Draped Bust/Heraldic Eagle Silver Dollars 1798-1804 Coin Guide
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Draped Bust/Heraldic Eagle Dollar, Photo courtesy
Throughout the 1790s heads continued to roll off the guillotines of
France as that country struggled to affirm the democratic principles it
had first espoused in 1789. Some Americans watched nervously from across
the Atlantic and wondered if the violence of the mob would spread to this
country. But America's democratic principles were firmly established, as
it had already undergone the national trauma of revolution, war and two
changes of government since 1776. By 1798 democracy in America was
beginning to come of age.
This maturity of the United States was evident in the late 1790s not
only by America's refusal to be pulled into the war between England and
France; it can also be seen in the changes in the nation's unit of
currency, the dollar. The design modifications of 1798 were actually
grounded in events that began three years before. When a new and improved
coin press arrived at the Mint in Philadelphia in the spring of 1795, it
made improvements possible both in the quantity of coins produced as well
as their quality. The new press was able to properly stamp out the large
sized dollar coins and include all the design details in the finished
The Draped Bust dollar obverse was designed by noted artist Gilbert
Stuart in an attempt to elevate U.S. coinage designs to "world
class" stature. This design marked a maturing of the
"young" Liberty of the preceding Flowing Hair design to a more
"matronly" concept of the emblematic national symbol. In 1798
the young hatchling eagle seen on the reverse of the earlier dollar was
replaced with an older and more naturalistic eagle, one that was more in
keeping with heraldic iconography. One oversight in the iconography of the
Heraldic Eagle reverse, though, was in the placement of the arrows in the
eagle's right claw-the more honorable placement in heraldry-leaving the
olive branch in the left or less honorable claw. This more warlike
placement of the arrows was repeated on all heraldic eagle coins of the
During the six years that Draped Bust Heraldic Eagle dollars were
struck 1,153,709 coins were produced, all in the Philadelphia mint. There
are dozens of die varieties, most involving only a minute difference in
the placement of the stars, numerals, letters or other design elements.
But there are several important design changes in the series that are
of interest to a wide range of collectors. On 1798 dollars there are two
different patterns of stars on the reverse above the eagle's head. The
earlier configuration, known as the "cross pattern" was a
modification of The Great Seal of the United States, with the stars
arranged in two triangular groups of six joined by a single star in the
middle. The later design was much simpler. Known as the "arc
pattern," it had two parallel rows of stars: the top row had six, the
second row five stars, followed by one star on either side of the eagle's
head. No one knows exactly why the star patterns were changed, but the
earlier "cross pattern" configuration is generally the scarcer
of the two.
An interesting blunder occurred in the reverse stars in 1799. A working
die was produced that had 15 stars, rather than the required 13. The error
was discovered before any coins were struck, and rather than discard the
die, the clouds were enlarged over the offending stars, covering all but
the tips of these extra star points. In 1800 a die was cut that had an
extra letter A at the end of AMERICA. The extra letter was polished away,
but only the right portion of the letter was effaced, leaving what appears
to be a letter I, thus creating the well-known AMERICAI variety.
One of the most famous coins ever struck is considered a part of the
Draped Bust series-the 1804 dollar. While the Mint struck dollars in 1804,
all were produced from leftover dies dated 1802 and 1803, and no dollars
were struck with the date 1804. However, thirty years later when several
presentation sets of U.S. coins were needed for diplomatic gifts, the
Draped Bust design was resurrected and dated 1804, as that was the last
year the dollar coin had been struck. These were the so-called
"original" or Class I 1804 dollars. The Class II and Class III
1804 "restrikes" were produced in the late 1850s for prominent
collectors of the day. Only 15 specimens are known of all three types.
No true proofs are known from this series but, as with the 1804 dollar,
Mint officials were only too pleased to oblige collectors in later years.
Sometime between 1836 and the late 1850s modern looking proof dollars
appeared with the dates 1801, 1802 and 1803. These fantasy pieces are
highly prized by collectors.
Grading Draped Bust dollars can be a challenge. Certain die varieties
are always weak on the stars above the eagle's head because of die
failure. Other varieties will show occasional areas of weakness due to die
breakage. In high grades, signs of friction first begin to show on the
highest points of the hair above the forehead and along the shoulder and
bust line of Liberty. On the reverse, wear first shows on the clouds, then
the eagle's breast feathers. On weakly or irregularly struck coins, these
design details may not be fully brought up. Counterfeits are known, and a
number of fairly deceptive pieces dated 1799 surfaced in the early 1980s.
These coins all have common characteristics and display dull, lifeless
surfaces. Authentication of any questionable Draped Bust dollar is highly
In lower grades Draped Bust dollars are widely collected by die variety
specialists. Coins in XF and better condition are usually sought out by
those who collect by date and major variety. For type purposes, most
collectors want a single, high grade, problem-free example of a common,
well produced variety. Such coins are quite elusive today and usually
bring a substantial premium when offered.
After 1800 silver dollars began to disappear from circulation. Many
U.S. dollars were shipped overseas or melted for their high intrinsic
value. Dollar production stopped altogether in 1804, and the next
generation did not have a current circulating dollar coin until a brief
artistic renaissance came to the Mint in 1836, led by Christian Gobrecht.
Over the two centuries since their manufacture, the short-lived series of
Draped Bust dollars has continued to be one of the most widely collected
in U.S. coinage.
Diameter: 39 to 40 millimeters Weight: 26.96 grams Composition: .8924
silver, .1076 copper Edge: Lettered Net Weight: .77344 ounce pure silver
BIBLIOGRAPHY: American Numismatic Society, America's
Silver Coinage, 1794-1891, American Numismatic Society, New York, 1987.
Bowers, Q. David, Silver Dollars and Trade Dollars of the United States, A
Complete Encyclopedia, Bowers and Merena Galleries, Wolfeboro, NH, 1993.
Breen, Walter, Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial
Coins, F.C.I. Press/Doubleday, New York, 1988. Highfill, John W., The
Comprehensive U.S. Silver Dollar Encyclopedia, Highfill Press, Inc.,
Broken Arrow, OK, 1992. Hilt, Robert P., Die Varieties of Early United
States Coins, RTS Publishing Company, Omaha, NE, 1980. Reiver, Jules, The
United States Early Silver Dollars 1794 to 1804, Krause Publications,
Iola, WI, 1998.
Coin Information Provided Courtesy NGC.