A highly anticipated public auction was underway on the evening of January 24th, 2013. That night, one lucky buyer would leave Stack’s Bowers Galleries with an unmatchable treasure. In the prestigious New York City auction house, buyers waited anxiously to bid on a rare coin that was expected to sell for more than any other, ever. The coin was a 1794 Flowing Hair Dollar, and it was a coin with a backstory deeply rooted in early American history.

America Needed a Dollar

The story of the Flowing Hair Dollar goes back to the 1780s, when leading citizens were pushing the government for the establishment of a central mint. The sentiment was that the creation of the new government demanded a corresponding official coinage that could be used across all the existing states at that time. However, other individuals opposed an official U.S. coinage, preferring that each state strike their own coins.

The United State Constitution, ratified in 1789, gave Congress the power to coin money and regulate its value. Yet, it wasn’t until 1791 that Alexander Hamilton, then the Secretary of the Treasury, presented a report that included suggestions for the striking of America’s first coin. On the strength of that report, Congress passed a joint resolution authorizing the creation of a federal mint. Still, the mint was only approved in theory. The resolution gave no specifics or appropriations for it.

In his yearly state of the union address in October 1791, George Washington strongly encouraged Congress to move forward with the joint resolution. He pointed out that the poorer classes especially were suffering because the scarcity of small change.

The Idea for the Coin Takes Shape

The Senate started taking steps immediately to put the joint resolution into action. They appointed Robert Morris, one of the Founding Fathers of the U.S., to take on this important task. The committee’s report included a description of their vision of what the first U.S. dollar should be.

The suggested coin was based on the Spanish Dollar. Intending to make the U.S. coin like that dollar, the new U.S. dollar would be minted from a silver/copper alloy. But, the assay of the Spanish Dollar, which was actually 90.28% fine silver, so the first U.S. dollar would end up containing a little less fine silver - 89.24% of the metal content.

Choosing the design of the coin was even more problematic. Morris wanted to feature the bust of George Washington on the obverse of every U.S. coin. A House bill was even passed to that effect, but they later modified that bill to say that the obverse would always show the head of a figure representing Liberty. That bill, too, was rejected by the Senate.

Eventually, the Coinage Act of 1792 was passed. This act made provisions for the founding and building of the U.S. Mint. The Mint opened in 1793, but all the coins minted in its first year were copper coins. Now, the time was ripe for a U.S. silver dollar. Engraver Robert Scot started working on designs for that dollar early in 1794.

The U.S. Coinage Act of 1792, as it was finally passed, required a bust of Liberty on the obverse and an eagle on the reverse. It was important that this coin be engraved carefully. After all, this would be the U.S. coin most used in international trade. Scot created a magnificent hub for the new coin, which featured a depiction of Liberty facing right with her hair flowing toward the left of the obverse. The reverse had an eagle surrounded by a wreath. The silver content was changed to a flat 90%. Frederick Geiger added the lettering to the dies, and the coin was ready to be minted.

The Minting of the First Dollar

The press that was used to make the first coins was a hand-powered screw press made for use on smaller coins. The resulting 1,758 coins were mostly poorly and lightly struck. Many were rejected and went back to the melting pot. The Secretary of State, David Rittenhouse, sent one of the early coins to George Washington. Other early coins were given to important visitors at the mint. Rittenhouse, disappointed with the results, stopped mint production until the rudimentary press could be replaced with better equipment.

When the new equipment arrived, the Flowing Hair Dollar went back into production, but now it was the 1795 coins. Certain coin experts have suggested that there might have been some Flowing Hair Dollars minted in 1795 that bore the 1794 date, but that is not proven. What is known for sure is that in October 1795, the Draped Bust Dollar replaced the Flowing Hair Dollar, and that first dollar design was never used again for an official U.S. silver dollar.

The Flowing Hair Dollar Gains Value

It’s likely that most people realized right away that this first official U.S. dollar would become valuable as time went by. Less than 100 years later, in 1880, The Coin Journal quoted a value of $50 for a good quality 1794 Flowing Hair Dollar. As of 2016, the inflation-adjusted value would be $1,176.50! The coin continued to gain value, especially for the few good quality coins that remained.

