. In addition to being historically significant as the first silver dollar, the coin is also a prized numismatic rarity. Of the 1,758 pieces struck by the United States Mint, it is believed that just 150 or so have survived in total. All 1794 Dollars are extremely rare, but they are particularly challenging to locate in higher grades.
After producing a small run of half dismes (five cent silver coins) in 1792, the U.S. Mint resumed striking silver coins in 1794. That year it debuted two larger silver denominations: the half dollar and the one-dollar coins. Apparently the Mint had difficulty with the large silver dollar, as virtually every specimen exhibits a weak strike. It has been speculated that the dies shifted in position and fell out of alignment, thus resulting in the incomplete striking definition.
The Mint also encountered severe issues with consistency. During the Mint’s infancy, individual coins were weighed to ensure that they contained the proper amount of silver. Underweight coins were melted and remade into new blanks, while overweight coins were manually “adjusted.” A Mint employee would file a small amount of silver off the coin, thus bringing it into compliance. Quite a few 1794 Dollars exhibit these adjustment marks, including some higher-grade specimens.
While all 1794 Dollars are considered major numismatic items, two specimens are particularly famous—and valuable. The first is a copper prototype that resides in the Smithsonian Institute; it was probably the first coin to come off the dies. The other coin is a beautiful piece graded Specimen 66. Unlike almost every other 1794 Dollar, this SP-66 piece exhibits remarkable reflective surfaces and a perfect strike. It is believed that this was the very first Silver Dollar ever minted.
Even in severely worn condition, 1794 Dollars typically trade for high five figure amounts. In lightly worn grades, like XF and AU, they trade for hundreds of thousands. Just a half dozen or so Mint States pieces are known to have survived, including two spectacular coins graded MS66+ by PCGS. An English gentleman put one of these coins aside in 1794 while visiting the United States; the coin would later resurface in a Christies auction in 1964. More recently, in 2015, this exact coin sold for an astounding $4,993,750 at auction.