1804 silver dollar

Specifications

Obverse Design: Bust of Liberty facing right
Reverse Design: Heraldic representation of the Great Seal of the United States with UNITED STATES OF AMERICA around the rim
Edge:
Class I – Lettered – HUNDRED CENTS ONE DOLLAR OR UNIT
Class II – Plain
Class III – Lettered – HUNDRED CENTS ONE DOLLAR OR UNIT

Weight:
Class I – 26.96 g (0.867 ozt)
Class II – 24.711 g (0.794 ozt)
Class III – 27.15-27.41 g (0.872-0.881 troy oz)

Diameter: 39-40 mm (1.53-1.57 in)
Composition: 90% Silver, 10% Copper

The 1804 Silver Dollar (or Bowed Liberty Dollar) is one of the rarest American coins. Mint reports from 1804 show a delivery figure of 19,570 Silver Dollars, but numismatists believe these were all leftover coins dated 1803. Certain qualities of the known 1804 Silver Dollars indicate that the first 1804 Silver Dollars were struck in or about 1834, when orders came from the State Department for special sets of coins to be struck for diplomatic purposes. Later restrikes were made sometime after 1857.

Divided into “Classes,” 15 specimens are known. Eight comprise Class I, which were minted in 1834. Two Class I specimens trace their lineage to the King of Siam and the Sultan of Muscat. One comprises Class II and six comprise Class III and were minted sometime between 1858 to 1860. It is alleged both Class II and Class III specimens were made clandestinely by Mint officials.

Class I examples were made circa 1834 – these all have lettered edges and no rust pit in the field just left of the top leaf of the olive branch on the reverse. Class II examples were made after 1857 – the only known specimen has a plain edge. Class III examples were made after 1857 – they all have lettered edges and a rust pit in the afore-mentioned place on the reverse.

In 1804, United States Mint records indicate that 19,750 silver dollars were struck. However, these were all minted from old but still-usable dies dated 1803, and are indistinguishable from the coins produced the previous year. Silver dollars dated 1804 did not appear until 1834, when the U.S. Department of State was creating sets of coins to present as gifts to certain rulers in Asia in exchange for trade advantages. The U.S. Government ordered the Mint to produce “two specimens of each kind now in use, whether of gold, silver or copper”.

The first 1804 silver dollars minted in 1834 were presented as gifts to Rama III, King of Siam and Said bin Sultan, Sultan of Muscat and Oman. The other five were dispersed under unknown circumstances after Ambassador Edmund Roberts died en route during the voyage. One was retained in the US Mint Coin Collection. In 1842, numismatists first learned of the 1804 dollar through a book displaying an illustration of the 1804 dollar from the Mint Cabinet. These silver dollars are known among numismatists as “original” or Class I 1804 dollars. Eight of these coins are known to exist. One of these coins was displayed as part of the “King of Siam” collection at the Smithsonian Institution in 1983, where it was given the name “the King of Coins.” It was purchased by an anonymous collector in 2001, who purchased the entire set of coins from the King of Siam collection for over $900 million.

Between 1858 and 1860, a small number of 1804 silver dollars were illegally struck by an employee of the Mint named Theodore Eckfeldt, and sold to coin collectors through a store in Philadelphia. The number of coins minted is believed to be between ten and fifteen, struck with two separate coin dies, known to numismatists as “Class II.” The illegally minted coins were hunted down and seized by officials of the Mint. Today, only one Class II coin exists, residing at the Smithsonian Institution.

The Class III specimens were produced between 1858 and 1860, also made by Theodore Eckfeldt. Although similar to the Class I coins, there are differences. There are seven known Class III specimens, which can be distinguished from Class I pieces by their reverse design, lettered edge found on Class I, and weak design. The die from which the Class III specimens were made was seized by Mint Director James Ross Snowden in 1860, but by this time several were in collectors’ hands.

Counterfeit 1804 silver dollar

Counterfeits exist of the 1804 Silver Dollar, with some con artists and perpetrators of fraud trying to pass off coins as the real thing. Some were brought back by service personnel returning from the Vietnam War. Various private mints have produced replicas of the 1804 dollar over the years. The replicas have little worth as collectors’ items, with their silver content fetching them a price of current melt values and some collectible value as silver rounds.

This is fake dollar from the Vietnam era, brought back by service personnel returning from Southeast Asia. It’s a cast copy of the 1800 “AMERICAI” variety, with the last zero in the date having been reengraved into a 4–there’s a cavity surrounding the 4 where metal was removed. The fields have a porous texture common with cast counterfeits. The coin has a realistic lettered edge.

The coin is lightweight, at 22.8g, and plated. The surface consists of silver alloyed with a moderate amount of copper, while the core is likely copper. This fake is documented in Virgil Hancock and Larry Spanbauer’s 1979 book Standard Catalog of Counterfeit and Altered United States Coins and in John Devine’s 1975 book Detecting Counterfeit Coins. The specimen examined by Devine weighed 23.4g.

This image of a cast, tooled 1804, saying the piece weighed 26.6g and had a lettered edge.

This is another 1804 with grotesquely rendered breasts and poorly done overall. It appeared on eBay from a seller in India with zero feedback in a private auction. The seller said that the piece was “found in Southeast Asia, probably Thailand.”

3 Comments

  1. Namaru June 3, 2012 Reply
  2. Namaru June 3, 2012 Reply
  3. Mike August 6, 2014 Reply

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