1804 Dollar – Mystery Solved
The 1804 Silver Dollar is known as the King of American Coins. No coin in the history of the United States has had more mystery or intrigue surrounding its production date, production number and even the actual existence of a production run, as the 1804 Silver Dollar. There are 15 known 1804 Silver Dollars that are “officially recognized” coming from three different classes (appropriately called Class I, Class II and Class III). See page 213 of the hard bound copy of the 2011 A Guide Book of United States Coins for a description of these three variations. While there are only 15 known coins, numerous forgeries were and still are produced, adding to the intrigue about the very existence of the 1804 Dollar.
Official Production Records
In the early years of the US Mint, there occasionally was a variance between the official records and their production reality. For example, according to Mint records, there were 12,167 – 1799 Half Cent coins struck, yet we know today they never existed; the same can be said of the 1797 Quarter (records indicate 252 produced); the 1802 Eagle (15,090 on record) and at least six other coins which were on record as produced, but never were in fact actually, produced.
The official Mint records indicate that 19,570 1804 Dollars were manufactured; however, it is likely these coins were struck using the 1803 obverse without modification, making them indistinguishable from their 1803 brethren.
Conclusions from Researchers Newman and Bressett
According to Eric P. Newman and Kenneth E. Bressett in their book The Fantastic 1804 Dollar, they concluded that the dies of the 1804 Dollar were actually created in 1834 and 1835, and used as part of a “Diplomatic Gifting Program (“DGP”). DGPs of that era involved gifting various important items to foreign diplomats to facilitate warm feelings toward the United States, especially after reaching an agreement on an important initiative. These tokens included firearms, flags and coins from the United States. Diplomatic coin sets were first gifted in 1834 and 1835. The 1804 Dollar was included in the now famous King of Siam set.
Newman and Bressett reach this conclusion based on evidence that appears irrefutable:
Their style, including raised flat borders and edge lettering was not introduced until 1828 or later;
The coins were “proofs” the first of which was officially introduced by the Mint in 1817;
Unlike other coins, the disclosure of the 1804 Dollar did not occur until 38 years later in 1842;
The metal purity level in the 1804 Silver Dollar was indicative of coins minted 25 years later;
The Class II 1804 Dollars were struck over an 1857 coin;
There was a recall of the class II 1804 Dollar coin in 1860. They were subsequently melted.
The general consensus is that Class I 1804 Dollar coins were likely ordered to be produced by President Andrew Jackson in 1834 as part of the DGP; Class II and Class III 1804 Silver Dollar coins were produced unofficially by Mint personnel in the 1850s; these coins were struck over other coins, and illegally sold creating personal profit for Mint employees. Class II and Class III 1804 Dollars are often called “Mint Forgeries.” Although they were manufactured at the US Mint, there was no official sanction to their production; however, it is worth pointing out that none of the 1804 Silver Dollars, including the Class I 1804 Dollar, were actually made in 1804. Further the 1804 Silver Dollars that were struck in 1834 and beyond were never designed to go into circulation, and their production year was kept secret, calling into question their status altogether.