Chapter 5: 1804 Novodel Dollars Table of Contents

Details of the 1804 Dollars
The 1804 Class I dollars, struck with the first reverse 'die, all have an obverse in which the hair curl is missing at the top of the head; in other words the curl had chipped off the hub after the first two obverse dies had been executed. There was absolutely no point in creating that many obverse dies in 1834 for just a tiny run of dollar coins, and the only logical time for the dies to have been made was 1831 when dollar coinage was contemplated but not carried out.

lt is not difficult to decide why the curl broke off when the new dies were made. The hub device (punch) was nearly 40 years old and had been used heavily from 1795 through 1803. In addition steel changes texture over a period of time and beconies brittle with age. Small wonder, then, that the breaking of the hair curl has left us with a key marker for the sequence in which the dies were prepared.

In April 1835 Roberts at last left on his oft-delayed trip. He visited Muscat and Siam where he presented, among other items, the special cased sets of American coins. (The 1804 dollars handed over at that time would later be known as specimens owned by the Imam of Muscat and the King of Siam.) However, he fell sick at Bangkok and was taken to the Portuguese enclave of Macao on the Chinese coast, where he died in June 1835. The remaining presents were returned to the State Department in due course.

Knowledge of the 1804 Dollars
The first public knowledge of the 1804 silver dollar came in 1842 when Jacob R. Eckfeldt, son of Adam Eckfeldt, and William E. DuBois published A Manual of Gold and Silver Coins of All Nations, Struck Within the Past Century. Their illustration for the dollar of 1795-1803 was none other than the 1804 dollar. .The image was produced by Joseph Saxton's (1799-1873; joined the Mint staffin 1837) medal-ruling machine, which created via a pantograph stylus tracing over the surfaces of an electro-type of a coin or medal, a depiction of a numismatic specimen true to life in its details and proportions. Thus, all illustrations, including the hitherto unknown 1804 silver dollar, were from actual coins in the Mint Cabinet. The books were sold through several outlets, including the branch' mints, where officers solicited orders for the $5 volume.

Famed early collector Matthew A. Stickney learned of the 1804, probably from the Eckfeldt-DuBois book, and sought. to obtain one of these rare coins. In May 1843 he was to succeed, by trading to the Mint an extremely rare 1785;.dated Immune Columbia coin struck ingold for the 1804 dollar. The nature of the transaction implies that he was dealing with the curator of the Mint Cabinet of coins and that the extra 1804-dated silver dollars made in 1834-1835 had later been earmarked for the Cabinet.

The two returned sets of coins went to the State Department archives where they were probably "liberated" by some non-collector and simply spent; It is the opinion of this writer that these two coins were to become what are now known as the Mickley and Cohen specimens. The remaining cabinet coins (probably three were left after Stickney received his) were no doubt traded off or sold in the 1840s.
By 1856 the number of numismatists in this country showed a dramatic rise from earlier decades. Whereas in the 1840s the number of serious collectors was probably no more than 50, the figure was to grow several fold by the end of the 1850s.

Restrikes and Novodels
Because of the rising demand by the public for old and rare coins, in the late 1850s Mint Director James Ross.Snowden decided to restrike a 'limited number of coins and medals for'sflle or trade. Snowden was especially interested in building up the national collection (housed ill the Mint) and was fairly successful at this until 1860 when scandals forced an end to the program. It should be emphasized that Snowden probably did not profit personally, and his sole motive seems to have been to improve the Mint Cabinet.

Although itis not quite clear just which coins were struck by Snowden, it is likely that his main interests were the Gobrecht dollars of 1836-1839, the half cents of 1840-1848, and the 1856 Flying Eagle cent. There was very strong collector interest in all of these series. It is now known that certain 1836 and 1839 Gobrecht dollars were issued for circulation, but in Snowden's time this fact had been lost sight of, and all considered them patterns. The Proof-only half cents were thought of in the same way. The 1856 Flying Eagle cent was a popular rarity which had been trading for $1 to $2 on the market, just a few years after its issue.

Other employees of the Mint were not so high-minded as Snowden and decided that they could sell coins and patterns and pocket the money. One of these individuals was Theodore Eckfeldt (a grandson of Adam Eckfeldt), but names of the others have been lost to history.

About 1858 this group struck at least five of the 1804 dollars, using a second reverse die, and proceeded to sell them to collectors. Snowden learned what had happened and bought back four of the pieces. One was saved for the Mint Cabinet. It is a bizarre piece struck over a cut-down Swiss shooting taler of 1857!

The subterranean group of individuals surfaced again by striking several more 1804 dollars, among other coins. This time, however, the 1804 dollars were held back until after Snowden retired from the Mint in 1861, and then sold quietly over a period of years. The Class III dollars, as they are now known, had their edge lettering applied striking, a further indication of their clandestine nature.

For those who wish to read more of the diplomatic background of the 1804 dollars or the subsequent numismatic history of the several specimens, the book The Fantastic 1804 Dollar by Kenneth E. Bressett and Eric P. Newman, published in 1962, is highly recommended.


Chapter 5: 1804 Novodel Dollars Table of Contents