The Mint Act of April 2, 1792 set the dollar as
the base unit of United
States coinage. Congress envisioned the new dollar would replace the Spanish
Eight Reales (also called Pillar dollars or Pieces of Eight), which
for many years circulated readily throughout the New World.
The first U.S. silver dollars were coined on Oct
15,1794. On that day,
1,758 of them were produced, but no more the rest of the year.
Henry W. DeSaussure was appointed by President Washington in July 1795 to replace the first Mint Director, David Rittenhouse. DeSaussure remained in this position only four months, but he made a lasting mark by bringing in Gilbert Stuart, the celebrated painter, to redesign Liberty. The result was a new coin called the Draped Bust Dollar, featuring a matronly Liberty of considerable endowment wearing a draped blouse. The reverse displayed a smallish eagle very similar to that of the Flowing Hair design. Over 40,000 Draped Bust dollars were minted in 1795. The following year, all the smaller silver denominations adopted the Draped Bust theme. In 1798, the small eagle was replaced by a larger, "heraldic" eagle and shield, an image more suggestive of national power and strength.
1.5 million silver dollars were coined
from 1794 to 1804. Unfortunately, not many remained in circulation for
very long. One scenario leading to the disappearance of the coins is
profiteers discovered that the U.S. dollar could be exchanged
one-for-one with the Spanish Pillar dollar in the West Indies. This
proved to be a favorable transaction for them, because the U.S. dollar
contained less silver compared to the Pillar dollar, when both
exhibited minimal wear. The Pillar dollars were deposited at the
Philadelphia Mint, where they were re-coined into a larger number of
U.S. silver dollars. The new silver dollars were transported back to
the West Indies, where the sequence started over again. Acting to
abolish this abuse, Mint Director Elias Boudinot discontinued the
silver dollar in 1804 (though all dollars coined in 1804 were dated
1803), with the later approval of President Thomas Jefferson.
That was the last of the U.S. silver dollars regular production until 1836.
The Flowing Hair and Draped Bust types are often
lumped into a
numismatic category called Early Dollars. All Early Dollars are
important historical artifacts dating from the infancy of the United
States, but only a tiny percentage, perhaps 3% or so, of the original
mintage has survived to this day, so all of them are relatively
rare. Collectors especially enjoy studying the many varieties of
Early Dollars. Most of the varieties are defined by the number
and arrangement of the obverse stars.
It is preferable to buy Early Dollars that have
been certified by one of the four leading grading service companies:
PCGS, NGC, ICG, or ANACS. If not, then make sure the seller is someone
of unquestioned reputation.
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