Gerald Tebben, a Coin World columnist for more than 30 years, also contributes to Coin World’s Coin Values and edits the Central States Numismatic Society’s journal, The Centinel. He collects coins that tell stories.
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Red Book 70th anniversary: The King of Coins
The Red Book text has been updated several times to reflect current research concerning the mysterious origins of this original 1804 dollar, the King of Coins.
The King of Coins
The 1804 dollar has always been a coin of mystery and desire. Was it struck in 1804 or decades later? In 1946, when the first Red Book was printed, both sides had their adherents. The Red Book told the story down the middle, giving both sides of the argument, but offering no conclusion.
For the first 15 editions, the Red Book reported, “Those who adhere to the belief that these coins were struck in 1804 point to such evidence as the letter written by Robert Patterson, Director of the Mint, to President Thomas Jefferson. This letter stated that no dollars had been minted ‘during the last two years.’ Inasmuch as the letter was dated April 2, 1807, they infer that dollars were struck during 1804.
“Mint records show that 19,570 silver dollars were coined in 1804 and that these coins were struck after March 28, 1804.”
The 1804 dollar text concluded, “The 1804 dollar has been and probably will continue to be a subject of much discussion. Unless some new evidence is uncovered the mystery of its existence or disappearance will always be a matter of speculation for the numismatic fraternity”
In 1962, Eric P. Newman and Kenneth Bressett, who went on to edit the Red Book, set the record straight with the publication of The Fantastic 1804 Dollar. No 1804-dated dollars were produced before 1834, when the Mint struck display sets of coins for diplomatic missions. Years later, a handful more (Class II) were secretly struck at the Mint for sale to connected collectors.
As for the nearly 20,000 dollars listed in Mint records, Q. David Bowers reports in his Silver Dollars & Trade Dollars of the United States: A Complete Encyclopedia they were struck with dies dated 1803 or earlier.
The 1963-dated 16th edition of the Red Book updated the controversy, saying, “Numismatists now know that the 1804 ‘original’ dollars were struck at the mint between 1836 and 1842.”
In the years since 1963, the Red Book text has been updated to reflect current research. It now reads, “Numismatists have found that the 1804 original dollars were first struck in the 1834 through 1835 period for use in Presentation proof sets.”
The first Red Book noted that original dollars had sold for $5,000 to $10,000. Today it takes about $4 million to buy one.