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Thoughts on Proof 1804 “Original” and “Restrike” silver dollars

Thoughts on Proof 1804 “Original” and “Restrike” silver dollars

(Including their cousins, the Proofs of 1801-03)


John W. Dannreuther


   Much has been written about the “King of American coins,” the 1804 silver dollar (and to a lesser degree about its cousins, the Proofs of 1801-03). Here’s my two-cents’ worth, or perhaps a full dollar’s worth. A s

hort discussion of the events that led to striking 1804 silver dollars would be useful. Because of the desire to include the highest denominations of silver and gold coins in the Presentation sets destined for foreign leaders, the otherwise 1834-dated Proof sets also contained an eagle and silver dollar dated 1804.

The choice of this date was the result of the accounting methods employed at the Mint, as records were kept of coins struck during the year regardless of the actual dates on the coins. These sets were carried, along with other gifts, by special Presidential envoy Edmunds Roberts on his trip to negotiate trade treaties with several nations.

So, in 1834, it was erroneously assumed that those dollars and eagles struck in the year 1804 were dated 1804. For the eagles, this was true, but the 19,570 silver dollars struck in 1804 were not dated 1804. These new silver dollar coins were struck using freshly made dies (including the original Miss Liberty and Eagle puncheons), since no leftover dies from this obsolete series were in the Mint vaults. Thus, these rarities were created. The term that best seems to fit the 1804 dollars is novodel, a Russian word that denotes a coin struck from copy dies that are very similar but slightly different than original dies used for a particular series. The 1804 Proof eagle, as you will see, has recently been found to be a restrike.

In the case of the 1804 silver dollar, the term novodel is expanded to include a date that was not struck during the original series! “Original” 1804 dollars should be called “Original” or first striking novodels (Class I 1804 dollars with Reverse X) and those made with the same obverse, but a different reverse, should be called “Restrike” or second striking novodels (Class II and III 1804 dollars with Reverse Y).

As far as it is known, no additional 1804 Plain 4 Proof eagles were struck after 1835, so all these 1804 eagles are “Original” Restrikes, as the author proved in his 2006 Coin World article. The obverse die used for the 1804 Proof eagles struck in 1834 and 1835 was a leftover original die with the numerals 180 already punched into the die. A plain 4 from the half dollar punch set used for 1834 half dollars completed the obverse die, further distinguishing the 1804 Proof eagle from the original circulation strike coins that had a crosslet 4 in the date. Although the author’s 2006 article noted that the reverse used was a leftover eagle reverse die, a sharp-eyed half dollar researcher wrote an article in the John Reich Journal that proved it was a leftover 1805 half dollar reverse. The half dollar and eagle reverse dies were the exact same dies, although there was no cross usage in these two denominations like there was for the Heraldic eagle dime and quarter eagle reverses. These, too, were identical dies and struck coins of both denominations.

The 1801-1803 Proof dollars have long been called “Restrikes,” but again this is a misnomer – they should also be called novodels as original dies were not employed in their striking, thus they are not restrikes that used original dies. The 1801 is really in a class of its own with different star types, lettering, and logotype, so there are two minor varieties of these novodels.

First Striking Period

There were at least four, possibly all eight, 1804 silver dollars struck in the “original” striking period of 1834-35.  The four in Presentation sets carried by Edmund Roberts[1] are the only ones that we can be certain as to when they were struck, two in late 1834 and two sometime after March 31, 1835 but before April 17, 1835, when they were sent to Roberts. The others could have been struck then or at a slightly later date.  R.W. Julian may indeed be right on the date 1831 or 1832 as the manufacturing date for the dies.  He is seldom wrong!

However, it appears the 1801 die was finished at some later date because of the differing stars, lettering, etc., possibly as late as 1858-1873. Others have postulated that it was done at the same time as the 1802-04 dies, but that seems very unlikely. That Mint Director Samuel Moore was aware of the importation of foreign dollar-size coins in 1831 and his asking the Treasury to have President Jackson lift the 1806 ban on coining dollars, leads one to think 1831, or early 1832, is the right time-frame for the dies’ manufacture. The President complied with this request, so dies likely were prepared soon after the approval was granted. However, no silver dollars were struck until the Presentation sets of 1834.

