One of the finest known examples of the 1794 Flowing Hair silver dollar brought $2.82 million at Stack’s Bowers Galleries Aug. 3 auction, leading the coin auctions at the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money in Denver. Meanwhile, two very different cents, both fresh to the market, topped bidding at Heritage’s official ANA auctions, as the two auction houses shared duties as the official auctioneers of the largest coin show of the year.
The 1794 Flowing Hair dollar was graded Mint State 64 by Professional Coin Grading Service and had a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker indicating quality within the grade. It is considered the fourth finest of approximately 150 known from a mintage of 1,758 pieces and has a rich ownership history that traces to the first decades of the 19th century. The lustrous dollar is called the Lord St. Oswald-Norweb example after two of its prominent 20th century owners: Rowland Denys Guy Winn, Major the Lord St. Oswald, and later Ambassador and Mrs. R. Henry Norweb.
The Act of April 2, 1792, established the United States Mint and authorized the production of silver dollars. The 1794 dollars are the first dollars struck at the Philadelphia Mint; production is believed to have totaled about 2,000 pieces though just 1,758 were deemed of sufficient quality to be delivered.
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The coins don’t display the denomination on either the obverse or reverse, but rather, on the edge, which is lettered HUNDRED CENTS ONE DOLLAR OR UNIT. The description explains that the omission of a denomination was intentional, “as United States coinage was new to the world market of the 18th century and the term ‘dollar’ would have been unfamiliar to merchants of the day.” This decision allowed the dollar’s weight and silver content to establish its value. Excluding the 1792 Flowing Hair half disme — which has traditionally been considered a pattern issue though evidence also suggests it was struck for circulation — the 1794 dollars represent the first silver coins issued for circulation from the early U.S. Mint.
The catalog observes that the 1794 silver dollar in the auction is “a beautiful, premium quality near-Gem with delicate gold, apricot and pale silver iridescence to satiny mint luster,” recognizing an impressive strike, “with Liberty’s hair tresses and the eagle’s head and plumage displaying the sharpest detail.” A few small spots are noted near Liberty’s cheek and neck, with Stack’s Bowers writing, “Close examination with a loupe suggests that these spots are associated with tiny planchet pits caused by minor impurities in the alloy.”
1794 Flowing Hair dollars have gained prominence in the hobby over the past decade, with the issue holding the record for a U.S. coin sold at auction when an example graded PCGS Specimen 66 sold for just over $10 million at a January 2013 Stack’s Bowers auction. More recently, a PCGS MS-66+ example — the second finest known — sold for just shy of $5 million at the same auctioneer’s September 2015 sale of the D. Brent Pogue Collection. The price that the Lord. St. Oswald-Norweb example brought in Denver places it comfortably above the Brand-Boyd-Cardinal specimen — the fifth finest known, now graded PCGS MS-63+ — which realized $1,207,500 at a 2010 Bowers and Merena auction. Stack’s Bowers opines, “Only six coins, in fact, are universally recognized by numismatic experts as Mint State 1794 silver dollars.”
Where are the arrows?
Another pricey rarity at the Stack’s Bowers auction was an 1853-O Seated Liberty, No Arrows at Date half dollar. Graded Very Fine 35 by PCGS, it is the finest of just four examples known and is renowned as a rarity in the Seated Liberty series.
The description states, “A pleasing mid grade example of the type, both sides are evenly toned in pearl gray patina that is perhaps a bit lighter on the obverse,” observing, “The surfaces are smooth in hand, certainly more so than one might expect in an early New Orleans Mint silver coin that saw this extensive circulation.” It was last offered at a 2006 Stack’s auction where it realized $368,000.