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Thoughts on Proof 1804 Original and Restrike Silver Dollars (and Their Cousins, the Proofs of 1801-1803)

Original 1804 dollar included in the King of Siam Set
 
Original 1804 dollar included in the King of Siam Set

Much has been written about the "King of American coins," the 1804 silver dollar (and to a lesser degree about its cousins, the Proofs of 1801-03). Here's my two-cents' worth, or perhaps a full dollar's worth. A short discussion of terms would be prudent at this point before exploring the unusual situation of the 1801-04 silver dollars. Because of the desire to include the highest denomination silver coin and gold coin in the Presentation sets destined for foreign leaders, the otherwise 1834-dated Proof sets also contained an eagle and silver dollar dated 1804. The choice of this date was the result of the accounting methods employed at the Mint (records were kept of coins struck during the year regardless of the actual dates on the coins). So, in 1834, it was erroneously assumed that those dollars and eagles struck in the year 1804 were dated 1804. For the eagles, this was true, but the 19,570 silver dollars struck in 1804 were not dated 1804. These new coins were struck using freshly made dies (from old puncheons), since no leftover dies from these obsolete series were in tie Mint vaults. Thus, these rarities were created. The term that best seems to fit these coins is novodel, which denotes a coin struck from copy dies that are very similar but slightly different than original dies used for a particular series. In the case of the 1804 silver dollar, the term is expanded to include a date that was not struck during the original series! "Original" 1804 dollars should be called "Original" or first striking novodels (Class I 1804 dollars with Reverse X) and those made with the same obverse, but a different reverse, should be called "Restrike" or second striking novodels (Class II and III 1804 dollars with Reverse Y). As far as it is known, the 1804 novodel eagles were not restruck, so all 1804 eagles are "Original" novodets. The 1801-1803 Proof dollars have long been called "Restrikes," but again this is a misnomer - they should also be called novodels as original dies were not employed in their striking, thus they are not restrikes of a previous coin. The 1801 is really in a class of its own with different star types, lettering, and logotype, so there are two varieties of this novodel.

There were at least 4, possibly all 8,1804 silver dollars struck in the "original" period of 1834-37. (The 4 in Presentation sets carried by Edmund Roberts1 are the only ones that we can be certain as to when they were struck, 2 in late 1834 and 2 sometime after March 31, 1835. The other's could have been struck then or at a slightly later date-) R.W Julian may indeed be right on the date 1831 or 1832 as the manufacturing date for the dies. He is seldom wrong! (Obviously, the 1801 die was finished at some later date because of the differing stars, lettering, etc., possibly as late as 1858-1873. Others have postulated that it was done at the same time as the 1802-04 dies, but that seems very unlikely.) That Director Moore was aware of the importation of foreign dollar-size coins in 1831 and his asking the Treasury to have President Jackson lift the 1806 ban on coining dollars, leads one to think 1831, or early 1832, is the right time-frame for the dies' manufacture. The President complied with this request, so dies likely were prepared soon after the approval was granted. However, there was no need to strike coins until the Presentation sets of 1834. (It has been speculated that some 1804 dollars could have been struck as early as 1831, however, the Class I Mint Collection example is a slightly later die state than the King of Siam coin leading one to believe that late 1834 was the first time these coins were struck.) The Stickney specimen was acquired (1843) after the 1842 Eckfeldt and Dubois book was published (the first depiction of an 1804 silver dollar - a line drawing), which alerted collectors to the existence of this date. So, there is really little doubt that the 1834-1837 (or 1849 at the latest) period encompassed these 8 original 1804 silver dollars. It has been reported in the past that the Parmelee-Reed coin weighed 412 grains, or the post-1837 weight, but that has been proven to be erroneous, as its weight is closer to 416 grains. Likely, because of their pre-1837 weight, all eight "Originals" or Class I coins were struck prior to 1837. Because of the near identical die states and die alignment, one could conclude that 2 examples were struck in late 1834 and the remaining 6 soon after March 31,1835.

The "Restrikes" (Class II and III coins) certainly are a different story. When the "outcry" over the plain-edge "Restrikes" emerged in 1859-60, most of these coins (supposedly) were returned to the Mint and all, save the single Class II example, were destroyed. The plain-edge coin that the Mint retained is the unique piece struck over a cut-down 1857 Swiss shooting thaler. This specimen is as well struck or, in the opinion of some others including Breen, better struck than the Eckfeldt-Mint Cabinet "Original" in the Smithsonian Institute. Its transposition with the "Original" during several exhibitions may have been accidental because of this supposed striking superiority - or it may have been duplicity on the part of certain Mint officials who were "covering their tracks." We probably will never know the truth of their switching in the displays.