It has been speculated that some 1804 dollars could have been struck as early as 1831, however, the Class I Mint Collection example is a slightly later die state than the King of Siam coin leading one to believe that late 1834 was the first time these coins were struck. The Matthew Stickney specimen was acquired (1843) after the 1842 Eckfeldt and Dubois book was published (the first depiction of an actual 1804 silver dollar – a line drawing), which alerted collectors to the existence of this date. There was a drawing of an 1804 dollar in a foreign magazine, but this was before any 1804 silver dollars were struck, so this was just a coincidence that the date 1804 was used to depict this example.

So, there is really little doubt that the 1834-1835 (or a few years later) period encompassed these eight original 1804 silver dollars. It has been reported in the past that the Parmelee-Reed coin weighed 412 grains, or the post-1837 weight, but that has been proven to be erroneous, as its weight is closer to 416 grains. Likely, because of their pre-1837 weight, all eight “Originals” or Class I coins were struck prior to 1837, when the weight of silver dollars was changed from 416 grains to 412.5 grains. Because of the near identical die states and die alignment, one could conclude that two examples were struck in late 1834 and the remaining six soon after March 31, 1835.

Second Striking Period

The “Restrikes” (Class II and III coins) certainly are a different story.  When the “outcry” over the plain-edge “Restrikes” emerged in 1859-60, these coins (supposedly) were returned to the Mint and all, save the single Class II example, were destroyed.  The plain-edge coin that the Mint retained is the unique piece struck over a cut-down 1857 Swiss shooting thaler. This specimen is as well struck or, in the opinion of some others including Walter Breen, better struck than the Eckfeldt-Mint Cabinet “Original” in the Smithsonian Institution. Its transposition with the “Original” during several exhibitions may have been accidental because of this striking superiority – or it may have been duplicity on the part of certain Mint officials who were “covering their tracks.”  We probably will never know the truth of their switching in the displays.

One thing is certain. When recently appointed Mint Director Henry Linderman opened the boxes of dies, hubs, punches, etc. in May of 1867 – those Mint Director James Ross Snowden had sealed in 1860 – ‘sugar plum fairies’ must have been ‘dancing in his head.’ I venture to say that any numismatist of any era would do the same! Whether you would have struck coins for your own profit is between you and your conscience!

Of particular note for the “hidden” original reverse die (Reverse X) theory to be presented later, there was an 1804 obverse die among those inventoried, but no reverse die. Reverse Y, the “restrike” die, was seized by Snowden in 1860 and presumably destroyed. Since it is probable that no “Restrikes” were struck during the sealed-box (1860-1867) period, we can conclude that the “Restrike” 1804 dollars were struck either prior to 1860 or in the 1867-1876 era (If Reverse Y was not destroyed!).  (Bowers, Newman and Bressett, Breen, Julian, etc. all have varying interpretations of the same theory.) This author believes that all “Restrike” 1804 dollars were struck prior to 1860 and has elaborated on this theory below.

As previously noted, there was no reverse Bust dollar die in the boxes when Linderman opened them and inventoried their contents in 1867. This would lead one to conclude that Snowden indeed had the reverse die destroyed, if so, then all “Restrike” 1804 dollars were struck prior to 1860. This would have been Reverse Y or the “Restrike” reverse die. The fact that the “original” Reverse X probably existed at least until 1873-1876[2] makes one aware that, not only were some “Restrike” dollars not returned, likely a reverse die was stolen from the Mint and “returned” at some point to strike the 1801-03 dollars!

That only two of the six “Restrikes” are not circulated gives more credence to this assumption. Since these were “hot potatoes” in 1859-60, their creators, the so-called “Midnight Minters,” would have thought a little circulation and, of course, edge lettering (“how stupid we were to forget that the first time”[3]) would transform them into legitimate rarities – “Original” 1804 silver dollars!  Well, they pulled it off, for a time.  Sometime after 1867, (1867-69 or 1873-76 are the likely time frames) the “Midnight Minters”-Idler-Haseltine-Dubois-and-possibly-Mint Director Henry Linderman connection pulled it off.

As for the weights of the “Restrikes” and when they were made, I think there is a definite connection. As noted, I believe all the fifteen extant 1804 dollars were struck no later than 1860.  The varying weights of the Class II and III examples are due to the clandestine striking, planchets of all sorts used, including, of course, the cut-down 1857 thaler. That pre-1837 weight “Restrikes” are known may indicate that the so-called “Midnight Minters” possibly were being extra cautious after they were caught by their plain-edge “flaw.” The different weights also could just be happenstance as, in their haste to strike these coins, any planchet could have been used.  Also, by having pre-1837 planchet weights, their “Restrikes” became “Originals!” if anyone actually weighed one of their creations.

