1794 Bowers Borckardt-1, Bolender-1. Rarity-4. MS-64 (NGC).
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Frosty silver gray surfaces show superb, thorough, and unbroken cartwheel lustre. The surfaces are smooth and appealing, and both obverse and reverse show a significant absence of post-striking marks of any magnitude.
The most notable identifiers were on this piece of silver before it ever became an example of this historic first silver dollar issue, and each is an artifact of a divide between the technology the Mint had at its disposal in 1794 and the ambition to create a silver unit of regular fineness and aesthetic appeal. In the lightest struck part of the coin, the left side of the obverse, some faint flecks are seen, the result of flaws in the silver ingot being rolled into tiny fissures. Two larger planchet flaws are present at star three and, less significantly, at the top of star six.
Any other flaws were effaced by adequate striking pressure elsewhere on the coin. The strike, in general, is excellent for the issue, with each star (including the usually weak first six) showing at least a full proper outline. The central detail is incredible—hairs stand out as individual strands under even the lowest magnification, the feathers and branch on the reverse show intricate detail, and each dentil is complete. Due to the same axial (i.e. out of parallel) misalignment that causes weakness in the lower stars on the left, the tops of UNITED STATES are a bit weak and still show some faint planchet preparation marks in that area. The adjustment marks on this example appear far more subtle than those on several of the other high-grade 1794 dollars, including the PCGS MS-63 St. Oswald-Norweb coin. Over the course of more than two centuries this piece has picked up a few light hairlines here and there and a faint short scratch on Liberty's neck, but the lustre and frost remain unaffected. The eye appeal is lovely, more than sufficient for the assigned grade.
This piece was struck from dies that had already clashed and been lapped, or polished, equivalent to Bowers state II (and our consignor's die state III). An inverted impression of the eagle's wings may be easily discerned on either side of the main obverse portrait, and Liberty's inverted profile can be seen beneath the dexter wing on the reverse. It is unknown when the dies clashed, but most specimens known are from this die state. This may mean the dies clashed very early in the cycle of striking the 1794 dollars; it may also mean that more later die state dollars survived because a goodly number of those struck early in the process were melted at the Mint as unacceptable strikings. Scholars have long presumed that many of the initial 1794 dollars struck were melted by the Mint—the learning curve for satisfactorily striking such a large coin is steep the first time, and David Rittenhouse asked that coining of the dollars stop until a better press could be purchased or constructed. At least one unsatisfactorily struck 1794 dollar became a planchet for a 1795 dollar when coining recommenced, though others may have been submitted to melting before recoining. In the unsentimental environment of a factory-type operation, it is even possible that the first 1794 dollar ever struck may have been submitted to such a fate, though the Amon Carter 1794 dollar is clearly the finest piece known from the elusive first unclashed die state.
If there is a hallmark coin in the Cardinal Collection, this is it, and if there is a single coin of the 1794-1803 series that transcends the world of coin collecting, it is the 1794 dollar. Showing it to a history buff or a sentimental financier elicits a smile, a nod, and an appreciative knowledge that there is something special about holding a specimen of America's first silver dollar that looks like it's still brand new. The positive aspects of some coins are difficult to communicate to even savvy collectors, while some (as cliched as it may be) simply speak for themselves. This coin speaks volumes, with little or no help from us. Scholar Jack Collins, in his unpublished work on 1794 dollars, spoke passionately about a coin that must have ranked among this favorites: "The owner of a 1794 dollar in any grade, no matter how low, possesses a precious historic relic: one of the first federal silver coins, made on the initial day of silver coinage [October 15, 1794], of the first federal design for circulation with eagle or stars; a coin made from David Rittenhouse's own bullion, and personally owned and given or traded by David Rittenhouse himself." We cannot imagine a more succinct vote of approval, or a finer reason to pursue owning this coin with abandon.
NGC Census: 1; 1 finer (MS-66). A separate listing for a "silver plugged" 1794 in MS-66 is the Amon Carter piece, now called Specimen-66 by PCGS. The other MS-66 (NGC) is the Hayes coin, also now in a PCGS MS-66 holder, leaving the Cardinal Collection specimen as the single finest graded by NGC.
Both our consignor and Collins agree that the Green-Boyd-Lelan Rogers coin is second finest known behind the Carter coin. It is presently certified as PCGS MS-66. (It is amazing to think about the presently offered coin as the Boyd duplicate!) The coin our consignor lists as third finest was once owned by Jimmy Hayes (also PCGS MS-66), earlier from the 1964 St. Oswald sale. This coin is placed as Condition Census four in our consignor's well-researched listing. The other 1794 dollars certified as Mint State are the Norweb coin (PCGS MS-63), the Bass coin (NGC MS-62), the Major Cole-French Family coin (PCGS MS-62); the Bass coin (NGC MS-61), and the "Austrian" specimen (NGC MS-60). These eight coins seem to account for all of the Mint State certifications by the major services. With perhaps 125-150 total specimens surviving, the fact that as many as eight are in Mint State may be accounted for by those who specially saved examples of what they knew to be an historical issue—the first U.S. dollar coin struck under federal auspices.
From B. Max Mehl to F.C.C. Boyd in the 1930s; sold privately by Abe Kosoff and Abner Kreisberg about 1945; Stack's Fixed Price List # 47, 1950, to B.M. Eubanks for $1,595; Abner Kreisberg and Jerry Cohen (Quality Sales Corp.)'s sale of September 1973, Lot 464 (at $51,000); Ed Hammelstein; Quality Sales Corp.'s sale of October 1978, Lot 633, not sold; sold privately to Keith Kelmen at the 1980 FUN Convention; Bowers and Ruddy's Rare Coin Review 41; Steve Ivy's sale of the Charmont Collection, August 1983, Lot 3769 (at $121,000); Dan Drykerman to Laura Sommer; Bowers and Merena's sale of the Somerset Collection, May 1992, Lot 1300; Jeff Isaac to the Cardinal Collection.