The 1804 Silver Dollar

If you were to crack open a “2010 Guide Book of United States Coins,” also affectionately known as the “Red Book,” and turn to page 413, you will see a list of the Top 250 Coin Prices Realized at Auction.  Seven of the top 50 coins on this list are the 1804 Draped Bust Silver Dollar.  One specimen sold for $4.14 million and another sold for $3.737 million! 

The 1804 U.S. dollar is one of the most publicized rarities in the entire series of U.S. coins.  In total, only 15 specimens are known to exist.  As the auction results prove, collectors are willing to pay millions of dollars to obtain one of these treasured silver dollars. Most collectors will never have the opportunity to own one of these rare storybook coins. However, there IS another 1804 “U.S.” silver dollar that circulated in America and features a unique and treasured history in its right.

The story begins on May 10, 1775, nearly one month after the British attacked at the Battles of Lexington and Concord.  The Second Continental Congress, consisting of many of our forefathers, convened in Philadelphia.  This “governmental body” consisted of delegates from the Thirteen Colonies and included Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, John Hancock and Benjamin Franklin.  Their tasks included raising armies, directing strategy, appointing diplomats, and making formal treaties. 

One major agenda item included the discussion of money.  During this time, the mainstay of coinage circulating in Colonial America wasn’t that of U.S. coins, but of coins from other nations.  And of these, the most commonly traded coins were that of Spanish origin.

On April 19, 1776, the Second Continental Congress appointed a committee to examine and ascertain the value of silver and gold coins currently circulating in the colonies.  After months of research, this committee filed a report on September 2, 1776 and included in the report are references to such Spanish denominations such as the “Spanish Milled Dollar.”  As a result, our Forefather granted the Spanish Milled Dollar legal tender status in the Thirteen Colonies.

Fast forward to 1804, the U.S. Mint had been established and was primarily striking and issuing small denomination coinage.  Even after 12 years of existence, the output of the U.S. Mint proved insufficient for the requirements of commerce and coins from foreign countries, namely the Spanish Milled Dollar, continued to actively circulate.  This coin continued to be accepted even after the U.S. issued the Coinage Act of 1857 which retired Spanish silver coins from circulation.  It also travelled to faraway lands in China as evidenced by “chop marks” struck into them as a form of acceptance.

Even though the 1804 Draped Bust Silver Dollar garners all the attention, the 1804 Spanish Milled Dollar proved to be very American in its own right.  Who knows, maybe an 1804 Spanish Milled Dollar lined the pockets of Aaron Burr during his legendary duel with Alexander Hamilton that same year. I suppose one will never know.