The 1794 Flowing Hair coin was always relatively rare, especially in light of the poor minting results. A Flowing Hair coin in good condition was almost unheard-of, even among rare coin dealers. However, that changed when a PCGS certified a Specimen-66 grade 1794 Flowing Hair dollar that, judging by its specific characteristics, may very well have been the very first U.S. dollar struck in the first year the Mint was in operation.

The Cardinal Collection

In the 1960s, long after the minting of the 1794 coin, a young boy began a coin collection. The child was only seven years old when his aunt gave him a 1922 Peace Dollar. The boy became fascinated with his Peace Dollar and read extensively about coins during his youth.

When the boy became an adult, he got away from collecting coins for a time. But, when he saw a coin bank that was given to the newborn daughter of a friend, he recalled how much he enjoyed collecting when he was young. After that, he began adding coins and eventually upgraded his collection to better quality and rarer coins. At a certain point, he became most interested in early U.S. dollars.

In 1996, a reporter contacted this collector to do an interview about his rare coin collection. The collector gave his collection a name. He called it The Cardinal Collection. He liked the name, because it sounded fittingly regal for the stately old coins it contained. The reporter referred to the collection as the Cardinal Collection of Early Dollars. In 2003, the collector, who remained anonymous for that interview, explained the story behind his collection to PCGS.

Later, it came to light that it was Martin Logies who built the Cardinal Collection. In 2010, the Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation bought the Specimen-66 grade 1794 Flowing Hair dollar for $7.85 million and added it to the Cardinal Collection. It was this Cardinal Collection that became the focus of the Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ most anticipated 2013 coin auction.

The Auction

At Stack’s Bowers Galleries, the auction was about to begin. This auction house was built on the foundation of Stack’s, the oldest rare coin auction and retail company, and Bowers and Merena Auctions, which also deals in rare coins as well as rare paper money. On January 24, 2013, though, it’s unlikely that attendees were concentrating on this history of auction houses. They were there to be a part of the excitement that was sure to surround the sale of the famed Cardinal Collection.

The crowd must have been restless, waiting for the moment to arrive when the Cardinal Collection would be brought up for auction. The entire collection was extremely valuable and highly sought after, but it was the 1794 Flowing Hair Dollar that caught the attention of the waiting collectors. This specific coin was in Gem Condition, graded as Specimen-66 by PCGS. This exact coin was the finest known example of its kind. Beyond that, it was very likely the very first official U.S. one dollar coin ever struck in the new country’s first mint.

When this superb coin was introduced, an awed hush must have fallen over the crowd before the bidding began in earnest. Once started, the bidding was fast and energetic, with the price going up rapidly with each excited bid. Finally, one buyer remained in the race for the coin. This private buyer made his bid and won the prize.

The total price of that purchase was $10, 016,875. A new record was set in that moment. This was the highest price ever paid for any coin ever in the world.

What Coin Will Be Your Most Valued Treasure?

There is only one coin exactly like the 1794 Flowing Hair Dollar sold at auction on that incredible evening. If you’re like most coin collectors, paying over $10 million for a coin is out of the question and even, perhaps, beyond your power to imagine. Yet, there are still many other coins that are worth collecting and valuable in their own right.

Coin collectors are a rare breed. They are interested in monetary value, of course. Yet, to most collectors, the designs, the minting peculiarities, and the stories behind coins are equally interesting and worthwhile.

If you don’t know what coin to start with or add to your collection, there are many books and websites that can help educate you on what’s available. You can also talk to a precious metals advisor, who can find out what interests you and suggest coins you might enjoy owning.

At GMRgold, our primary purpose is to serve our customers needs and help them fulfill their desires to own gold, silver, and other precious metals. Whether you’re a money-minded investor, a history-loving collector, an appreciator of coin design, or a combination of these, our precious metals experts can help you learn more about the pure satisfaction of owning valuable coins. You can call us during business hours at 1 (877) 795-9585 for a free consultation to learn more and start building your collection now.