One thing is certain. When recently appointed Mint Director Henry Linderman opened the boxes of dies, hubs, punches, etc. in May of 1867 - those Mint Director James Ross Snowden had sealed in 1860 - 'sugar plum fairies' must have been 'dancing in his head.' I venture to say that any numismatist of any era would do the same! Whether you would restrike coins for your own profit is between you and your conscience! Of particular note for the "hidden" original reverse die (Reverse X) theory to be presented later, there was an 1804 obverse die among those inventoried, but no reverse die. Reverse Y, the "restrike" die, was seized by Snowden in 1860 and presumably destroyed. Since it is probable, indeed very likely, that no "Restrikes" were struck during the sealed-box (1860-1867) period, we can conclude that the "Restrike" 1804 dollars were struck either prior to 1860 or in the 1867-1876 era (If Reverse Y was not destroyed!). (Bowers, Newman and Bressett, Breen, Julian, etc. all have varying degrees of the same theory.) I believe that all "Restrike" 1804 dollars were struck prior to 1860 and have elaborated on this theory below.

As previously noted, there was no reverse Bust dollar die in the boxes when Linderman opened them and inventoried their contents in 1867. This would lead one to conclude that Snowden indeed had the reverse die destroyed, if so, then all "Restrike" 1804 dollars were struck prior to 1860. (This would have been Reverse Y or the "Restrike" reverse. The fact that the "original" Reverse X probably existed at least until 1873-18762 makes one aware that, not only were some "Restrike" dollars not returned, likely a reverse die was stolen from the Mint and "returned" at some point to strike the 1801-03 dollars!) That only two of the six "Restrikes" are not circulated gives more credence to this assumption. Since these were "hot potatoes" in 1859-60, their creators, the so-called "Midnight Minters," would have thought a little circulation and, of course, edge lettering ("how stupid we were to forget that the first time"3) would transform them into legitimate rarities - "Original" 1804 silver dollars! Well, they pulled it off, for a time. Sometime after 1867, (1867-69 or 1873-76 are the likely time frames) the "Midnight Minters"-Idler-Haseltine-Dubois-and possibly-Linderman connection pulled it off.

As for the weights of the "Restrikes" and when they were made, I think there is a definite connection. As noted, I believe all 1804 dollars were struck no later than 1860. The varying weights of the Class II and III examples are due to the clandestine striking, planchets of all sorts used, including, of course, the cut-down thaler. That pre-1837 weight "Restrikes" are known may indicate that the so-called "Midnight Minters" possibly were being extra cautious after they were caught by their plainedge "flaw" The different weights also could just be happenstance as, in haste, any planchet could have been used. Also, by having pre-1837 planchet weights, their "Restrikes" became "Originals!" if anyone actually weighed one of their output. The fact that the Idler-estate specimen weighed 411 grains and was a pocket piece (EF) and Linderman's coin weighed 423.2 grains and was not circulated, is interesting, to say the least. The "scandal" of 1859-60 was long forgotten by the time Idler's coin surfaced in his estate and who would question the widow Linderman, when she professed that her husband had to buy his on the installment plan! Therefore, no one would question these coins as "Originals" - the fact that they were lightweight did not matter. (Circulated examples would seem to the collectors of the era as coins that had been around for a while. Quite a plan if this is true, as the minters would have had to carry them around as pocket pieces and remember not to spend them!)

I do believe that the edge lettering likely was added during Henry Linderman's first term as director. Of course, it could have been during his second term. The edge lettering obviously could have been added any time between 1859/60 (or whenever they were made) and 1876 - when they first "magically" appeared out of "Vienna," "England," and of course, from the long-time Mint cronies - John Haseltine and William Idler. However, if the lettering was added to 1867-69 and then the wins were "circulated," evidence of their post-striking edge lettering would be obscured when they first appeared circa 1876. Linderman may, or may not, have been in on the lettering, but the confusion is not so confusing if, for his silence, Linderman received an "Original" (sic) lettered-edge 1804 dollar. Perhaps, others also were in on the deal and that is why certain Mint officials wrote letters attesting to the "original dies" used on coins that we now know are "Restrikes." The fact that one Mint official was related by marriage to William Idler is more than a coincidence! This official, of course, was none other than William Ewing Dubois - who also was the curator of the Mint Collection! Talk about the fox guarding the hen house! Also, the varying stories about how Linderman's coin was obtained immediately casts him as a likely co-conspirator.

The 1801-03 dollars are another story. Their striking quality seems to indicate a striking date of 1858 or later. They may have been made earlier but their weights indicate an even later period (1873-1876, as noted above.) However, I will give the three scenarios as I see them for the striking of the 1801-03 coins - from least likely to most likely.

First scenario: These could have been struck between 1834 and 18494 (sic, or pre-1858 as Green speculates) around the same time as the Class I 1804 dollars with the same reverse. If Adam Eckfeldt struck them during 1834-37, he would think them little different than the 1804. Perhaps, he thought, collectors would like to have a date run of Proof Bust dollars! He could not find the original star, date, and letter punches for finishing the 1801 die, so he used what he could find in 1834-37. (We know from the damaged head punch and more modern-style lettering that the 1801-dated die almost certainly was the last one completed - or at least created at a different time than the others.) Why would the post-1873 weight standard planchets be used is the main, and fatal, flaw with thus theory. Also, the progressive rust pits on Reverse X make this time frame highly

Second scenario: Snowden (or the "Midnight Minters) struck them in 1858-60. He could have seen the 1802 and 1803 dies, as well as the unfinished die. He had the unfinished die prepared with whatever was available to create the anomalous 1801-dated die. He may have wanted these dates to trade for Washingtonia or other items missing from the mint Collection, The 1801-03 dollars would not be as desirable as the rare 1804 because these dates could be obtained as Business Strikes. Thus, he could trade these less precious "delicacies" for less valuable items. The weight bugaboo again makes this an unlikely scenario. (All 1801-03 dollars are closer to the pre-1837 weight standard than the 412-grain standard in use during 1858-60.) The rust pits on Reverse X could have developed by this time, so the weight variance is the primary reason for doubting this era as the striking period. Also, none of these coins appeared on the numismatic marketplace until the mid-1870s.

Third scenario. The X reverse die was the one stolen or "hidden in the Mint" and Snowden destroyed Reverse Y thinking it was the "original" as it was the one used on the plain-edge strikes of 1858-1860. Snowden may have not even known about the real "original" Reverse X die. (Of course, it is possible that both Reverse X and Y could have existed into the 1880s!) Thus, more Class III 1804 dollars with Reverse Y could have been struck circa 1867-1876 and Reverse X could have been employed circa 1873-1876 to strike 1801-03 coins. That the "Restrike" reverse (Reverse Y) still existed until 1873 seems unlikely, as there are no Class III 1804 dollars struck on 420-grain planchets5, while all 1801-03 Proofs are of the past-1873 standard. The fact that several Class III 1804 dollars are circulated and that virtually all 1801-03 coins are Proof 63 or higher makes one conclude that 1873 or later is the striking period for the 1801-03 dollars. The progressive rust pits on Reverse X lend even more credence for a much later striking date for the 1801-03 dollars than for the Class I 1804 dollars with that reverse. Since the size of the rust pit increases, a two or three year time frame is indicated for their striking.

In summary, I think the case is very strong that all of the 1801-03 Proofs were made circa 1873-76, 1804 Class I dollars circa 1834-35, 1804 Class II and III dollars circa 1858-60, but one never knows! Until 1885, there were irregularities in the Mint, so one cannot rule out a production date as late as that year for a few 1801-03 dollars. If the "original" Reverse X die was being clandestinely held, the 1801-03 dollars could have been struck anytime between 1873 and 1885 although most of them had "appeared" on the market by 1876-80 through Haseltine. These coins all have a rusted reverse die, superior striking quality, 420 grain planchets5, edge lettering added after striking, and their first appearance on the numismatic scene circa 1876, which makes 1873-76 the most likely era for their striking. If technology ever advances to the point that exact dating of coinage can be ascertained, we will have the answer to when these, and other restrikes/novodels, were struck. Until that time, the coin sleuths will have to expand on the theories and discoveries of their predecessors.

1They were destined for the Sultan of Muscat (now Oman), the " King of Siam (now Thailand), the Emperor of Cochin-China (now Vietnam), and the Emperor of Japan. Only the first two were delivered before Roberts died; he was buried in Macao, a Portuguese colony (due to revert to China in 1999).

2Since the reverse exhibits more rust and the 1801-03 coins are struck with the post-1873 weight standard (420 grains), one assumes these coins were struck circa 1873-76. Since the first appearance of one of these dates is 1876, this is a logical assumption.

3The fact that the edge lettering likely was added later than the striking of these coins would only be deduced by modern numismatists.

4The story of the Parmelee-Reed specimen has it being purchased during James K. Polk's administration (1845-49). Thus, a coin could have been struck at that time or all were struck in 1834 and 1835 as previously theorized.

5Actually, they range from 419.5 to 423 grains, which is within acceptable tolerance for the 420-grain standard.

John Dannreuther grew up in the rare coin business. His father ran trade paper ads in the 1950s as V.J. Dannreuther and Sons. After graduating from the University of Mississippi with a degree in chemistry, John went back into the coin business, becoming a full-time dealer in 1973. Today he is considered one of the top rare coin experts of all time. In 1986, John was one of the co-founders of Professional Coin Grading Service. In 1997, he was the principal text author of "The Official Guide To Coin Grading And Counterfeit Detection," the Numismatic Literary Guild's "Book Of The Year" award winner for 1998.
Carter/Flannagan 1804 Dollar
Carter/Flannagan 1804 Dollar
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