The fact that the Idler-estate specimen weighed 411 grains and was a pocket piece (EF) and Linderman’s coin weighed 413.2 grains and was not circulated, is interesting, to say the least. The “scandal” of 1859-60 was mostly forgotten by the time Idler’s coin surfaced in his estate and who would question the widow Linderman, when she professed that her husband had to buy his 1804 dollar on the installment plan! Therefore, no one would question these coins as “Originals” – the fact that they were lightweight likely was not noticed. Circulated examples would seem to the collectors of the era as coins that had been around for a while. This was quite a plan if this is true, as the minters would have had to carry them around as pocket pieces and remember not to spend them!

The author does believe that the edge lettering likely was added during Henry Linderman’s first term as Mint Director (1867-69). Of course, it could have been during his second term. The edge lettering obviously could have been added any time between 1859/60 (or whenever they were made) and 1876 – when they first “magically” appeared out of “Vienna,” “England,” and of course, from the long-time Mint cronies – John Haseltine and William Idler.  However, if the lettering was added in 1867-69 and then the coins were “circulated,” evidence of their post-striking edge lettering would be obscured when one was displayed by Captain John Haseltine, along with Proofs of 1801, 1802 and 1803 at a coin auction in 1876 (Edward Cogan’s sale of the Jewett Collection).

Linderman may, or may not, have been in on the lettering, but the confusion is not so confusing if, for his silence, Linderman received an “Original” (sic) lettered-edge 1804 dollar. Perhaps, others also were in on the deal and that is why certain Mint officials wrote letters attesting to the “original dies” used on coins that we now know were “Restrikes.” The fact that one Mint official was related by marriage to William Idler is more than a coincidence! This official, of course, was none other than William Ewing Dubois – who also was the curator of the Mint Collection. Talk about the fox guarding the hen house! Also, the varying stories of how Linderman obtained his example immediately cast him as a likely co-conspirator.

Several of these officials authenticated the James V. Dexter specimen of the 1804 dollar, but in this case, they told the truth. The Dexter example is an Original striking, but their testament that they were struck in 1804 was a statement of misinformation, not duplicity. It was much later before the real story of when the first 1804 dollars were struck became common knowledge. The lawsuit between Dexter and the Chapman brothers is being heavily researched at this time (2013) and likely will become another book on the King of American Coins.

The 1801, 1802, 1803 Issues

The 1801-03 Proof dollars are another story. Their striking quality seems to indicate a striking date of 1858 or later.  They may have been made earlier but their weights indicate an even later period (1873-1876, as noted above.)  However, I will give the three scenarios as I see them for the striking of the 1801-03 coins – from least likely to most likely.

First scenario: These could have been struck between 1834 and 18494 (or pre-1858 as Breen speculates) around the same time as the 1804 Class I dollars with the same reverse. If Chief Coiner Adam Eckfeldt struck them during 1834-37, he would think them little different than the 1804 dollars. Perhaps, he thought, collectors would like to have a date run of Proof Bust dollars! He could not find the original star, date, and letter punches for finishing the 1801 die, so he used what he could find in 1834-37.  We know from the damaged head punch and more modern-style lettering that the 1801-dated die almost certainly was the last one completed – or at least created at a different time than the others. The 1802 and 1803 dies were produced before the 1804, so the date of the dies’ production is irrelevant. Why would the post-1873 weight standard planchets be used is the main, and fatal, flaw with this theory.  Also, the progressive rust pits and more extensive dies cracks on Reverse X also make this time frame highly unlikely.

Second scenario: Snowden (or the “Midnight Minters”) struck them in 1858-60.  They could have seen the 1802 and 1803 dies, as well as the unfinished die.  The unfinished die was finished with the available punches, creating the 1801-dated die. If Snowden was involved, he may have wanted these dates to trade for Washingtonia or other items missing from the Mint Collection. The 1801-03 dollars would not be as desirable as the rare 1804 because these dates could easily be obtained as circulation strikes.  Thus, Snowden could trade these less precious “delicacies” for less valuable items.

