US Coins

You can see the most expensive U.S. coin ever sold

It might be the first silver dollar struck at the federal Mint, or not, but the 1794 Flowing Hair dollar to be on exhibit in January at the Florida United Numismatists convention does hold the distinction of being the most valuable coin ever sold at auction.

The silver dollar, graded Specimen 66 by Professional Coin Grading Service, will be displayed along with Spokane business executive Bruce Morelan’s entire 12-coin PCGS Set Registry collection of U.S. Flowing Hair and Draped Bust dollars, ranging in date from 1794 to 1803. The set will be displayed by Professional Coin Grading Service at the FUN convention in Fort Lauderdale, Thursday through early Saturday afternoon, Jan. 5 to 7.

The dollar’s status as the most expensive coin to sell at auction is established, but its other status, as possibly the first 1794 Flowing Hair silver dollar struck, is based on the coin’s strike and its condition rather than documentary evidence.

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The federal Mint in Philadelphia used a human-powered screw press to strike 2,000 silver dollars on Oct. 15, 1794, and of those coins, 1,758 were deemed of acceptable quality to be delivered. Of the mintage of 1,758 pieces, an estimated 130 survive today.

The single pair of dies used to strike the 2,000 silver dollars were not properly installed, with their faces not parallel. That fact, along with the capabilities of the press, means that most of the delivered coins still exhibited weakly struck areas. The atypically strong strike of the Morelan coin is one attribute that leads some numismatists to declare their opinion that it was the first coin struck. Its high condition, Specimen 66, is also unprecedented for the surviving examples.

In addition to the “exceptional strike as an apparent presentation piece and its pristine state of preservation, it is the only known 1794 U.S. Dollar with a silver plug,” notes PCGS. The plug was inserted to obtain the correct planchet weight when the coin was struck. Silver and gold planchets were carefully weighed to ensure they were of the legal weight: heavy planchets were filed to remove metal until they were of proper weight, and a few silver dollars and half dollars were brought up to legal standards by the insertion of a silver plug.

Why the coin is special

PCGS Co-Founder and Collectors Universe President David Hall recalled the first time he saw the coin in person a decade ago: “It made my heart thump. It’s a gorgeous, historical treasure. The strike is so sharp it leads me to believe it is the very first impression of the die. It is easy to surmise that this is probably the first dollar struck in the U.S.” 

PCGS President Don Willis said, “Not only will this be the first time the magnificent 1794 Dollar will be seen in the United States since its headline-making auction in January 2013, this actually will be the first time anywhere that Mr. Morelan’s outstanding set of early dollars will be publicly exhibited.” The 1794 Dollar was displayed earlier this year to visitors at museums in eight European countries. However, it has not been shown in public in the United States since the Stack’s Bowers Galleries auction three years ago, when it was purchased for Morelan by Laura Sperber of Legend Numismatics for a record-smashing $10,016,875. 

“I have loved that coin ever since I first saw an image of it in the late 1990s. The image has just stuck in my head ever since,” said Morelan, who has been collecting coins since his grandmother gave him three old coins including a U.S. Trade dollar when he was 6 years old. “It’s absolutely a dream come true to own this coin!” 

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