As a major player in the coin market for 30 years and founder of PCGS I've seen a lot of really great coins. But in 2003, PCGS graded a coin that made even my heart thump, a spectacular 1794 silver dollar. PCGS gave the coin the special designation of "Specimen" and a grade of SP66.
I believe the coin is the finest known example of the first U.S. silver dollar, and quite possibly the very first piece struck of the denomination. It is a magnificent Gem and a gorgeous historic treasure.
This particular 1794 silver dollar has been one of the most famous American coins for generations, ever since B. Max Mehl offered it as the highlight to the Will W. Neil collection in 1947. The coin resided in the Amon Carter, Jr., collection for several decades while rumors swirled around it. Was it really as nice as they say? Was it really better than the Lord St. Oswald examples? Was it really a possible Proof? Did it really have mirror fields and a full strike?
Most of these questions were answered in January of 1984 when the Carter family collection was auctioned by Stack's and Lot #207 proved to be the Neil/Carter 1794 dollar. B Max Mehl had called the coin "Probably the finest known specimen!" and the Stack's cataloguer could only agree, pointing out that he had examined or sold “every known Mint State 1794 silver dollar.”
The description in the Carter sale also made a convincing argument that "It is perfectly conceivable this coin was the very first 1794 silver dollar struck." This statement was not idle conjecture but was based on the identical die state to the copper die trial that was in Stack's possession at the time. One theory is that this is the Adam Eckfeldt-Mint Cabinet coin that was traded for Washingtonia in the 1840-1850s by the Mint Director, James Ross Snowden. There were many coins that were traded from the Mint Cabinet for Washingtonia and other "holes" in the collection. This coin very likely is one of those traded coins.
PCGS does not certify any U.S. coins struck before 1816 as Proofs. There are a small handful of pre-1816 coins that were quite obviously special strikes that PCGS designates as "Specimens." PCGS determined that the coin is a Specimen striking (SP-66) based on the following reasons:
- The Neil/Carter example is in the exact die state as the copper die trial and is possibly the first silver dollar struck.
- The coin is one of the few examples known that is struck from aligned dies, showing that it is almost certainly one of the first pieces struck.
- The planchet was specially prepared. The term for this is "burnishing," and the planchet was polished with wet sand (the method of the time) prior to the coin being struck.
- The coin is radically different from any other known example. Not only is the strike of the coin significantly superior to other known examples, it is also wholly prooflike, with full reflectivity in the fields on both sides.
- The state of preservation of the coin shows that it was specially handled from the beginning. The coin was struck on October 15, 1794 and has been magnificently preserved since that day, having never been in a bag or seeing contact with other coins.
- The adjustment marks do not preclude a Specimen striking. The planchet was overweight, it was adjusted (and over-adjusted), then it was plugged to increase the weight to the most precise degree available to the 18th-century coiners.
- This is the only plugged-at-the-Mint example known to us. This was done prior to striking, of course. Mint plugs are frequently seen on the 1795 Flowing Hair dollars (and a few 1795 Flowing Hair half dollars), but not the 1794 issues, until now.
Today the Neil/Carter 1794 silver dollar is one of the most exciting, beautiful and valuable coins in the world. Over the past 200+ years it has acquired a lovely gray-gold patina that exhibits multi-colored highlights. The strike is the finest, being razor-sharp in most areas. The surfaces are "as struck" with the only imperfections being minor Mint-caused adjustment marks and planchet flaking. The prooflike surfaces and overall eye appeal are legendary qualities that have thrilled numismatists ever since the coin was first offered for viewing.
According to a press release on the PCGS website dated May 21, 2010, the Neil-Carter 1794 Specimen Silver Dollar was sold by Rare Coin Wholesalers (in a sale brokered by Greg Roberts of Spectrum Group International) for $7,850,000, a record price. The purchaser was nonprofit Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation in Sunnyvale, California (the Cardinal Foundation and its director and numismatic curator, Martin Logies, are well-known for their ground-breaking publication that listed all of the known examples of the 1794 Silver Dollar).
On January 24, 2013 the 1794 silver dollar graded PCGS SP66 sold at a Stack's Bowers auction realizing a record price of $10,016,875. This makes it the first coin to ever sell at auction for over $10 million.