To the best of our knowledge, no similar specimen has ever been located or identified. With today’s interest in early Silver Dollars and especially in special items such as the 1795 silver plug dollars, and with the publicity of the recently identified “First 1794 Silver Dollar,” we believe that this is arguably one of the most important historical opportunities to be presented to collectors of the early dollars - ever. It has been 44 years since this dollar was discovered, and to date no others have been identified. We believe that any others, if they exist, would most likely have been discovered during that period of time.
Walter Breen discussed this coin in the very first issue of The Metropolitan Numismatic Journal, which we believe was the only issue ever produced. Breen’s prototype magazine, Vol. 1, No. 1, was dated May-June 1961, and published for his intended audience of advanced numismatists. Paul Weinstein was the proprietor of the Metropolitan Coin Company, which operated in Lafayette Hill, Pennsylvania for a very short period of time. The unique 1795 over 1794 dollar was the subject of a featured article in this first issue. Breen provided a physical description of the overstrike and the undertype features:
“On the obverse of the 1795 can be plainly seen the eagle, a wreath, and parts of UNITED (at 1 of date and first and second stars) and AMERICA (at eleventh to fourteenth stars). On the reverse of the 1795 are visible the profile and part of the back of Liberty’s head. Behind AT are two stars; behind ES OF are letters of LIBERTY, and behind AME are two more stars. And that is all, and it is highly significant. Proof that the undertype is in fact a 1794 is easy. No other dollar reverse of this design except the 1794 has positions of U and final A in AMERICA as shown here. On all others, leaves at bottom left and right extend much farther under U and A, and the placement of leaves and berries is different; on this, all details that are visible match the 1794 exactly. The obverse is a more difficult problem because the date and most stars are not visible; but the position of letters in LIBERTY with respect to each other and to the border (the outer of the two visible on the coin above ES OF is the border of the undertype) again exactly match those of the 1794. And the weakness at stars and date and left reverse is exactly as one expects of a 1794.”
The 1794 date, were it visible, would be located in the vicinity of the left ribbon end from the 1795 dies. The key to attribution of the undertype, as Walter Breen discussed, is the relationship between wreath stems and lower leaves, compared to the letters U of UNITED and final A of AMERICA. There is an entire leaf pair visible between the final A and the right stem end. Note that the tip of the right stem is visible on the top surface of star 15 at lower right, while the right base of the final A is visible on the top surface of star 14. Between these, in the field just right of Liberty’s bust point, can be seen the entire outer leaf of the lowest leaf pair in the right branch. This is the single key point of attribution, as there is not a single known variety of 1795 Flowing Hair dollar with a leaf pair between the other design points.
The existence of this remarkable 1795 over 1794 silver dollar begs the numismatist to ask one very simple question that remains, as yet, to be answered: Just what were the circumstances at the Mint in 1795 that led to the production of this overstrike?
Walter Breen continued, in his article, to explain the historical importance of this overstrike. He explained that coinage press runs at the early mint were always in even quantities of one or more thousand coins, and that the mint most likely intended a production of 2,000 of the first silver dollars in 1794. Breen noted: “The normal press run for a day in the mint at this period consisted of an even number of thousands of specimens, although sometimes several presses would be in operation at the same time. This is confirmed over and over in the Bullion Journals and Bullion Ledgers, preserved in the National Archives. For what it may be worth, then, I suggest that the intention was to mint 2,000 1794 dollars that day, and that the odd couple of hundred unissued were instead used as planchets for 1795 dollars.” After discussing the weakness of the date and lower left stars, mint officers withheld the release of a couple hundred coins, with a reported mintage (released) of 1,758 coins. The remaining 242 examples, according to Breen, were simply restruck with 1795 dies, rather than being remelted. Further, Breen commented: “In any event, an easy alternative to throwing these weakly struck dollars back into the melting pot was to use them as undertypes for later silver dollars; as planchets, in short. I [Breen] am firmly convinced that this was the reason for the manufacture of this particular overstrike. It is certainly logical, and no alternative readily suggests itself.”
Later in the same article, Breen seem to contradict himself, suggesting that the 1794 dollars may have actually been released to circulation prior to the restriking in 1795: “Of course, if the coins are too worn, weak undertypes might not be visible; but then, there may not have been even 200 made to start with, perhaps only a few dozen or even less - there is no way of knowing now.”
These comments by Breen would suggest that the unreleased silver dollars had been set aside after being minted on October 15, 1794, were held until the first coinage of 1795 silver dollars on May 6, 1795. The intervening period of nearly seven months seems highly unusual, especially considering that other silver coins were made in the months preceding the dollars, and that the mint was supposed to coin bullion as it was deposited. Breen’s comments regarding the number of coins included in each press run do not hold up for these early silver coins, or for gold coins. In fact, the first 52 delivery warrants of gold and silver coins, from half dimes to gold eagles, and representing 57 separate press runs, record only 13 instances of individual press runs consisting of an even number of thousands of pieces. In addition, the first production of silver half dollars took place on December 1, 1794, just six weeks after the 1794 dollars were struck. If the additional 242 coins were struck, they would most certainly have been melted with the metal recoined into half dollars. Over 200,000 half dollars were minted before the first 1795 silver dollar coinage. Doing anything else would have created considerable problems according to the procedures set in place by Congress.
