US Coins

Stickney-Eliasberg ‘Original’ 1804 dollar heads to fall auction

In a fall auction season that seems packed with rarities, Stack’s Bowers Galleries will be presenting the collection of Utah businessman Larry H. Miller — owner of the National Basketball Association’s Utah Jazz from 1985 until his death in 2009 — at two auctions to be held Nov. 12 and Dec. 17. The proceeds of the sales will be donated to Intermountain Health to build a children’s hospital in Lehi, Utah.

Silver dollars were a particular favorite of the collector, and the sales will include a 1794 Flowing Hair dollar graded Mint State 62 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. that ranks among the finest known of just 1,758 dollars delivered at the Philadelphia Mint during the first year of the denomination.

Set to lead the Miller consignment is the “King of Coins,” an 1804 Draped Bust dollar graded Proof 65 by Professional Coin Grading Service. The famed Class I “Original” was obtained from the Philadelphia Mint in 1843. When it was offered at Bowers and Merena’s 1997 auction of the Louis E. Eliasberg Sr. Collection, the cataloger called it “the most celebrated example and the very first to be in a private collection,” adding that it is “pedigreed continuously back to the day it was acquired at the Mint in 1843.”

Today known as the Stickney-Eliasberg specimen, it was obtained by Salem, Massachusetts, collector Matthew A. Stickney on May 9, 1843, from the U.S. Mint in exchange for coins that curators wanted for the Mint’s collection. Stickney took particular care with it, writing in 1867, “This dollar has never been out of my house or even handled by those who called to see it,” nothing that he was careful that visitors to his home “should not by some sleight of hand exchange it.”

It remained in the Stickney Collection well after his death in 1894 and was finally sold by his estate in a June 1907 auction by Philadelphia’s Henry Chapman, who described it as “THE KING OF UNITED STATES COINS!” It brought $3,600, selling to Col. James W. Ellsworth.

Ellsworth exhibited it at the American Numismatic Society in a famed loan exhibition in 1914; then it went to Wayte Raymond and John Work Garrett via Knoedler & Co., before quickly trading to William Cutler Atwater. Eliasberg obtained it from the Atwater Collection in 1946, presented at Texas dealer B. Max Mehl’s sale of the Atwater Collection in 1946.

Three classes of dollars

The 1804 Draped Bust dollars are classified in three categories, none of which were struck in the year appearing on the coins. Class I “Originals” were first officially coined in 1834 for diplomatic presentation purposes, of which eight examples are known. A Class II “Restrike” is represented by a single example in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution struck over an 1857 Swiss dollar-sized coin. Seven Class III 1804 dollars, also called “Restrikes,” were made for collectors starting in the late 1850s.

The Bowers and Merena 1997 auction said the dollar had been viewed by over 1.5 million people while on loan at the Smithsonian Institution. Graded Proof 63 then, by the auctioneer, it was called “a visual masterpiece, splendid in every regard.” It realized $1,815,000.

In what is surely an embarrassment of riches this auction season, another Class I 1804 Draped Bust dollar, also graded Proof 65 by PCGS, will be offered at Legend’s Regency Auction 41 on Oct. 8 in Las Vegas. This example was last sold in 2017 at Stack’s Bowers Galleries and Sotheby’s presentation of the D. Brent Pogue Collection for $3,290,000 The subject coin and the other piece to be offered by Legend are bested by only two other 1804 dollars in terms of grade.

Beyond these two early dollars in the Stack’s Bowers Galleries auction is a complete set of circulation-strike Morgan silver dollars that is counted among the finest ever assemble, including many condition census examples. Highlights from the Miller set include an 1884-S Morgan dollar graded MS-68 by PCGS, an 1886-O Morgan dollar graded MS-67 Deep Mirror Prooflike by PCGS, an 1886-O Morgan dollar graded MS-67 DMPL by PCGS, an 1895-S Morgan dollar in PCGS MS-67 DMPL, and a virtually perfect 1896-S Morgan dollar graded PCGS MS-69, each with CAC stickers and ranking as the finest-known for their issues.

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