A rare 1794 silver dollar believed to be one of the first — if not the first — to be struck by the US Mint is going up for sale.
Dubbed the “Flowing Hair” dollar, the coin features a portrait of Lady Liberty on one side and an eagle on the other.
The last time it was up for auction, in 2013, it sold for $10 million — surpassing the world record for the most ever paid for a rare coin.
“This is a dream coin — a priceless artifact that I have been proud to own, and I’m very sorry to see it go,” Bruce Morelan, who owns the rare 1794 silver dollar, told CNN.
Morelan, a collector who is putting an assortment of historic coins valued at about $20 million up for auction alongside the silver dollar, added that, “It’s time to move on to other challenges and I hope that the new owner of the coin treasures it just as much as I have.”
History behind the coin
Over 200 years ago when the United States was a fledgling nation eager to cement its independence, Congress passed the Coinage Act of 1792, which established the country’s first national mint.
The US Mint, a bureau of the Department of the Treasury responsible for producing coinage for the United States, was established in Philadelphia. It was housed in the first federal building erected under the Constitution.
“The Constitution had specified that the dollar was going to be the cornerstone of the US monetary system,” Douglas Mudd, the curator and director of the American Numismatic Association’s Money Museum, told CNN.
After assembling the equipment and preparing the coin dies, the Philadelphia Mint started production of the silver dollar in October 1794, when 1,758 coins sporting the Flowing Hair design were struck in one day, according to the National Museum of American History.
The coins were not meant for the general public, but were taken to Mint Director David Rittenhouse for distribution to dignitaries as souvenirs.
The first United States Mint, on Seventh Street, Philadelphia, circa 1820. Credit: Archive Photos/Archive Photos/Getty Images
“They were distributed to congressmen, visiting VIPs from other nations, and other important American citizens at the time,” said Mudd.
Mudd explained that the US was still reeling from the impact of the war with Britain and did not have easy access to silver and gold. The coins, he said, were meant to showcase the capability of the US to produce its own money.
“It was basically more of a PR marketing event,” he said. “This was the first dollar and they wanted to make as much of a splash as they could.”
The design found on the coins also served an important purpose — it was a nod to the newfound independence of the country.
“The Flowing Hair design was produced by the Mint as a first representation of liberty,” said Mudd. “Taking the idea from the ancient Romans where they used female figures — sometimes male figures — to represent concepts such as liberty or freedom.”
Of the 1,758 Flowing Hair Silver Dollars produced, Mudd said that there are only 130-140 coins still in existence. A close examination of a hundred or so of those coins further attests to the unique characteristics of Morelan’s 1794 Silver Dollar, he said.
“The details of this coin show that the dies that were used to strike it were in such pristine condition, that this could possibly be the first coin struck from these dies — first silver coin struck from these dies.”
In preparation for the fall auction, Morelan had set up a coin show in early August for potential customers — but he noticed a low turnout.
The rare 1794 US silver dollar that is up for auction Credit: John Locher/AP
“People are afraid because of Covid and they are afraid to go to large gatherings,” Morelan said. “The publicity is also difficult because people are covering what is going on with the pandemic and aren’t as interested in what items might be for sale.”
“The auction will probably be more difficult to do,” he added.
The sale of the Flowing Hair coin will be conducted by Legend Auctions on October 8 at The Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas.