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Overview of the Draped Bust silver dollar.

Updated on July 22, 2011
The Draped Bust Dollar: minted for less than a decade.
The Draped Bust Dollar: minted for less than a decade. | Source

Draped Bust silver dollar.

History in the making.

This silver dollar was produced by the United States mint, located in Philadelphia, from 1795 to 1804. The front of the coin depicts a representation of the allegorical figure Liberty. The reverse features an eagle very similar to the one designed by Robert Scot for the flowing hair silver dollar. Then, beginning in 1798 a new design of a larger eagle appears on the back. The change from the flowing hair silver dollar to that of the Draped Bust silver dollar may either be attributed to “public outcry” over the former design, or to change in leadership at the Philadelphia mint. Whatever the case, the Draped Bust silver dollar is a beautiful coin, and it is uncertain who to attribute this design to. Some people say that it is the work of Robert Scot. Other sources say that it is the work of Gilbert Stuart, a famous portrait artist whose work has graced the one dollar bill since 1929.

A very civilized front.
A very civilized front. | Source

Overview of the obverse.

For the entire run of the coin the front features a depiction of Liberty: a woman with long hair whose upper chest is covered by the top of her dress. There appears to be a ribbon in her hair, and she is in profile facing to the right. Above her head is the word LIBERTY, and beneath her is the date (1795 to 1804 depending on the coin in question). There are also a number of stars in the front of the coin. During the first couple of years of production they numbered 15, one star for each of the original 13 colonies, and one star each for Vermont and Kentucky; these representing all the states in the union, when this variety was minted. For a short while, there were 16 stars on the coin: because Tennessee had become a state. Aware of the incredible expansion imminent for the United States, the government decided that it would be foolhardy to add a star to the coin with the incorporation of each new state. With this in mind, the mint determined that 13 stars, representing the original colonies, would grace the front of this coin.

Pictured here is the reverse of the Flowing Hair Silver dollar, almost identical to the reverse on the Draped Bust silver dollar (1795 - 1798).
Pictured here is the reverse of the Flowing Hair Silver dollar, almost identical to the reverse on the Draped Bust silver dollar (1795 - 1798). | Source
The reverse from 1798 through 1804.
The reverse from 1798 through 1804. | Source

Two different reverses.

From 1795 to 1798 the so-called small eagle reverse appeared on the back of the court. It looks very similar to the eagle on the back of the Flowing Hair silver dollar. It's talons are better defined, and it's head rises above its wings (as compared to the Flowing Hair silver dollar). Like the bird on the earlier dollar, the eagle here looks off to the right. There is a wreath around this motif, and on the rim appear the words UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. There is documented protest about the undignified appearance of the eagle on the earlier silver dollar (the flowing hair silver dollar had a very similar reverse), it was likened to a “turkey cock”, the similarity in design may have prompted governmental officials to change the design on the back of this coin in 1798. Beginning in this year, a new eagle appears on the back. Its wings are spread, feathers articulated, in one talon it clutches a quiver of arrows, in the other it holds an olive branch. There are 13 stars arrayed around its head, there is a shield in front of its chest, and a circular motif follows the curve of the coin arching from one wing to the other. A banner above the shield bears the words E PLURIBUS UNUM, which may be loosely translated from the Latin to mean "out of many, one".

1804, a very rare date.

All the silver dollars minted in 1804 bore the date 1803. 1804 was the last year that any silver dollars of any sort were minted for general circulation until 1840. From 1806 until 1831 the law stated that silver dollars were not to be minted. In 1831, Andrew Jackson signed legislation that would allow silver dollars to be minted again. Draped Bust silver dollars with the date 1804 were minted in 1834, when an emissary for American commerce was sent by the United States government to Asia. It was determined that this emissary, Edmund Roberts, should bear with him uncirculated proof examples of American coinage, including the silver dollar, which had been once again legally recognized but not yet minted in its new incarnation as the Gobrecht Silver Dollar (first minted in 1836). So in 1835 Edmund Roberts left the United States for points in Asia with eight Draped Bust silver dollars all of which bore the date 1804. United States government officials had determined that 1804 was the last year that silver dollars had been minted, but they didn't realize that all the silver dollars made that year bore the date 1803. What you might call a bureaucratic error has spawned a gargantuan financial and numismatic legacy. Then, in the 1850s, the U.S. government decided to make restrikes of many earlier coin varieties, including the Draped Bust silver dollar. And so, another 11 of these coins were made with the date 1804, for a total of 19 Draped Bust 1804 silver dollars. Recently, in 1999, one of these coins sold for $4.14 million.

General information about the Draped Bust silver dollar.

When this coin was first minted the silver content for silver dollars was reduced from .9000 fine to .8924 fine. That is to say, that 89.24% of this coin is silver, and the rest of it is copper. This change was in alignment with the existing laws which the mint had ignored while making the flowing hair silver dollar. The Draped Bust silver dollar ranges in price from about $800 (for coin and very poor condition) to about $50,000 (for a generally circulating coin in excellent condition). As noted above, the variety with the 1804 date, commands a price of millions of dollars. During the coin's general production run, about 1.2 million were minted. Those made in 1797 are the rarest of the generally circulating coins, because only about 8000 were made that year. The United States government stopped making silver dollars because they would be traded for Spanish dollars (similar in size and weight, though slightly smaller) and then would leave this country for points abroad where they would be often melted down for their silver content. It should be noted, that Spanish dollars were considered by the general United States citizenry to be an acceptable and familiar form of currency. The United States continued to struggle with minting viable silver coinage until the middle of the 1800s.

The Draped Bust silver dollar, a unique coin.

During its short production run of nine years this silver dollar's reverse dramatically changed from a thin profile view of an eagle, to a bold frontal view of the same bird. Additionally, stars came and went on the front of the coin. The motto E PLURIBUS UNUM appeared for the first time on a silver dollar on this coin. The most unique thing about this coin is that the government made 19 more of them after it was officially taken out of circulation. Draped Bust silver dollars with a date of 1804 are some of the rarest silver dollars ever minted.

Further Reading.

I've published articles about all the "true" silver dollars here on hubpages.


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