NumisMaster Logo
Sign In
Free Newsletter

Collector Info
In Print
Site Map
Early U.S. Mint Issued Iconic Designs
By Ginger Rapsus, Numismatic News
October 28, 2013

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
>> Subscribe today or get your >> Digital Subscription

The year 1794 was a year of historic firsts for American coins. The first half dimes, half dollars and silver dollars were minted this year, along with half cents and an interesting group of large cents.

Copper half cents had been minted in 1793 with a completely different design. Half cents of 1794 show a Liberty head facing the viewer’s right, not left as on the 1793, with a Liberty cap on a pole. This is actually a one-year type coin, as the head was made smaller in 1795. The edge is lettered: “two hundred for a dollar.” The reverse shows a wreath and the denomination as “half cent” and as a fraction, 1/200, along with “United States of America.” Mintage was 81,600, a good number for an early copper coin. One variety of this date shows the Liberty head in higher relief.

Large cents came in three distinct types in 1793, but only the Liberty cap design continued into 1794. The edge is lettered “one hundred for a dollar.” The reverse also shows a wreath, the denomination as “one cent” and as the fraction 1/100, and “United States of America.” From a good mintage of over 918,000, fifty-eight different varieties can be found, just from this date.

Large cent specialists think of 1794 as an exciting year. Some collectors have made a career of collecting the 58 varieties of 1794. The varieties include differences in the date, such as the separated and crowded date. Miss Liberty may appear different, as in the heads of 1793, 1794 and 1795. There are also double chins and apple cheeks to be seen.

Catalogs of the 1794 large cent collections are desirable as reference books in themselves. Full descriptions of each coin are given, along with pedigrees and maybe condition census. Beautiful photos of these cents are included, with close-up views of the subtle differences that large cent specialists seek.

One of the most famous, and scarcest, large cent varieties is the starred reverse. Ninety-four tiny stars are seen among the denticles on the reverse. Perhaps 50 or 60 of these cents are known to exist. Many of these coins are in low grades, About Good-3 and even basal state. This variety was not discovered until the 1870s, many years after the original mintage. Some starred reverse cents have turned up in junk boxes, accumulations, and in collections, where this famous variety was not attributed. One was discovered at a flea market. This variety is not as subtle as many other early copper varieties. The stars on the reverse are small, but apparent to the naked eye.

The first regular issued five-cent coins, small silver half dimes, were minted in 1794. The Flowing Hair design was used on this and the other silver coins this year, showing a matronly-looking Liberty head. The reverse shows a rather skinny eagle within a wreath and “United States of America.” The edge is reeded.

1794 half dimes were struck in .8924 fine silver, not the familiar .900 fine silver found in later dates. Half dimes were not .900 fine silver until 1837.

The mintage figure given in guidebooks is a combination of half dimes dated 1794 and 1795 – 86,416. A few 1794 Specimen strikes are known. While not true proofs, these coins were obviously specially made, with strong strikes, lovely surfaces and great detail.

One of the most underrated coins in the American series is the 1794 half dollar. Only 23,464 were struck. The Flowing Hair design was used on this coin, with the eagle on the reverse. The edge is lettered “fifty cents or half a dollar.” The half dollar was also struck in .8924 fine silver. Half dollars were not .900 fine silver until 1836.

Type collectors who want a Flowing Hair half dollar will almost always choose a 1795, a much more available coin, with a mintage of over 299,000. The 1794 half dollar mintage was less than one-tenth that amount. The 1794 half dollar is overshadowed by the famous silver dollar of that year, and by the rare Small Eagle half dollars of 1796-1797. The first half dollar is a scarce and desirable coin that deserves a closer look by numismatists.

Strike it Rich with U.S. Coins Value Pack
Strike it Rich Value Pack

Perfect for the U.S. coin enthusiast, this pack contains the vital information one needs to be a successful collector – all for a great low price.
Get yours today!

The finest known grades Mint State-64. Perhaps 10 varieties of this date are known, and some are quite scarce.

Every numismatist knows the 1794 silver dollar is one of the most remarkable coins in the United States series. The dollar also bears the Flowing Hair design, with the eagle on the reverse. The edge is lettered “hundred cents one dollar or unit.” The dollar also was struck in .8924 fine silver. Silver dollars were struck in .900 fine silver beginning in 1840.

Of a small mintage of 1,758, only 140 or so remain. Most of these show weak strikes, especially on the obverse near the first star and the “1” in the date. Some show adjustment marks, scratches, or other imperfections. Yet any 1794 dollar is a treasure. An entire book was written on this classic coin.

The finest known 1794 dollar is graded Specimen-66 and is widely believed to be the very first dollar coin struck. It sold for over $10 million in 2013 – a record for a coin. This beautiful coin shows a strong strike, prooflike surfaces, and great eye appeal. Although there is a silver plug and a few adjustment marks, this coin is a near-perfect example of an early American coin and a true piece of history.

This special 1794 dollar has been displayed at major coin shows in a special exhibit. Specialists in early coinage, silver dollar enthusiasts, and history buffs found this coin to be a real treat to see. Hair details are sharp, along with details on Miss Liberty’s face, even down to her eyebrow and eye socket. The reverse eagle shows feathers on its breast and legs, details on the head including the beak, even well-struck claws.

But any numismatist can appreciate a 1794 silver dollar. Whether near-perfect, high grade or low grade, America’s first silver dollar is a prime rarity and a souvenir of the time of President George Washington, the fledgling years of the Philadelphia Mint, and the beginnings of United states coinage. And this was a real coin, meant to go out and circulate; it was not a rarity specially created for collectors.

The year 1794 features rare and historical coins, in quaint designs. There are copper varieties, a record-breaking silver dollar, and an often overlooked half dollar. Any numismatist would consider 1794 a special year.

More Coin Collecting Resources:

• Strike it rich with this U.S. coins value pack.

• Get the 2012 Coin of the Year – limited quantities remain!

• Build an impressive collection with Coin Collecting 101.

• IT’S HERE! Order the 2014 North American Coins & Prices.


Add to:   digg
With this article: Email to friend   Print

Something to add? Notice an error? Comment on this article.

About Us | Contact Us | Privacy | Your data is secure
©2018 F+W Publications, Inc., Iola, Wisconsin. All rights reserved.