The Famous Lord St. Oswald-Norweb 1794 Flowing Hair Silver Dollar
Condition Census #4 of Only Six Mint State Examples Known
1794 Flowing Hair Silver Dollar. BB-1, B-1, the only known dies. Rarity-4. MS-64 (PCGS). CAC.
The silver dollar was authorized by the Act of April 2, 1792, that also established the United States Mint and created our nation's coinage. While not the highest denomination coin authorized by that act, the silver dollar was obviously the most important as it was the standard unit upon which the United States' monetary system would be based. All other coins struck in the United States Mint from the 1790s to the present day are either fractional parts of the dollar or multiples of that unit. The silver dollar is, without a doubt, the most popular and widely collected coin ever struck in the United States Mint, and is eagerly sought by both advanced numismatists and the general public as a historic treasure, a cherished collectible and (for common date examples of the later Morgan and Peace types) a storehouse of wealth for those with an interest in owning silver bullion.
The most important silver dollar ever struck -- and also one of the rarest -- is the 1794 Flowing Hair. The first coin of its kind and a major numismatic rarity in all grades with a net mintage of just 1,758 pieces, the 1794 Flowing Hair silver dollar is a coin of which legends are made. Survivors are always greeted with eager anticipation when they are offered for sale either through auction or via private treaty. Such is the importance and popularity of the 1794 Flowing Hair dollar that it has been honored with the #20 ranking in the widely distributed book 100 Greatest U.S. Coins by Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth (2003 edition consulted).
The design of the nation's first silver dollar was entrusted to Chief Engraver Robert Scot, whose obverse features the most mature evolution of the Flowing Hair Liberty portrait that was first featured on Augustin Dupre's Libertas Americana medal of 1782. By the time Dupre's Liberty found her way onto the silver dollar, however, she had been turned to the right and no longer displayed the liberty pole and cap. The basic design is superficially similar to its earliest inception, nonetheless, with Liberty's hair free flowing along the back of her head and neck, thus explaining the widely used Flowing Hair name. Scot's dollar obverse also exhibits 15 stars arranged around the border eight left, seven right in honor of the number of states that made up the Union in 1794, as well as the word LIBERTY at the upper border and the date at the lower.
The reverse of the Flowing Hair silver dollar mirrors Scot's work for the Flowing Hair half dime and half dollar. A spread-wing eagle is surrounded by two branches bound at their base by a thin ribbon with the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA around the border. Curiously, the denomination is not featured on either the obverse or reverse of the Flowing Hair silver dollar -- something that might appear as a sign of ineptitude on the part of early Mint employees to someone familiar with United States coinage of the 21st century. The omission was intentional, however, as United States coinage was new to the world market of the 18th century and the term "dollar" would have been unfamiliar to merchants of the day. In order to facilitate the coins' acceptance in as many quarters as possible, therefore, the Mint omitted the denomination from the design and opted to let the silver dollar's weight and precious metal content establish its value. For those willing to look closer, nonetheless, they would find the denomination on the edge, which for Flowing Hair silver dollars is lettered HUNDRED CENTS ONE DOLLAR OR UNIT with decorations between the words.
By the time Mint employees had posted the necessary bonds to begin working with precious metals -- which was not until 1794 even though the silver dollar had been authorized by Congress in 1792 -- Mint Director David Rittenhouse wanted to begin production of these coins as soon as possible. His decision was a bold one, for the press he had on hand was better suited for striking smaller coins such as dimes, quarters and half dollars. Additionally, he could have opted to strike additional half dimes to follow on the heels of the 1792 half disme (coins that George Washington described as a "small beginning" to the nation's coinage after they were struck at another facility prior to establishment of the first Mint building). In recognition of the silver dollar's status as the basic unit of our national currency and the largest coin authorized by the Act of April 2, 1792, however, Rittenhouse insisted that it be the first precious metal coin struck in the United States Mint.
Difficulties in achieving Rittenhouse's goal arose immediately because bullion was lacking. The early United States Mint did not strike silver and gold coins on its own account but, rather, was dependent upon private deposits of these precious metals. The first deposit of silver to arrive at the United States Mint came from the Bank of Maryland on July 18, 1794. Composed of French coins, Assayer Albion Cox's tests of the metal's fineness averaged just .737 fine, meaning the deposit would have to be heavily refined to bring it up to the congressionally mandated .8924 standard for silver coinage. With the refining department understaffed, Rittenhouse made a bold choice: rather than follow the letter of the law, whereby depositors received finished coins based upon the order of their initial deposits, Rittenhouse himself jumped the line. On August 29, 1794, he made two deposits, composed of silver ingots of relatively fine purity (.900 and .8665 fine) that added up to $2001.33 worth of silver, or enough to strike almost exactly 2,000 silver dollars.
