The King of American Coins – the Dollar of 1804 – Part 1
Background of the ANA’s Idler 1804 Dollar as Exhibited at the 2011 World’s Fair of Money in Chicago - Part 1
By Mark Ferguson for CoinWeek – MFrarecoins.com
The “Idler Specimen” of the 1804 Dollar, a coin issue that’s often referred to as “The King of American Coins,” will be exhibited by the American Numismatic Association at the association’s World’s Fair of Money in Chicago, August 16 through the 20th. There are just fifteen “1804” dated silver dollars known to exist, and the age-old question is: “Why are so few 1804 Dollars known when there were 19,570 silver dollars coined during that year?”
This question went unanswered for considerably more than a century, from 1843, when the first 1804 Dollar was obtained by a collector from the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia, to 1962, when the book, The Fantastic 1804 Dollar, written by Eric P. Newman and Kenneth E. Bressett, was published by Whitman Publishing. The answer to this mystery was so elusive that the authors had to frantically call Whitman Publishing, back in 1962, to say, “Stop the presses!”
Some people consider 1804 Dollars to be “fantasy” pieces that are not real coins because they weren’t intended to be used in commerce. But every time an 1804 Dollar comes on the market these days, someone pays millions of dollars for it. The 1804 Dollar has always been one of the most, if not, the most, written about coin issue ever. Collectors dream about owning one, and most people actually shake with excitement the first time they’re able to hold one, even if it’s in a holder. I know…I’ve held a few of them “raw,” in other words, unholdered, and have watched others do the same.
But it’s the coin’s story that gives these circular pieces of metal their excitement. And when you add mystery to history the story gets even more interesting. The complete story of the 1804 Dollar was originally revealed in The Fantastic 1804 Dollar. In more recent years, Whitman Publishing produced a “Tribute Edition” of the same book. This edition has additional chapters that include: “A Remembrance with the Authors” and “Edmund Roberts and the Diplomatic Coins,” among others. Click on this title, The Fantastic 1804 Dollar Tribute Edition, to purchase your copy of this fun and historical book.
Briefly, the 1804 Dollar was created in 1834 when President Andrew Jackson ordered four sets of coins that were taken on a trade mission to be given to foreign diplomats as gifts. All the coins in circulation in 1834 were available as presentation specimens (proof strikes) except the $10 gold coin and the silver dollar. Mint records showed that 1804 was the last year each of these coins was struck. Dies were found for the $10 gold coin, but no dies were found for the silver dollar, because the silver dollars struck in the year 1804, as listed in the Mint registry, were very likely dated “1803,” and no dies dated “1804” were ever made before then. Consequently, a new die was made for the silver dollar coin dated “1804” and used in 1834 to strike the presentation pieces for the diplomatic gifts sets.
And if that mystery wasn’t enough to solve, there are eleven more 1804 Dollars known. Why were they coined? When were they coined? And, how did they get out of the Philadelphia Mint? Each example has its own story. The Idler specimen, now owned by the American Numismatic Association, was purchased from the estate of the late William Idler in 1908 by H.O. Granberg, of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, my home town. In fact, Granberg and my great grandfather, his personal physician, were personal friends. Many years later, in an unrelated turn of events, I purchased the home of H.O. Granberg and most of its contents.
Curiously, Granberg died about seven years before I was born, but the utility bills and property tax bill were transferred directly from his name to my name, about three dozen years after he died. One of his sons remained living in the home and just kept paying the bills. So, H.O. Granberg’s furniture, library, and many other belongings were still in the house when I purchased it, along with most of those items.
On top of a bookshelf in an upstairs bedroom I found several hand written letters written to H.O. Granberg in 1908 from John W. Haseltine and others about the 1804 Dollar owned by the late William Idler of Philadelphia. A few years later I transferred those original letters to Aubrey Bebee, who donated the Idler 1804 Dollar to the American Numismatic Association in 1991. The ANA did not receive those letters along with the donation of the coin, and they are now presumed missing, as Mrs. Bebee could not account for the letters after her husband’s death. Copies of these letters will be displayed in the exhibit area at the 2011 Chicago World’s Fair of Money in Chicago. More information about the Idler 1804 Dollar and these letters will be found at CoinWeek.com during the coming weeks.
Two years before he purchase the Idler 1804 dollar, H.O. Granberg purchased his first “1804” dated silver dollar. That coin will be displayed at this year’s World’s Fair of Money in the exhibit area as well. It’s not the most eye appealing coin. It’s been cleaned and has a large “X” scratched into its reverse. Displayed with this coin will be original documents, like the 1906 receipt from the coin’s purchase by H.O. Granberg, several letters describing how the coin was tested at the Philadelphia Mint, and the 1913 B. Max Mehl auction catalog of which this coin was the only coin illustrated on the front cover. The trouble is…this coin is not a real “1804” silver dollar! It’s an alteration of an 1800 (B-1) silver dollar in which the last “0” of the date was reshaped into a “4.”
This coin was handed down to H.O. Granberg’s son, Henry. He kept it in a red flip top case that had two circular depressions in it, suggesting that two silver dollar size coins could be exhibited in this case, which was convenient for displaying the obverse and the reverse of two silver dollars. Henry also had two framed pieces of art from 1887 that documented the 1804 Dollar owned by James V. Dexter. Curiously, the Dexter 1804 Dollar illustrated in the artwork was displayed in a very similar red case exhibiting both the obverse and the reverse of the Dexter 1804 silver dollar in depressions identical to those in the red case. Could this be the same case that’s illustrated in this 1887 work of art? Circumstances support this conclusion!
Through research, I have turned up an abundance of information and objects related to the Dexter 1804 Dollar. Some of these items will also be displayed in the exhibit area of the Chicago ANA convention. All three of these coins will be tied together in the exhibit by a common thread – the H.O. Granberg family.
Mark Ferguson was a coin grader for PCGS , a market analyst for Coin Values and has been a coin dealer for more than 40 years. He has written for the ANA, Coin Dealer Newsletter, Coin World, Numismatic News, , Coin Values, The Numismatist and currently has a weekly column on CoinWeek. Mark can be reached at Mark Ferguson Rare Coins ( www.mfrarecoins.com)