When one thinks about Silver Dollars, your mind inevitably focuses on the rarest Dollar of them all, the legendary 1804 Silver Dollar. Two things immediately stand out about the 1804 Dollar. The first thing is the mintage, according to mint records over 19,000 1804 Dollars were struck. The second thing is reality with only 15 known pieces in existence.
So, what happened to all those thousand of 1804 Dollars? One theory had the entire mintage shipped aboard a U.S. Navy vessel tasked with suppressing Pirates along the Barbary Coast. The coins were meant to be payroll for the crew, or ransom for an imprisoned individual. According to the narrative, the Sailors either spent their Dollars during shore leave or the Ship's Purser paid the required ransom, and they were all subsequently melted. A darker scenario has the ship sinking along the way and surrendering all the Dollars to King Neptune's Treasury, never to see the light of day again.
Another theory posited that the entire mintage was shipped to Central America where they circulated for a few decades then slowly disappeared into the melting pot or into secret caches yet to be found. When you think about the fact that Ecuador, in South America, loves our Dollar coins and circulates them freely, the second theory perhaps takes on more substance.
But the real truth is enmeshed in early Mint practices that played loosey goosey with the rules. First of all, it has been fairly well established that the 19,000 plus Dollars struck in 1804 were all dated 1803. This was a fairly common practice at the early mint where it was believed that wasting a good die (a die that took great skill and effort to produce) should not be wasted even if the calendar had turned another year. The Dollars dated 1804 were minted in two waves, the first 8 were produced the mid 1830's and the other seven were produced in the late 1850's and into the 1860's. The motivation for the two groupings are quite different. The first 8 1804 Dollars were minted to be part of presentation sets to be gifted during diplomatic missions. The final 7 were produced in a much more slipshod manner, one actually having been struck over a Swiss Shooting Thaler, for prominent collectors who wished to add an 1804 Dollar to their cabinet. This was also a common practice at the Mint in the 19th Century and gifted the numismatic community with numerous weird and wonderful patterns and varieties.
If you think about the 1804 Dollar at all, think about the wonderful research primarily by Mr. Eric P. Newman and Mr. Kenneth E. Bressett, that illuminated all the details about her mintage. Their book, The Fantastic 1804 Dollar, is a MUST read for anyone that loves a great detective story and loves an equally great history. Thanks for your time, National Coin Week's theme "Money Big and Bold" certainly describes the 1804 Dollar to a tee.
1. The Fantastic 1804 Dollar cover
2. My 1803 Dollar (was it minted in 1804?}
3. Type of Swiss Shooting Thaler that was overstruck as a type 2 1804 Dollar
4. Type 1 1804 Dollar, PR62
Newman, Bressett - The Fantastic 1804 Dollar, 1962, Whitman Publishing Company