The U.S. began producing silver dollars in 1794, and this particular one remains in near-perfect condition 216 years later. Of the approximately 1,750 such dollars produced that year, only about 150 are known to exist. The quality of the imprint on this one shows it was struck on a hand-cranked press from a special piece of polished, high-quality silver. That indicates it was intended for either a dignitary or the mint's own private collection, said Larry Shepherd, executive director of the American Numismatic Association. It likely remained in the mint's collection until the 1800s, Shepherd said, when it was probably traded to a private collector, something he said the mint sometimes did in those days. The Flowing Hair Dollar is slightly larger and heavier than later coins such as the Morgan or Peace dollars.
"That's the type of piece that is available maybe once in a lifetime," said Martin Logies, curator of the Cardinal Collection, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving rare coins and educating the public about them. He said the foundation plans to put the coin on display, just as Contursi did much of the time he owned it.
Numismatic experts say it was among the first U.S. silver dollars ever made.
"From the research I've done, it is unquestionably the earliest struck of all the pieces known to remain in existence," said Logies, author of "The Flowing Hair Silver Dollars of 1794."
Contursi, who runs Irvine-based Rare Coin Wholesalers, acquired it for an undisclosed sum in 2003. He said he wasn't looking to sell it until Logies approached him. The Cardinal Collection curator had been one of a handful of experts Contursi had allowed to examine the coin after he bought it. He joked that Logies had had his eye on it ever since.
"He just finally made me an offer I couldn't refuse," he laughed.
On the obverse: The engraver Robert Scot created the silver dollar with a portrait of a young female facing the right with her hair flowing freely behind her to the left. The word “LIBERTY” was positioned above her with the date centered below. Fifteen starts appear along the sides to represent the fifteen states at the time. It has been accepted that the flowing hair was meant to stand for freedom.
On the reverse: The dollar coin shows a small eagle perched upon a rock with wings spread and surrounded by laurel branches. Along the border is the motto “United States of America.”
On the edge: Has the words “HUNDERED CENTS ONE DOLLAR OR UNIT” inscribed with decorations separating the words.
Source: Associated Press, Rare Coin Wholesalers. All Photo by Rare Coin Wholesalers.
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