The weight bugaboo again makes this an unlikely scenario. All 1801-03 dollars are closer to the pre-1837 weight standard than the 412-grain standard in use during 1858-60. The rust pits on Reverse X could have developed by this time, so the weight variance is the primary reason for doubting this era as the striking period. Also, none of these coins appeared on the numismatic marketplace until the mid-1870s. The reverse die has more extensive cracking, so this only indicates that these dollars were struck after the 1804 issues.

Third scenario: The X reverse die was the one stolen or “hidden in the Mint” and Snowden destroyed Reverse Y thinking it was the “original” as it was the one used on the plain-edge strikes of 1858-1860. Snowden may have not even known about the real “original” Reverse X die. Of course, it is possible that both Reverse X and Y existed into the 1880s. Thus, more Class III 1804 dollars with Reverse Y could have been struck circa 1867-1876 and Reverse X could have been employed circa 1873-1876 to strike 1801-03 coins. That the “Restrike” reverse (Reverse Y) still existed until 1873 seems unlikely, as no Class III 1804 dollars are known struck on 420-grain planchets, while all 1801-03 Proofs are of the post-1873 Trade dollar standard.

The fact that most Class III 1804 dollars are circulated and that all 1801-03 coins are Proof 63 or higher adds to the speculation that 1873 or later is the striking period for the 1801-03 dollars. The progressive rust pits on Reverse X lend even more credence for a much later striking date for the 1801-03 dollars than for the Class I 1804 dollars with that reverse.  Since the size of the rust pit increases, a two or three year time frame is possible for the 1801-03 dollars production. The die crack through NITED also is found progressing during the striking of these Proofs with the rarest of the three, the 1801, having the most extensive cracking. All of these factors prove that all 1801-03 dollars were struck after all the 1804 Originals.

In summary, I think the case is very strong that all of the 1801-03 Proofs were made circa 1873-76, 1804 Class I dollars circa 1834-35, 1804 Class II and III dollars circa 1857-60, but one never knows!  Until 1885, there were many irregularities in the Mint, so one cannot rule out a production date as late as that year for a few 1801-03 dollars. If the “original” Reverse X die was being clandestinely held, the 1801-03 dollars could have been struck anytime between 1873 and 1885 although most of them had “appeared” on the market by 1876-80 through dealer John Haseltine.  These coins all have a rusted reverse die, more extensive cracking, superior striking quality, 420 grain planchets5, edge lettering added after striking, and their first appearance on the numismatic scene in 1876, which makes 1873-76 the most likely era for their striking.

There also has been much debate about the number of these novodels produced. Reports of a dozen or more examples of each date have never been verified and this author believes that the research by Dave Bowers, Mark Borckardt, and others is correct – four sets were made. No more than four examples are known today for any of these three dates. Unless a fifth example is found of one of these three dates, it would seem only four sets were struck. Because of die state, Bowers and Borckardt indicated that the order of production was 1804, 1802, 1803, and finally the 1801 issue. This author agrees with their conclusion.

If technology ever advances to the point that exact dating of coinage can be ascertained, we will have the answer to when these, and other restrikes/novodels, were struck. Until that time, the coin sleuths will have to expand on the theories and discoveries of their predecessors.

Today’s superb photography and the nearly unlimited resources found on the Internet make new discoveries much easier to verify. One can develop a new hypothesis, formulate a theory, and prove it without leaving the computer. We live in the information age, so more advancements in numismatics have been made in the last twenty years than in the previous 150. Books, articles, the Internet, and other information outlets have expanded our knowledge about just about every United States coin. One can only imagine the new numismatic information that will emerge in the next twenty years.


[1] They were destined for the Sultan of Muscat (now Oman), the King of Siam (now Thailand), the Emperor of Cochin-China (now Vietnam), and the Emperor of Japan. Only the first two were delivered before Roberts died; he was buried in Macao, a Portuguese colony that reverted to China in 1999 after the 199-year lease expired.

[2] Since the reverse exhibits more rust and the 1801-03 coins are struck with the post-1873 weight standard (420 grains), one assumes these coins were struck circa 1873-76.  Since the first appearance of these three issues is 1876, this is a logical assumption.

[3] The fact that the edge lettering likely was added later than the striking of these coins would only be deduced by modern numismatists.

4 The story of the Parmelee-Reed specimen has it being purchased during James K. Polk’s administration (1845-49).  Thus, a coin could have been struck at that time or all were struck in 1834 and 1835 as previously theorized.

5 Actually, they range from 419.5 to 423 grains, which is within acceptable tolerance for the 420-grain standard.

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