The ANA World’s Fair of Money, traditionally held in August, is wrapping up this week in Rosemont, Illinois. As part of the show both Heritage as well as Stack’s Bowers are holding public auctions, offering a large number of both US world coins and currency to dealers and collectors. One of the main highlights of all these thousands of lots was the 1804 Class III Silver Dollar certified Proof-55 by NGC, which sold on August 6 for $1,880,000. The coin, which first appeared on the numismatic market in the early 1870s and has resided in the famous Garrett Collection for half a century, is one of only six confirmed Class III Silver Dollars known to exist.
The story of the 1804 Silver Dollar has been told countless of times but for those unfamiliar with the story here’s a brief overview. Mint records show that 19,570 Silver Dollars were delivered in 1804, but presumably all were dated 1803, and the denomination would not be struck again until the late 1830s. In 1834 a small number of Proof Sets containing the Half Cent to Ten Dollar Gold Piece were struck for foreign dignitaries. Small batches of Proof coins had been struck at the Philadelphia Mint since 1817 but regular sales of them would not start until 1857. Since the Dollar and Ten Dollar Gold Piece were no longer in production at the time it was decided to use the last date that they were made, 1804. However, it was not realized that no 1804 dated Dollars had been struck, and inadvertently the Mint created a prime rarity. These are the so-called Class I or “Original” 1804 Silver Dollars. Class II and Class III Dollars are considered restrikes made decades after 1834, and can be identified by a different reverse die from the Class I coins.
The Class II Dollar, which is unique, is believed to have been struck in the late 1850s (it is overstruck on an 1857 dated Swiss Shooting Medal), and the Class III Dollars (including the coin sold by Stack’s-Bowers) were struck sometime after that, perhaps as late as the early 1870s. The Berg Specimen, the coin sold by Stack’s-Bowers this week, first came to light via Captain John W. Haseltine, a Philadelphia based coin dealer who perhaps had inside sources in the Mint, but more likely only acted as intermediary. During the early 1870s the Mint had a nighttime business making all kinds of restrikes for collectors, mostly for the personal gain of the Mint employees, and this particular 1804 Silver Dollar was most likely brought to Haseltine to cover the tracks of those people that made it. In 1883 it appeared in the auction of the Berg Collection, which it is named after, and subsequently it was in both the Garrett and John Hopkins University Collections. It appeared again at auction in 1980 and was traded many times later in the 1980s and 1990s until it was finally traded to a collector in 2005. The full pedigree information of all Class III 1804 Dollars is in the lot details for the specimen sold and contains the names of many of the most famous numismatists.
While there are definitely coins which are more rare, the 1804 Silver Dollar is still heralded as the “King of American Coins.” Even though it was not struck until 1834 the coin has captured the imagination of the American people, and even the most novice coin collector will have heard something about the 1804 Silver Dollar. It is everybody’s guess when the Berg specimen will reappear again at auction, but with ever increasing values of this famous coin we should not be surprised to see this coin sell for even more next time around, whenever that next time might be.