The existence of this overstrike can be attributed to several different possibilities, including the scenario discussed by Walter Breen. Another possibility, although seemingly unlikely, is that this was truly a simple mint error, much like the double date and double denomination coins of modern times. In 1795, the Mint employed one or more screw-presses to strike coins. Although feeding planchets was somewhat mechanized, production was very slow and methodical, especially in relation to the high-speed presses employed today. It seems rather improbable that the mint workmen, in 1795, would have missed a previously struck 1794 silver dollar being introduced to the coining chamber.
In their offering of this same dollar in 1987, Kagin’s wrote: “There is another possible viewpoint to this in that various other coins were consistently overstruck in the early days of the mint, as a money-saving method. For instance ruined large cent impressions were regularly overstruck with half cents, and certainly the wide occurrence of 1797 half cents struck over Talbot, Allum and Lee coins is legion. Even the Type II 1804 dollar was struck over a Swiss thaler, but for a different purpose [and produced in the late 1850s]. Whether this coin exists due to ‘propaganda’ usage [as Breen suggested in his article], or merely a money-saving method is perhaps academic. The importance of this piece exists on either basis.”
A further possibility is that this was a sort of die set-up piece, or die trial. Then as now, there would have been a need to test the placement of new dies in the coinage press, or more likely, to have an impression from newly created dies to insure the design was properly engraved. Normally, this die trial would have been accomplished through the placement and striking of a blank planchet. Assuming all was well, the set-up piece would have been included in the press run and simply included in the next coinage delivery. It seems likely that the dies may have been placed in the coinage press at the same time that a new batch of blank planchets were being prepared. Remember that the planchet preparation process not only included cutting the planchets out of strip, but also of lettering the edges, which was done prior to striking. Had the coiner needed to test his setup of the dies, and not had a blank planchet available to him, he might have used an already struck 1794 dollar as his planchet to test the positioning of the dies. As such, we suggest that this overstrike could bridge the gap between early dollars and pattern coins, perhaps representing one of the very few pattern issues of the first mint.
There may be other scenarios that our readers will share, and perhaps someone will be able to substantiate just why this coin exists. Until such documentation is discovered that directly answers the question, and the presence of such documentation is highly unlikely, we will never know for certain what circumstances allowed this coin to be minted.
Rarity and Value
This 1795 over 1794 silver dollar is UNIQUE. There is only one known and we doubt that any others will be found. Being unique, it is comparable to very few other numismatic items. The silver plug dollars of 1795, so highly prized by early dollar collectors today, are known in significant quantities. The unique BB-17 silver dollar of 1795, graded XF45 and of similar quality to this coin, sold for $52,800 as part of the Eliasberg Collection in April 1997. At the time, this was only a little less than the auction prices of XF 1794 silver dollars. Today, XF 1794 silver dollars are selling for well in excess of $100,000, and are perhaps worth closer to $200,000. It is difficult to determine what this unique silver dollar is actually worth, however, it would not surprise us at all to see a price realized in the vicinity of that higher value, and perhaps it will bring even more! Recently, 1795 Flowing Hair dollars with silver plugs have been selling for significant five figure prices with some finer examples approaching or exceeding six figures. The silver plug dollars, while important, are not nearly as historically desirable as this overstrike.
The Physical Coin
This is a lightly worn Silver Dollar, yet with pristine surfaces and attractive grayish-gold surfaces. Any weakness of detail is as much a result of difficulties in striking this specimen than of actual wear. In the past, this overstrike has been described as grading anywhere from XF40 to full Mint State. In our opinion, the AU53 grade assigned by NGC is an accurate reflection of the actual appearance. The coin is very slightly larger diameter than other 1795 dollars, having spread very slightly during the overstriking process. The edge lettering is that of other 1794 silver dollars, and is slightly different than the lettering found on 1795 dollars. Specifications: 414.4 grains;
From an unidentified West Coast dealer; sold to Walter Breen at the Numismatic Association of Southern California (NASC) convention in Los Angeles, March 1961; Empire Coin Company (Q. David Bowers and James F. Ruddy); sold back to Walter Breen; sold to Art Kagin at the April 1961 Central States Numismatic Society (CSNS) convention in Milwaukee; presumably owned by the Kagin’s; The Atlanta Sale (Kagin’s, 8/67), lot 3221; later in the Stephen Richter Collection; Julian Leidman; sold to Bowers and Merena Galleries at the August 1992 American Numismatic Association (ANA) convention; Bowers and Merena (1/94), lot 1274; later sold to Sheridan Downey; unidentified collector; current consignor.