The dollar was authorized by the Mint Act of April 2, 1792, although production of the coins did not happen until November, 1794. The primary reason for the delay was the excessive bonding requirement specified by Congress: $10,000 apiece for the chief coiner and assayer, each of whose pay was $1,500 per year. Mint Director David Rittenhouse, who was also a well-known mathematician and astronomer, worked through Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson to convince Congress to lower this onerous requirement. By the time approval came and the bonds were posted, it was too late to mint silver coins for 1793. The early dollar was a prestigious coin for the new nation, and the denomination was adopted as the standard U.S. monetary unit. Slightly larger and heavier than later Morgan or Peace dollars, Flowing Hair dollars were intended to circulate at par (the same value) with the more common and familiar Spanish and Mexican dollars, or pieces of eight, which were legal tender at the time.
Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries
The early dollars were produced from dies that were hand-made, which accounts for the several variations seen in surviving examples. Blanks for the Flowing Hair dollars were weighed before the coins were struck, and too-heavy blanks were filed to remove excess silver. These adjustment marks, often still visible, are a reminder of the history associated with early coin production. Some underweight blanks were adjusted using a small silver plug in the center of the planchet, an easier and less expensive fix than melting unacceptable coins and starting over. Limitations in the ability of the Mint to produce a coin of this size resulted in mostly weakly struck coins for 1794, some of which were rejected for circulation. At least one 1795 coin is known to have been struck on a 1794 dollar, so it is likely some of the rejected coins were reused as planchets. Dollar production stopped after 1,758 coins were minted for 1794, resuming in May, 1795, after the Mint procured a press capable of producing more completely struck pieces.
On the obverse a youthful Liberty faces right, head held high and long hair flowing unfettered down the back of her neck. The word LIBERTY is centered at the top inside a dentilled rim, with the date centered at the bottom. Fifteen six-point stars split eight to the left, seven to the right along the rim between the top and bottom text, the number representing the states then in the Union. The reverse displays UNITED STATES OF AMERICA along the edge of the coin inside a dentilled rim. Just inside the legend is an encircling pair of olive branches, crossed and tied at the bottom but slightly separated at the top. In the center a right-facing eagle with outstretched wings rests on a surface, perhaps a cloud or a rock. The left wing (viewers right) is in front of the olive branch wreath, the right behind it. No denomination or mintmark appears on the coins; all were minted in Philadelphia.
Only about 150 1794 Flowing Hair dollars have been certified, including a remarkable few as Gem or finer. Over 2,000 1795 issues are listed in census/ population reports, with some pieces classified as prooflike. All 1794 issues are very expensive to extremely expensive, listing for a million dollars and more as Select Uncirculated and finer. Dollars of 1795 are expensive at all grades, extremely expensive as About Uncirculated and finer. The 1795 Silver Plug version is higher priced than other 1795 varieties, more so at XF through AU grades, and the 1795 Two Leaves slightly more expensive than the Three Leaves at all grades. No proof examples are known, but there is a 1794 coin with reflective surfaces and a full strike from properly aligned and undamaged dies. This piece is considered a specimen example, and is believed by some to be the first silver dollar struck by the U.S. Mint.
Designer: Robert Scot
Circulation Mintage: high 160,295 (1795, estimated), low 1,758 (1794)
Proof Mintage:none known, but one specimen example has been identified
Denomintion: $1.00 One Dollar
Diameter: ±39-40 mm, edge with HUNDRED CENTS ONE DOLLAR OR UNIT with decorations or ornaments between the words
Metal content: 89.24% silver, 10.76% copper. However, there are records indicating the coins were actually struck at 90% silver and 10% copper, a fineness preferred both by Albion Cox, Assayer of the Mint, and Mint Director David Rittenhouse (though each preferred a different final coin weight). The 90% silver composition was just within legal tolerances but it was not officially authorized by Congress.
Weight: ±26.96 grams
Varieties:Several known including the 1794 Silver Plug (unique), 1795 Two Leaves and Three Leaves (the number of branch leaves below each of the eagle’s wings), the 1795 Silver Plug, and other minor die variations.
Additional Resources :
Coin Encyclopedia: www.ngccoin.com
A Buyer’s Guide to Silver Dollars & Trade Dollars of the United States. Q. David Bowers (author), John Dannreuther (editor). Zyrus Press.
The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. R.S Yeoman (author), Kenneth Bressett (editor). Whitman Publishing.
A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Don Taxay. Arco Publishing
Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Walter Breen. Doubleday.