On October 15, 1794, Chief Coiner Henry Voigt delivered 1,758 silver dollars to David Rittenhouse, representing the entire mintage for the year. The Mint's workmen could have struck all of these coins in a single afternoon, using a press ill-suited for the rigors of striking the large diameter dies. Rittenhouse later received $242.50 in half dollars, plus six half dimes, to complete the total initial deposit, but according to traditional numismatic wisdom the original mintage of 1794 dollars amounted to 2,000 coins. Proponents of this theory believe that the remaining 242 examples were judged to be underweight and/or too poorly struck to be released, the coins either remelted or used as planchets for 1795-dated silver dollars. At least one poorly struck 1794 dollar was used as a planchet for a 1795 dollar, but since that coin's discovery in the 1960s no other examples have come to light. If the original mintage of the 1794 dollar was 2,000 pieces, the remaining 242 or so coins were almost certainly remelted. Alternatively, the total mintage might be just 1,758 pieces, the failure of the press under the rigors of striking these large coins ending the day's work prematurely and prompting the chief coiner to make up the balance of Rittenhouse's bullion deposits in half dollars and half dimes, as related above. We will never know for sure because no details were recorded and no ceremony was held, despite the historical significance of the event.
Indeed, even those 1794 dollars that were deemed acceptable for distribution exhibit many of the difficulties with coinage operations suffered by the early United States Mint. Virtually all of the known examples are softly struck to one degree or another at the left obverse and reverse borders. This is due not only to the Mint's use of a press that was initially intended for smaller-size coins, but also because the dies eventually "slipped" and became misaligned in the press. On some 1794 dollars the misalignment is so pronounced that the date can be difficult to discern. Additionally, many examples display adjustment marks that represent the Mint's filing down of overweight planchets to make them conform to the legally specified weight range for this issue. While these adjustment marks are often innocuous, they are sometimes so numerous as to severely compromise one or more elements of a coin's design.
Regardless of striking quality or level of preservation, a 1794 Flowing Hair silver dollar is an extremely important numismatic find, and the ownership of even a low grade or impaired example is the mark of an important collection. Writing in the 2010 edition of the reference The Flowing Hair Silver Dollars of 1794: An Historical and Population Census Study, Martin Logies of the Cardinal Collection Education Foundation accounts for a surviving population of only 134 distinct examples. A more liberal estimate would be between 135 and 150 coins extant, which range actually represents a rather high percentage of the mintage based upon most statistical survivorship models of early American coins. This high percentage reflects the early date at which collectors placed a premium on 1794 dollars, thus saving low grade specimens that would have been consigned to the melting pot if they were of any other date. Indeed, many of the known examples are significantly impaired due to cleaning, repairs, edge damage, or other problems.
Even most problem free 1794 Flowing Hair dollars that have survived did so only after acquiring some degree of wear. Only six coins, in fact, are universally recognized by numismatic experts as Mint State 1794 silver dollars:
1 - PCGS Specimen-66. Ex Virgil Brand Collection; James Kelly's Fixed Price List #20, 1945; C. David Pierce; Art & Paul Kagin; B. Max Mehl's sale of the Will W. Neil Collection, June 1947, lot 1; our (Stack's) sale of the Amon G. Carter Family Collection, January 1984, lot 207; Hugh Sconyers for the American Rare Coin Fund Limited Partnership; Superior's Hoagy Carmichael and Wayne Miller Collections sale, January 1986, lot 1173; Superior's sale of An Amazing Collection of United States Silver Dollars, May 1991, lot 699; Knoxville Collection, sold by private treaty to Jay Parrino; Steve Contursi, acquired via private treaty; Cardinal Collection, acquired via private treaty, May 2010; our sale of the Cardinal Collection, January 2013, lot 13094, where it realized a record price of $10,016,875.
2 - PCGS MS-66+. Ex William Strickland Collection; Charles Winn (husband of Priscilla Strickland, son-in-law and cousin of William Strickland), by sale, 1834; Rowland Winn, 1st Baron St. Oswald of Nostell, by descent, 1874; Rowland Winn, 2nd Baron St. Oswald of Nostell, by descent, 1893; Rowland George Winn, 3rd Baron St. Oswald of Nostell, by descent, 1919; Rowland Denys Guy Winn, Major the Lord St. Oswald, M.C., by descent, 1957; Christie, Manson, and Woods, Ltd.'s sale of English, Foreign, and Important American Coins, the Property of Major the Lord St. Oswald, M.C., October 1964, lot 138; Jacque C. (Mrs. Alfred) Ostheimer Collection; Jacque C. (Mrs. Alfred) Ostheimer to Superior Stamp and Coin Company, by sale, September 29, 1969; Edwards Huntington Metcalf Collection; Superior Stamp and Coin Company's Clarke E. Gilhousen sale, Part III, October 1973, lot 1209; Jonathon Hefferlin; our (Bowers and Ruddy's) sale of the Newport Collection, January 1975, lot 371; Julian Leidman to Michael Kirzner to Bowers and Ruddy Galleries to Phil Herres (DollarTowne); Leon Hendrickson (SilverTowne), by sale, via John Dannreuther, January 1983; Jimmy Hayes Collection; our (Stack's) sale of the Jimmy Hayes Collection of United States Silver Coins, October 1985, lot 72, via David Akers, to the following; D. Brent Pogue; our sale of the D. Brent Pogue Collection, Part II, September 2015, lot 2041.
