1794 silver dollar realizes $10 million in sale

Establishes new record for U.S. coin sold at auction
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Published : 01/28/13
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The finest known 1794 Flowing Hair silver dollar, which some numismatic experts believe is the first U.S. silver dollar struck, brought a record $10,016,875 at public auction Jan. 24.

Legend Numismatics, Lincroft, N.J., placed the winning bid during the Stack’s Bowers Galleries New York Americana Sale. The price eclipses the $7.59 million paid in the July 30, 2002, single-coin auction by Sotheby’s, in conjunction with Stack’s, for the purported King Farouk example of a 1933 Saint-Gaudens gold $20 double eagle.

The final price for the 1794 dollar includes a 17.5 percent buyer’s fee. The buyer’s fee for the 1933 double eagle was 15 percent.

According to Christine Karstedt, executive vice president of consignments for Stack’s Bowers, bidding for the 1794 Flowing Hair dollar opened at $2.2 million. She said two bidders were in the auction room and two more bidders were on the phone.

After bidding reached $5.5 million with increasing bidding increments, Laura Sperber, a principal of Legend Numismatics and present in the auction room, raised the hammer price to $8.525 million in a single increment, knocking out all other bidding competition.

“We wanted to make sure we had the coin,” Sperber told Coin World on Jan. 25.

Adding the 17.5 percent buyer’s fee brought the final price realized to $10,016,875.

Sperber said Legend, which also includes principal Bruce Morelan, was willing to go higher with its bidding.

The firm has no plans to sell the 1794 dollar in the near future, Sperber told Coin World.

“This coin is a $10 million coin and deserves its place in numismatic history,” Sperber said. “It’s an iconic coin and what numismatics is all about — rarity, quality and pedigree.

“It’s the ultimate rare coin.”

Q. David Bowers, chairman emeritus of Stack’s Bowers, said that one lot before the 1794 dollar was offered, a break in bidding was taken for the checking of cameras and telephone connections. During this break, “I gave a perhaps 10 minute talk on the sale,” he said, and stated “that history might likely be made.”

“There was a great deal of pre-sale interest and anticipation and an aura of excitement all week,” Bowers said.

Certified as Specimen 66 by Professional Coin Grading Service and wearing a green sticker from Certified Acceptance Corp., the 1794 Flowing Hair silver dollar was part of the Cardinal Collection. It is the only 1794 silver dollar with a silver plug among some 140 to 150 examples of the 1794 dollar known to exist, according to Martin Logies, who built the collection. Logies is a numismatic researcher, early dollar specialist and author of The Flowing Hair Silver Dollars of 1794.

The silver plug was added to the underweight planchet at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia to bring the planchet up to standard weight.

In total, 1,758 silver dollars, all struck on a hand-turned screw press at the Philadelphia Mint facility on Oct. 15, 1794, were delivered after the only day of production for dollars that year.

The 1794 Flowing Hair dollar was purchased in a private transaction on May 14, 2010, by the Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation from Stephen L. Contursi, president of Rare Coin Wholesalers, Irvine, Calif., for a reported $7.85 million.

The Cardinal Collection, assembled and overseen by Logies, is ever-changing. The Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., was established in 1999 with private donations as a nonprofit entity to foster numismatic education via online and print media as well as public displays.

Other rarities sell

Among other top highlights from the Cardinal Collection featured in the auction were:

➤ The finest known 1792 half disme, graded Mint State 68 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp., $1,145,625.

➤ A 1793 Flowing Hair, Chain, AMERICA, No Periods cent, Sheldon 2 (Penny Whimsy by William H. Sheldon), graded PCGS MS-65 brown and stickered by CAC, $998,750. Sperber said Legend purchased the coin on behalf of a U.S. coin collector in Asia.

➤ A 1793 Flowing Hair, Wreath, Vine and Bars cent, S-9, graded PCGS MS-69 brown, $558,125.

➤ A 1794 Liberty Cap, Head of 1793 cent, S-18b, PCGS MS-64 brown, $881,250.

The 1792 half disme is the finest example certified by either PCGS or NGC. It is attributed as Judd 7 in United States Pattern Coins, Experimental & Trial Pieces by J. Hewitt Judd, edited by Q. David Bowers.

The example sold is believed to have a provenance beginning with ownership by David Rittenhouse, the first director of the U.S. Mint. Some 1,500 examples were reportedly struck.

A PCGS Specimen 67 1792 half disme sold at public auction Jan. 10 during Heritage Auctions’ sale at the Florida United Numismatists convention for $1.41 million.

For more information about the New York Americana Sale, contact Stack’s Bowers Galleries at www.stacksbowers.com. ■

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