5th National Silver Dollar Convention
St. Louis, Missouri
November 8 – 11, 1984
The 1900 Lafayette Dollar
Retail Price: XF-AU $350+
Often times when someone reads an article they remember very little of it a few years later. The old joke about college Spanish students used to be that you didn’t need to take a few semesters of the language, just repeat a few common phrases since, after all, that’s all you’d remember five years later.
This article is organized into key important points pertaining to areas of history and investment. Hopefully, it will make this material easier to retain and refer to.
1. The rarest silver commemorative in MS-65+ is what this coin is, in the opinion of numerous specialists.
2. The survival rate of this coin in original MS-63 and better is low. I estimate only 40-80 MS-65 or better specimens exist with under 1,000 original eye-appealing MS-63’s existing.
3. Luster can be disappointing on this issue. Full frosty luster like an 1885-P dollar is rare for a Lafayette. Stress original luster in your purchases not the impossible for this issue.
4. Bagmarking is often heavy for a commemorative due to the weight of the coin. Also, 50,000 pieces were struck in approximately 10 hours and dumped into bags. For these reasons, weight and handling, bagmarks are more a problem with this issue than most others in the series.
5. Detail or “strike” is often a problem with the reverse of this issue. Heavy die polishing and poor die detail, not striking pressure, contributed to the loss of detail in areas of the reverse man’s head, arm, leg, boot and horse’s tail. MS-65 specimens should have decent detail.
6. Toning is often dark with deep blues and blacks predominating. Be careful in ascertaining that what is underneath the toning is natural, as “artificial looking’ toning can effect future liquidity.
7. Sliders abound of this issue, as do XF’s. This coin was often spent and placed into circulation as prices dipped from $2 in 1899 to $1.10 in 1903. Make sure that a darkly toned Unc. is not really a slider “in wolf’s clothing.”
8. Prooflikes have never been reported, although Anthony Swiatek has reported one brilliant proof.
9. Slidemarks caused by album inserts are common on the obverse portraits. Tilt the coin in different directions under an incandescent light to determine if these hairline scratches are present.
10. The most detracting areas for imperfections, mint-made or otherwise, are the obverse cheeks of Washington and Lafayette.
11. Impossible are the expectations of some gem hunters who have as a “mission” to find a bagmark-free, great luster, super detailed, lightly toned specimen. Be realistic and concentrate on eye appeal, not the impossible dream. Even the top specialists who paid in the past, five times guidesheet levels for their specimens only have super MS-65 to MS-67 coins.
12. Good buys at current levels include original luster coins grading AU or MS-63 and better. Coins must be eye appealing. MS-60s of this issue are not recommended for investment as they are often ugly.
13. Varieties do not exist but command no premium at this time and probably will not in the future, although I’d personally love to see such a situation develop. More on this under the “Historical Information” section of this article.
14. Counterfeits do exist and show loss of detail, especially die polish, and atypical luster.
15. Prognosticators that recommend AU’s at $350, (they really trade at $500 or more), fail to account for “in between” price levels. Also, anyone who recommends Lafayettes at wholesale bid levels is not being accurate in regard to what can realistically be obtained by their readers. “Cherry picking” in this case is usually for the pros and just a pipe dream for the typical tout sheet subscriber due to the grading and pricing expertise involved.
16. Die Polish is typical of this commemorative and does not detract from the value of this issue.
1. Congress authorized these coins as part of our government’s involvement in the 1900 Paris exposition and in commemoration of the centennial of Washington’s death.
2. The reason for striking this coin was to help defray costs of completing an equestrian statue of Lafayette then under construction in Paris, France. The statue was to be displayed at the Universal Exposition on 1900 in Paris.
3. Net mintage was 36,000 although 50,000 plus 36 assay pieces were struck. Remaining unsold specimens were stored until the 1940’s when they were melted despite efforts to purchase them by Aubrey Bebee.
4. Sales of the issue began in December of 1899. The date, 1900, referred to the year of the Paris exposition.
5. Issue price was $2, although specimens were later sold for as little as $1.10 in 1903. This is one reason why many specimens eventually found their way into circulation.
6. Children during nationwide campaigns held in 1899 contributed pennies at school to help provide the $50,000 needed for the statue (shades of Nancy Reagan). Thus, the tribute on the coin’s reverse, “ERECTED BY THE YOUTH OF THE UNITED STATES IN HONOR OF GEN. LAFAYETTE PARIS 1900.”
7. Design of the coin shows the heads of Washington and Lafayette on the obverse as close together as they were in a real life friendship. The reverse of the coin portrays Lafayette on a horse in triumphal processional. It is not exactly the same design as the statue, not the finished product completed several months after the coins were struck.
8. The first coin struck went to the President of the French Republic, despite an offer of $5,000 for it, after the precedent established by the Columbian issues and the Isabella quarter.
9. 3 obverse dies and 4 reverse dies described to date produced 5 known combinations. A detailed die differentiation is available in “The Encyclopedia of United States Silver and Gold Commemorative Coins” by Anthony Swiatek and Walter Breen. A “Reader’s Digest” version, compliments of Frank DuVall is given below:
Obverse die 1 – the dot between “F” of “Of” and “A” of “America” is centered and the second “S” of “States” is NOT doubled.
Obverse die 2 – the second “S” in “States” is doubled.
Obverse die 3 – the dot between “F” of “Of” and “A” of “America” is quite close to the “A.”
Reverse A – The tip of the first lower leaf (nearest the stem) is over the 1 in 1900.
Reverse B – The tip of the first lower leaf (nearest the stem) is over the 9 in 1900.
Reverse C and D – The tip of the first lower leaf (nearest the stem) is over the “9” in 1900. However, Reverse C’s branch stem is short, stubby and turned down. Reverse D’s branch stem is long, thin and curved upward.
10. The Five Die Combinations named after their discoverers are:
Clapp-Wood 1. Obverse 1, Reverse A – Scarce
Clapp-Wood 2. Obverse 1, Reverse B – Commonest
Clapp-Wood 3. Obverse 2, Reverse C – Rare
Clapp-Wood 4. Obverse 3, Reverse D – Rarest
Swiatek 5. Obverse 1, Reverse C – Rarest
Thanks are in order to Anthony Swiatek, Ray Mercer, Jim Iacovo, and Frank Duvall for valuable input to this article. Ray and Jim’s “Numismatic Investment Journal” is an excellent source for additional information on this subject.
11. Heavy Die Polish, raised lines in the field below Lafayette’s boot extending to below the horse’s ankles, is characteristic of Reverse B.