Class I 1804 dollar realizes $3.87 million

Coin once owned by Joseph Mickley, famed 'father of American numismatics,' highlight of Heritage auction
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Published : 08/19/13
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The Mickley-Hawn-Queller Class I 1804 Draped Bust dollar brought $3,877,500 on Aug. 9 as part of Heritage’s auctions held prior to the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money.

The dollar — graded Proof 62 by Professional Coin Grading Service — carried an estimate of $3 million. It sold for a bid of $3.3 million, and with Heritage’s current 17.5 percent buyer’s fee, the total price paid was $3,877,500. In total, Heritage’s pre-ANA auctions brought nearly $29 million.

The price was a slim improvement on the last time it sold at auction, in 2008. The consignor to the August auction — a collector from Greensboro, N.C. — purchased the dollar on April 17, 2008, as part of Heritage’s Central States Numismatic Society auction for a bid of $3.25 million. At the time Heritage’s buyer’s fee was 15 percent, making the total price paid $3,737,500. The anonymous collector had already owned another 1804 dollar — a Class III example, sometimes referred to as a second restrike — that was graded Proof 58 by PCGS and was sold by Heritage on April 30, 2009, for $2.3 million

The new buyer of the Class I dollar has chosen to remain anonymous.

A legendary rarity

The 1804 Draped Bust dollar in the August auction is one of just 15 authentic examples known to the hobby today. 1804 dollars are divided into three classes: Class I, referred to as originals, of which eight are known; Class II, sometimes referred to as the first restrike coins, currently known by a single example; and Class III, also known as second restrikes. Although dated 1804, none of the 1804 dollars were actually struck that calendar year. Research indicates that Class I 1804 dollars were struck in 1834 or 1835 for inclusion in diplomatic presentation sets. Class II and III examples were struck later.

An example of an 1804 dollar at auction is a noteworthy event and the issue is often called the “King of American Coins.” Writing in 1941, legendary hobby promoter B. Max Mehl wrote, “In all of numismatics of the entire world, there is not today and there never has been a single coin which was and is the subject of so much romance, interest, comment, and upon which so much has been written and so much talked about and discussed as the United States silver dollar of 1804.” As a testament to that status, Heritage issued a separate 60-page catalog entry describing the issue’s illustrious history, including new research on its namesake owner Joseph J. Mickley.

An illustrious past

Mickley, born in Pennsylvania in 1799, has been described as the “father of American numismatics.” The entry notes, “Mickley was a Renaissance man of the 19th century, a historian and antiquarian; a collector of coins, books, historical documents, and autographs; a numismatic bibliophile; and a polyglot.” Much of his professional life revolved around musical instruments, particularly pianos and stringed instruments. He died in 1878.

According to George Huber, writing about Mickley in the Heritage catalog lot description, the numismatist had a long familiarity with the U.S. Mint: “Mickley’s house on Market Street between Ninth and 10th was literally blocks away from both the first U.S. Mint building and the second Philadelphia Mint building. Mickley and his older brother Jacob did sign the Mint visitors register in 1841, the first documented visit of Mickley to the Mint. There seems little doubt that Mickley would have seen the Mint Cabinet then; it was formed in 1838. The only question is whether 1804 silver dollars were on display during his 1841 visit. It is possible that Mickley became aware of their existence in 1841, before Massachusetts collector Matthew Stickney learned of them via the Eckfeldt-Dubois ‘Mint Manual,’ published in 1842. The ‘Mint Manual’ was the first publication that alerted many American collectors to the existence of genuine American silver dollars dated 1804.”

The catalog entry traced the dollar’s provenance back to Mint chief coiner Adam Eckfeldt, then to Henry C. Young, a teller at the Bank of Pennsylvania (circa 1850); Joseph J. Mickley (circa 1858); Joseph J. Mickley Collection (W. Elliot Woodward, October 1867), lot 1676, $750; William A. Lilliendahl; Edward Cogan; William Sumner Appleton (circa 1868); Appleton estate; Massachusetts Historical Society (1905); Property of the Massachusetts Historical Society auction (Stack’s, October 1970), lot 625, $77,500; Chicago collection; Reed Hawn, via Stack’s (1974); Reed Hawn Collection (Stack’s, October 1993), lot 735, $475,000; and finally David Queller; Queller Family Collection. When offered as part of the Queller Collection in 2008, it was housed in a Numismatic Guaranty Corp. holder. That offering represented the first auction appearance of a Class I 1804 dollar since 2000 when a Proof 64 example brought $1,840,000.

The dollar has the unique distinction of being the most expensive coin sold by Heritage at auction, twice. Once in 2008 and again in 2013. ■

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