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USA Early Silver Dollars 1794-1885

An always popular area of collecting are USA silver dollars. They were produced from 1794 until 1935 (our Canadian silver dollar only appeared the year the US stopped). We will examine first the several basic “types”. The first being the “Flowing Hair” minted only in 1794 and 1795. It is called the “flowing hair” because the bust of Liberty on the obverse has long detailed flowing hair. On the reverse there is a large eagle with its wings spread open. These are of course quite scarce. The 1794 only had 1,758 examples made, and even in used condition they can command in excess of $50,000. The 1795 is more common with 160,295 minted, but can still be worth several thousand dollars in nice condition.

The second type “Draped Bust” 1795-1804 evolved in design from the first. The major change was in the image of Liberty which now has a ribbon in her hair, and what looks like the top of her dress at the bottom of the bust. Most dates were produced in sufficient numbers that they are obtainable…but likely at over $1,000 per coin in any decent undamaged condition. The key date of the whole silver dollar series is the 1804. There are only 15 examples known. 8 are originals, and 7 restrikes. They were not actually produced in 1804, but likely in 1834 or 1835, as presentation pieces for proof sets. This is one of the world’s most valuable coins. You should expect to pay around $3 to $5 million dollars for a nice example to add to your collection. Yikes! The third type is popularly known as “Gobrecht Dollars” 1836-1839. The design was significantly changed. Liberty is now seated holding a shield with the word “liberty” inscribed diagonally. The reverse has an eagle in flight. No more than 1,000 were struck of any date, and these coins have always been cherished by collectors. Undamaged examples will go for over $10,000. Next are a series of coins that although relatively difficult to find, are not impossible for collectors on a budget to obtain. The “Liberty Seated” 1840-1873 dollars are a modification of the Gobrecht type with the reverse having an eagle seated clutching 3 arrows in its claws. There are many dates to collect in this series, and for the first time we see coins of the same date produced at different mints. The mint mark is a letter placed under the eagle. If there is none, the coin was minted in Philadelphia. The mint makes a big difference to collectors. A best example is the 1870. One produced at the Philadelphia mint (mintage 415,000) sells for a few hundred dollars. If made at the Carson City mint (mintage 11,758) it sells for $1,000 or more. And best of all an 1870 produced at the San Francisco mint (mintage unknown) would go for between $250,000 and a million dollars depending on condition. Mint marks are important! The fifth type are what are known as “Trade Dollars” 1873-1885. They were produced to circulate in the orient, and compete with other dollars sized coins. Often, as in the case of many coins that circulated in Asia from that period, coins are found with small “chop marks” from people testing the coins to see if the silver was real. Although legal tender in the USA, they were removed from circulation in 1887. The design is an evolution from the Seated Liberty type. A major change is that under the eagle on the reverse it is written “480 Grains 900 Fine”. This makes it the only older US coin I am aware of that clearly states its metallic content on the coin. Like the previous issue, these were produced at various mints. The coins dating 1879 to 1885 were made only in “proof” quality for collectors, and not for general circulation. These are the key coins of the series as the production numbers were very low.


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