1797 Silver Dollars
Mintage (all types)
Calendar year, Mint report: 7,776
Coins bearing date, author's estimate: 60,000
Coinage Context (all 1797 Varieties)
An extensive coinage: In 1797. the number of stars on the silver dollar was increased to 16. The coinage is said by government reports to be the lowest of any year from 17.95 to 1803, although now it is believed that the numbers given are incorrect, I believe that most or all of the mintage of 7,776 coins reported for the calendar year may have been of earlier dates, and that most coins struck from dies dated 1797. were actually made in early 1798.
It is a virtual certainty that many more than 7,776 silver dollars were struck with the 1797. date. l estimate the number to be 60,000 (within about 10%). As noted earlier in the present text,' numerous numismatic data suggest that the mintage of 1797. must have been about on a par with that of 1796, or not significantly different. (I estimate the mintage of 1796 to have been 75,000, not far from the official government figure for the calendar year of 79,920; however, some 1796 dollars may have been struck later as well, and part of the 79,920 number may have consisted Of 1795-dated dollars.)
As the estimated 60,000 1797-dated silver dollars could not have been struck earlier than 1797, and the quantity made is almost certainly far greater than 7,776, the only remaining possibility is that they were struck later, with the calendar year 1798 being the most likely candidate.
In 1797, production problems continued at the Mint. Sporadic coinage runs for silver dollars occurred in February, late May to late June, and in August. The Mint was closed from late August to late November, due to a yellow fever outbreak. Thus, the mintage for the calendar year was very small.
Rarity: Only two obverse dies and three reverse dies were employed for silver dollar coinage bearing the 1797 date. In his 1881 Type-Table, J.W. Haseltine called H-1 (equal to BB-7.3 today) rare, H-2 (BB-72), very rare, and said nothing about the rarity of H-3 (BB-71).
As a class, 1797 dollars are slightly more elusive than are those dated 1796, although auction data belie this (but only slightly). Mark Borckardt's survey of auction appearances yielded 490 listings (or 1796-dated dollars and 552 for those of 1797.
Striking quality: Among extant 1797 dollars, striking quality is often irregular. The rims are often very boldly defined (the reverse rim of BB-72 being an exception), and yet the center of the obverse and the eagle on the reverse may be weak.
Number of dies used: The number of dies employed to create 1797-dated dollars is as follows:
1797 obverses, 2
1797 reverses, 3 (including one left over from 1795-6)
Die use averages: By dividing the number of obverse dies and the number of reverse dies each with the estimated mintage figure of 60,805 coins dated 1797, estimates of the average number of impressions per die can be obtained, In practice, one die might last along time and another might break quickly; the figures here are averages, as noted.
Two 1797 obverses divided into an estimated mintage of 1797-dated dollars of 60,805 = 30,402 coins per obverse die.
Three 1797 reverses divided into an estimated mintage of 1797-dated dollars of 60,805 = 20,268 coins per reverse die (the inclusion of the long-lived BB-72 die, used also for later dated coinage, distorts this figure).
Collecting 1797 dollars: A complete "set" of 1797 die varieties consists of but three coins, 1797 Stars 9x7, Large Letters (BB-73); 1797 Stars 9x7, Small Letters (BB-72), and 1797 Stars 10x6, Large Letters (BB-71). The total population of all 1797 dollar varieties combined is only slightly more than that for a single variety of 1795 dollar, the BB-27.
While as a class 1797 dollars are scarce, none of the three varieties is an impossible rarity. The toughest is the BB-72, but enough of these are around that an example can be found with relatively little looking. Some have suggested that it is rarer than a 1794 dollar, but I believe it to be more available.
Dollars of this date are a study in contrast. Rather than differing by some minor feature, each is almost a "type." Thus, acquiring one each of the three will be an especially fascinating pursuit. The quest is not advised for the buyer who is conditioned to want Mint State coins, or even AU pieces. Better, he turn attention to something such as Morgan or Peace dollars, where there is hope of fulfillment. A splendid goal for a set of 1797 dollars would be Extremely Fine, and Very Fine is closer to reality.
Among collectors seeking early silver dollars have been several to whom money was not a question. Even so, their collections were more likely to average below the EF grade than above it.