US Coins

Legends appear at Oct. 8 Legend sale but fail to meet reserves

Some consider this 1794 Flowing Hair dollar, graded Specimen 66 by PCGS with a green CAC sticker, as the first dollar struck at the Philadelphia Mint. It didn’t meet its reserve, failing to sell at Legend’s October 8 auction.

All images courtesy of Legend Rare Coin Auctions.

The finest-known 1794 Flowing Hair silver dollar — which set a record as the most valuable coin sold at auction when it brought $10,016,875 at Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ on Jan. 22, 2013 — failed to meet its reserve when offered by Legend Rare Coins Auctions on Oct. 8 at an estimate of $8 million to $9 million.

In recent memory, it had sold privately in May 2010 for a then-record $7,850,000 before selling at auction in 2013 to Bruce Morelan through Legend Rare Coin Auctions’ founder Laura Sperber, who jumped the bid from $5.5 million to $8,525,000 to invoke “shock and awe.” Sperber explained, “we realized the 1794 was a tragic oversight to be valued at anything LESS then $10,000,000,” and confessed their upper limit for the dollar was $15 million. The final price included the buyer’s fee.

Another disappointment followed a few lots later when the “Dexter-Dunham-Williams-Bareford-Pogue-Morelan” Class I Original 1804 Draped Bust dollar, graded Proof 65 by Professional Coin Grading Service, estimated at $4 million to $4.4 million, also didn’t meet its minimum bid, despite auctioneer Brad Karoleff’s best efforts to start bidding at $3.2 million.

The first dollar?

The 1794 dollar, promoted as the first dollar struck at the Philadelphia Mint, is graded Specimen 66 by PCGS and carries a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker.

Legend writes, “All 1794 silver dollars were struck from a single pair of dies, and out of the 1,758 silver dollars delivered on October 15, 1794, the presently offered SUPERB GEM is the only one to have been struck from the earliest state of the dies.”

All 1794 dollars are listed as BB-1 in the Bowers-Borckardt reference to early dollars, and the early die state matches a unique 1794 dollar copper die trial in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution.

Legend admits, “We acknowledge that there is no documentary evidence that is connected to this coin to say for certain, 100% that it is the first silver dollar struck by the United States Mint in Philadelphia,” but it remains a visually stunning example that appears to have been struck with special care, and is the sole 1794 dollar that has prooflike reflectivity in the fields.

Stack’s Bowers wrote in its 2013 offering, “Indeed, when the coin is viewed out of its encapsulation, the fields flash with astounding deep mirror reflection, providing remarkable contrast to the fully frosted devices.”

Among its most notable characteristics is the presence of a silver plug at the center, along with planchet adjustment marks as seen on other 1794 dollars, which were in place before the dollar was struck, to regulate the silver planchet’s weight. Stack’s Bowers asked in 2013 whether the adjustment marks or the plug came first, answering, “It is doubtful that the Philadelphia Mint planchet adjusters would be so careless as to file off too much silver from a planchet deemed too heavy. It is far more likely that lightweight planchets were rejected, then drilled at the center, a silver plug of additional weight added, then the planchet and plug insert were weighed again, adjusted down with a file as necessary until the weight of 416 grains was measured, and finally the coin was struck.”

Since that 2013 auction, the second-finest 1794 dollar, called the Lord St. Oswald example — graded Mint State 66+ by PCGS — sold for $4,993,750, near the top of its $3 million to $5 million estimate, at Stack’s Bowers and Sotheby’s Sept. 30, 2015, auction of The D. Brent Pogue Collection: Masterpieces of United States Coinage Part II. The description for that example challenged the idea that Morelan’s Specimen example was the only example with a silver plug, explaining, “This specimen shows a central plug of silver, placed in the planchet before striking in an effort to create a coin of the precise statutory weight, the opposite force in the give-and-take process that sometimes necessitated adjustment marks.”

For collectors who missed their chance to buy the finest-known 1794 dollar when it crossed the auction block in Las Vegas, another top-ranked example will be offered later this year by Stack’s Bowers when it offers one graded MS-62 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. from the collection of Utah businessman Larry H. Miller.

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