Pick up one of the nation's first silver dollars – whether it bears
the Flowing Hair or Draped Bust design – and take measure of its
heft: This is a substantial coin!
It's big (39.5mm in diameter) and heavy (26.956 grams).
The diameter is the largest of any U.S. coin struck for circulation,
being more than a millimeter wider than the later Morgan, Peace and
Eisenhower dollars. It's also the heaviest U.S. silver coin struck for
circulation. (Among all U.S. silver coins, only the noncirculating
American Eagle silver dollar is bigger.)
The first two U.S. silver dollars are from short series. The Flowing
Hair dollar was struck dated 1794 and 1795 only. The Draped Bust
dollar, struck with the Small Eagle and Heraldic Eagle reverses, was
struck bearing the dates 1795 to 1803 (the 1804 dollar is a post-dated
fantasy and is not a part of the main series).
Designs for the 1794 Flowing Hair dollar were based on
recommendations from numerous government officials. An early version,
represented by a unique copper pattern, bears no obverse stars. That
first design was rejected and a new die created bearing 15 stars.
The first 1794 Flowing Hair dollars were struck on Oct. 15. The
coins were the first precious metal coins struck within the walls of
the new Philadelphia Mint. A total of 1,758 1794 dollars were
delivered by the coiner, the total mintage of the coin for the year.
Production ceased because a better press was needed to strike a coin
the size of the silver dollar. The new press was completed in May 1795
and used first to strike some 1795 half dollars before being used to
strike 1795 Flowing Hair dollars. Just 160,295 specimens of the latter
were struck before new designs were introduced.
Although it's obvious at a glance that the obverse design was
changed from the Flowing Hair concept to the Draped Bust rendition of
Liberty, it's less obvious that two distinctly different Small Eagle
designs were used for the two series.
The Small Eagle design used with the Flowing Hair obverse features
an eagle standing on a flat rock, within a wreath and UNITED STATES OF
AMERICA. The Small Eagle design used with the Draped Bust obverse
features an eagle standing amidst billowing clouds, also contained
within a wreath and the reverse legend.
Both types were struck with the date 1795. The exact date the switch
was made is uncertain, although it may have been late September.
The Draped Bust obverse continued to be paired with the Small Eagle
reverse into 1798, when a new reverse, called the Heraldic Eagle
design by coin collectors, was introduced. Again, both reverse types
are found paired with obverses dated 1798.
Since all dies were produced by hand, numerous die varieties exist
offering: overdates, large dates, small dates, small letters, large
letters, 13 stars, 15 stars, 16 stars, stars in 9x7, 10x6 and 8x5
configurations, and more. Variety collecting might be the most fun way
to collect, although it certainly would entail a substantial financial outlay.
Keep reading from our "Know Your U.S. Coins" series:
Cents and half cents:
2- and 3-cent coins:
Dimes and half dimes: