1804 Silver Dollar Sells for $3.88 Million at Heritage U.S. Coin Auction
A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds
Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding U.S. coins, coin markets, and coin auctions #181 …..
During the evening of Friday, August 9, Heritage conducted a ‘Platinum Night’ session as part of this firm’s pre-ANA auction at a hotel near Chicago. The ANA Convention is currently in progress at the Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Illinois, and ends on Sat., Aug. 17. The star of this auction was a representative of the most famous of all U.S. coins, a Draped Bust Silver Dollar dated “1804,” which sold for $3,887,500.
I. General Background
There exist eight Class I 1804 dollars (“originals”), one Class II 1804 Dollar, and six Class III 1804 dollars (“restrikes”). By tradition, all are categorized as “Proofs.” They are certainly not business strikes.
If any silver dollars were minted during the year 1804, those probably would have been dated 1803. U.S. Mint records, which could be wrong, indicate that thousands of silver dollars were struck in 1804. From 1803 or 1804 to 1834, no silver dollars were minted.
In1834, President Andrew Jackson ordered that Proof Sets be produced to be given as gifts to the heads of state of some Asian nations. Essentially, 1834 Proof Sets each included a silver dollar and an Eagle ($10 gold coin) that is dated “1804,” along with 1834 dated representatives of the denominations of the time period: half cents, large cents, half dimes, dimes, quarters, half dollars, Quarter Eagles ($2½ gold coins), and Half Eagles ($5 gold coins).
The Proof silver dollars struck in 1834 or 1835 are dated 1804 because some U.S. Mint officials honestly mis-interpreted the law and mistakenly figured that, to be legal, Proof silver dollars struck in 1834 or 1835 must be dated 1804, as U.S. Mint records indicated that 1804 was the last year in which silver dollars were struck for circulation. They employed similar reasoning when they decided to strike Proof 1804 Eagles in 1834 or 1835. They wrongly concluded that it would be illegal to mint 1834 dated Eagles in 1834.
Class I 1804 dollars were struck in 1834 or 1835 to be used for diplomatic gifts. It is known that two ‘1834/1804’ Proofs Sets were delivered by a U.S. diplomatic envoy, one to the King of Siam (Thailand) and the other to the Emperor of “Muscat & Oman,” now the Sultanate of Oman. Additional Proof Sets, with 1804 dollars, were probably prepared to be given as gifts to other chiefs of state in Asia.
Class III 1804 dollars and the lone Class II piece are all regarded as ‘restrikes,’ though these are really novodels, creations that are different from corresponding “originals.” They were struck in 1858 or later to be sold to collectors and coin dealers.
Class I 1804 dollars have more historical significance and it is generally held that they are slightly more valuable than Class III 1804 dollars. As the surviving, privately held Class I 1804 dollars tend to be of significantly higher quality than the surviving, privately held Class III 1804 dollars, it would be difficult to theorize as to how much of a premium a Class I 1804 would command over a Class III 1804 dollar of the same grade and of very similar appearance. If such a pair existed, then perhaps the Class I coin would be worth 10% to 25% more than the Class III 1804 dollar.
The Mickley-Hawn-Queller-Greensboro Class I 1804 is of higher quality than at least two of the three privately owned Class III 1804 dollars. The lone Class II 1804 dollar, which was struck over a Swiss coin, is in the Smithsonian.
II. Auction Results
The pre-convention auction as a whole realized more than $28 million. According to Todd Imhof, executive vice president of Heritage, the “Platinum Night total was $18,875,771. The sell-through rate was 94% by quantity, 92% by value.” I will discuss other coins in this sale in the future, including a 1795 Eagle ($10 gold coin) and an 1851 Shultz $5 territorial coin that were both formerly in the Eliasberg Collection.
Proof quarters and silver dollars from the Greensboro Collection were consigned to this event, including this 1804 dollar. Two recent columns were about Proof Liberty Seated Quarters in the Greensboro Collection, the NGC certified “Proof-68” 1850 and the unique Proof 1855-S. (Clickable links are in blue.) These articles provide some background regarding the Greensboro Collection, as does a report last October. The focus here is on the Mickley-Hawn-Queller-Greensboro 1804 dollar.
At the auction, Jim Halperin bid on behalf of the buyer of this 1804 silver dollar. Todd Imhof represented the underbidder, who bowed out at $3,818,750 (=$3.25 million +17.5%).
Halperin is the co-founder and co-chairman of Heritage. Jim reveals that “the buyer is a lifelong collector who has wanted an 1804 dollar ever since seeing comic book ads for them as a small child, but until the last decade or two, had considered it an impossible dream.”
In response to my questions, Halperin noted that the buyer owns “many” other Great Rarities and also owns rarities in other fields of collectibles. The buyer of the 1804 dollar did not buy any other coins in this pre-ANA auction, “but has bought other high profile coins in [previous] Heritage auctions,” Jim adds.
Although the exceptionally detailed and impressive roster by David Stone in the Heritage catalog indicates that the price realized in 1993 was “$475,000,” I am almost certain that the auction result then was $522,500. I was present at that Reed Hawn sale in New York in Oct. 1993.That same night, the Olsen-Hawn 1913 Liberty Nickel sold for $962,500.
In Oct. 1993, David Queller was the successful bidder for this 1804. Reed Hawn was the consignor. In April 2008, Heritage auctioned Queller’s collection of silver dollars, which was complete ‘by date’ (and Mint location). A legendary collector, Joseph Mickley, owned this coin in the middle of the19th century. Mickley was among the first to systematically collect U.S. coins ‘by date.’
When it was auctioned in April 2008, the Mickley-Hawn-Queller 1804 realized $3,737,500. When I compiled a list of the Top Ten Auction Records earlier this year, the 2008 price for this 1804 was tied with the Jan. 2010 result for the Olsen-Hawn 1913 Liberty Nickel. The Friday night result of $3,887,500 is now alone in the number seven slot.
III. Quality, Appeal & Value
This 1804 Draped Bust Silver Dollar was consigned by the collector known as “Greensboro.” This coin was PCGS certified as “Proof-62” in 2013. Before 2008, it was assigned this same certification by the NGC.
When Stack’s (New York) auction this Mickley-Hawn 1804 dollar in 1993, it was cataloged as a coin with substantial wear. In the third (2006) edition of A Buyer’s Guide to Silver Dollars and Trade Dollars of the United States, written by Q. David Bowers and edited by John Dannreuther, this same 1804 dollar is listed as “Proof-50.” Most grading experts grade it as “55+” or “58,” possibly as a low “61.”
Of the fifteen surviving 1804 dollars, eight are in private collections or other private holdings. Of those eight, I recollect that three are definitely of higher quality than the Mickley-Hawn-Greensboro coin. The Childs-Muscat 1804 dollar was PCGS graded “68” in 1999 or 1998. The ‘King of Siam’ 1804 dollar is PCGS graded “67,” though it was, for many years, in an NGC holder with a “Proof-65” certification. The Stickney-Eliasberg 1804 was PCGS graded “65” in 1997.
In this Platinum Night catalog, David Stone refers to the Dexter-Dunham 1804 as being PCGS graded “65.” My impression, though, is that the sole “Proof-65” 1804 listed on PCGS CoinFacts is the Stickney-Eliasberg coin. It is true, though, that other information listed on the same PCGS CoinFacts page is puzzling. It is said there that the Stickney-Eliasberg 1804 has an “estimated grade” of “64,” yet it was PCGS certified as “Proof-65” in 1997.
When I last saw the Dexter-Dunham 1804 in July 1993, it was PCGS graded “64,” which was a controversial grade, as a letter “D” had been punched into it by a collector. So, it is debatable as to whether it is of higher quality than the Mickley-Hawn-Queller coin. The Dexter-Dunham piece, however, has no wear and has more pizazz than the Mickley-Hawn-Queller 1804. Indeed, the Dexter-Dunham 1804 is lively.
Even so, the Mickley-Hawn-Queller piece is a wonderful coin. In general, the fact that the “62” grade is a little generous has caused some experts to be distracted and to not fully appreciate the excellent qualities of this coin.
The obverse (front) is attractive to very attractive and the reverse (back) is more than very attractive. The abrasions that are very apparent in enlarged images are not bothersome when this coin is examined in actuality.
Indeed, published pictures do not convey the attractiveness of this coin. It has fully reflective surfaces. The russet-gray and mottled green toning on the obverse is soothing and very pleasing. Neat blue and orange-russet areas can be found on both sides, more so on the obverse, if I remember correctly.
The creamy russet-purple toning that covers much of the reverse is not dark and is exceptional. Though this color is unusual, I recollect the same tone on the reverse of the ‘King of Siam’ 1804 dollar. (The most often found images of the ‘King of Siam’ 1804 give the impression that brown-russet tones dominate the coin, which is not close to the truth.)
This russet-purple color on the Mickley-Hawn 1804 and on the ‘King of Siam’ 1804 probably relates to the cases that were used at the time by officials at the Philadelphia Mint. The seemingly original case for the ‘King of Siam’ Proof Set survives and, I believe, still accompanies the set. I last saw the ‘King of Siam Set’ and its 19th century case in 2004. It is very plausible that the Mickley-Hawn-Queller 1804 dollar was, for at least ten years, housed in a case that was made of the same or very similar materials. Both these coins are ‘Class I’ 1804 dollars, which were minted in 1834 or 1835.
The attractiveness of the toning and other positive qualities of this coin have been overlooked, partly because of controversial 62 grade. I maintain that the Mickley-Hawn-Queller 1804 would have received a CAC sticker if it was PCGS or NGC graded “58” or “58+” and then submitted to the CAC. (Experts at the CAC ignore the plus aspect of ‘plus grades’ assigned by grading services.) While I suggest that there is a fair chance that it would attracted more serious bidders at the auction if it has been certified with a lower grade AND had a CAC sticker, Scott Travers and Andy Lustig think otherwise.
“There are only five Class I 1804 Dollars in private hands. Yes, this may be the worst of them,” asserts Andy Lustig, “but it is attractive, very presentable and a good value. As for the precise numeric grade, really, who cares?”
Scott Travers maintains that “grades of Great Rarities are being assigned by grading services on a relative basis, such that the grade of each coin is determined according to how coins above and below each have been certified. The academic grade is becoming less relevant for a Great Rarity. They are coins of impeccable reputation with impressive pedigrees, which reach back generations. Great Rarities like 1804 dollars and 1913 Liberty Head Nickels stand on their own merits. They do not need to be graded by a grading service. Great Rarities are one of the few areas of numismatics where certification is not a necessity; it is a bonus. People who buy these Great Rarities care about how they rank, not about the specific grades assigned by grading services,” Scott emphasizes.
This statement by Travers brings to mind the controversy over the grade of the Adams-Carter-French Class III 1804 dollar. In 1989, it was PCGS graded “45.” By Nov. 2001, it had been upgraded by the PCGS to “58.”
The Mickley-Hawn-Queller 1804 is of higher quality than the Adams-Carter-French piece. If a 58 grade had been assigned to the Mickley-Hawn-Queller 1804 before it was auctioned in 2008, some collectors would then be under the impression that these two 1804 dollars are of the same grade, which is not true. It is relevant that, after the Stickney-Eliasberg 1804 dollar was PCGS graded “65” in 1997, the ‘King of Siam’ 1804 was upgraded from “65” to “67.”
Grades and rankings aside, given the fame of 1804 silver dollars and the attractiveness of this specific coin, the $3,887,500 result seems reasonable, from a cultural perspective. In Jan. 2011, Heritage auctioned a special 1907 Eagle, which I argue is a pattern, for more than $2 million. Would most collectors agree that this 1804 dollar should be worth more than twice as much as that 1907 Eagle?
To me, the Mickley-Hawn-Queller 1804 is far more attractive and exciting overall than the 1913 Liberty Nickel that sold for $3.17 million on April 25, 2013. Yes, 1913 Liberty Nickels are much rarer. Even so, I have studied both coins and the Mickley-Hawn-Queller 1804 is just a more pleasing coin to hold and treasure. Plus, coins made during the 1830s under direct orders from President Andrew Jackson have an intriguing historical aura.
©2013 Greg Reynolds