Flowing Hair Silver Dollar


Obverse Design: Lady Liberty with free flowing hair
Reverse Design: A Bald Eagle surrounded by a wreath
Weight: 26.96 grams; 416 grains (by statute)
Diameter: 39 or 40 millimeters
Composition: 89.25% Silver, 10.75% Copper
Silver Content: 0.7737 ounces

The United States Mint produced silver dollar coins from 1794 to 1803, then ceased regular production of silver dollars until 1836. Silver coinage started in 1794 with two denominations-the dollar and half dollar; both were identical in design (half dimes of this date were coined the following year). The dollar was deemed the most prestigious, so Mint officials decided to strike that first. Actually, the Mint had gotten a running start on the new coins: Engraver Robert Scot had been told to prepare designs for them months before the legal snarl was untangled.

The Flowing Hair dollar is slightly larger and heavier than later U.S. cartwheels like the Morgan and Peace dollars. Its authorized fineness differs, too, but its actual fineness doesn’t, because of some curious doings at the Mint. Congress had specified a peculiar alloy of 1485/1664 silver and 179/1664 copper, for a fineness of .8924+. But Assayer Cox complained that this was too difficult to achieve and, what’s more, that silver coins would turn black in ordinary use unless they were at least .900 fine. He prevailed on Rittenhouse to let him use that higher standard, even though Congress hadn’t sanctioned it, creating an incredible situation where the Mint was actually breaking the law of the land. This led to substantial losses for people who deposited silver bullion with the Mint and took silver dollars in return, for they were being forced to furnish more silver per coin than the law required. Eventually, some sought and obtained reimbursement.

It’s believed that the Mint struck a total of 2,000 silver dollars in 1794, all from a single pair of dies. Evidently, some were rejected as being excessively weak and may have ended up being used as coin blanks the following year or simply being melted. The accepted net mintage is 1,758, with estimates of about 120-130 survivors in all grades. The entire production occurred on a single day, October 15, and Voight stored many of the coins in the Mint’s vaults, giving them to Rittenhouse the following May. The Director presented a few of the dollars to VIPs as souvenirs and also made a point of spending some in order to get the coins before the public. Rittenhouse never distributed all the coins, however, resigning due to failing health in June of 1795.

The Neil/Carter/Contursi specimen 1794 Flowing Hair Silver Dollar has sold for $7,850,000, setting a new record as the world’s most valuable rare coin.

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