3 - PCGS MS-66+. Ex "Colonel" E.H.R. Green; F.C.C. Boyd Collection; Numismatic Gallery's sale of the "World's Greatest Collection" (Boyd), 1945, lot 1; Adolph Friedman; Charles Williams; Numismatic Gallery's ANA Convention Sale of August 1949, lot 140; Beverly Hills Stamp & Coin Shop's (Abe Kosoff and Max Justus) Fixed Price List of 1957; Numismatic Gallery's ANA Convention Sale of August 1958, lot 1678; James Kelly; Lelan Rogers; our (Stack's) session of Numisma '95, November 1995, lot 1315; Jay Parrino; The Mint's (Jay Parrino) Fixed Price List of 1996; Stellar Collection.
4 - PCGS MS-64. Ex William Strickland Collection; Charles Winn (husband of Priscilla Strickland, son-in-law and cousin of William Strickland), by sale, 1834; Rowland Winn, 1st Baron St. Oswald of Nostell, by descent, 1874; Rowland Winn, 2nd Baron St. Oswald of Nostell, by descent, 1893; Rowland George Winn, 3rd Baron St. Oswald of Nostell, by descent, 1919; Rowland Denys Guy Winn, Major the Lord St. Oswald, M.C., by descent, 1957; Christie, Manston & Woods' sale of English, Foreign and Important American Coins, the Property of Major the Lord St. Oswald, M.C., October 1964, lot 137; Lester Merkin, on behalf of the following; Ambassador & Mrs. R. Henry Norweb; our (Bowers and Merena's) sale of the Norweb Collection, Part III, November 1988, lot 3741; A Cabinet of Rarities, our (Bowers and Merena's) Rare Coin Review Issue No. 78, 1990, lot 129; Hugh Sconyers for the American Rare Coin Fund Limited Partnership, 1992; William Morton-Smith. The present example.
5 - PCGS MS-63+. Ex Virgil Brand; B. Max Mehl (1930s); F.C.C. Boyd Collection duplicate, sold privately by Numismatic Gallery at the time of the "World's Greatest Collection" sale; (our) Stack's Fixed Price List No. 47, 1950; B.M. Eubanks; Quality Sales' auction of September 1973, lot 464; Abner Kreisberg's "Collector's Portfolio" Public Coin Auction, October 1978, lot 633; our (Bowers and Ruddy's) Fixed Price List No. 41, 1981; Steve's Ivy's Charmont Sale, October 1983, lot 3769; our (Bowers and Merena's) Somerset Collection sale, May 1992, lot 1300; Jeff Isaac; The Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation, and displayed as part of the Cardinal Collection of Early Dollars at the 2001, 2002 and 2004 ANA Conventions; our (American Numismatic Rarities') sale of the Cardinal Collection, June 2005, lot 5; private collector; reacquired by the Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation, 2008, and featured in a complete "Mint Set" of 1794 coinage; our (Bowers and Merena's) sale of Selections from the Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation, August 2010, lot 1005; Heritage Auctions; Bruce Morelan; Legend Numismatics; private collector.
6 - PCGS MS-62+. Ex Paramount's session of Auction '84, July 1984, lot 725; our (Stack's) sale of the L.R. French, Jr. Family Collection of United States Silver Dollars, January 1989, lot 2; Gary Minsey Collection; private Midwestern collection.
This is the famous Lord St. Oswald-Norweb specimen of the historic and rare 1794 Flowing Hair silver dollar, solidly ranked in the middle of the Condition Census for this issue. It is a beautiful, premium quality near-Gem with delicate gold, apricot and pale silver iridescence to satiny mint luster. The strike is impressive for the issue with Liberty's hair tresses and the eagle's head and plumage displaying the sharpest detail. The reverse wreath is also crisp, as are stars 9 to 15 on the obverse. All four digits in the date are bold and clear, a feature not often seen in survivors of this issue, and the word LIBERTY is fully legible despite a touch of softness to the tops of the letters LI. The often-seen softness of detail along the left obverse and reverse borders is noted, the former area displaying a number of adjustment marks (as made) that help to obscure the finer details of stars 1 to 8, although all are plainly evident. Adjustment marks are actually evident around the entire obverse periphery from star 10 to the letters LI in LIBERTY, although they are boldest from 7 to 11 o'clock. On the reverse the tops of the letters in UNITED STATES are soft, yet even so the entire legend is discernible. There are no adjustment marks on that side. The die state corresponds to Bowers-Borckardt II with light clash marks (as made) in both the obverse and reverse fields. The second to lowest curl of Liberty's hair approaches the innermost point of star 2.
The preservation of this coin is just as impressive as its striking quality. In addition to the aforementioned toning and full mint luster, both sides exhibit an overall smooth appearance with no readily evident marks. A few tiny obverse carbon spots are noted over and before Liberty's cheek and neck, as well as in isolated peripheral areas, especially outside stars 12 and 13. Close examination with a loupe suggests that these spots are associated with tiny planchet pits caused by minor impurities in the alloy.
In addition to its striking quality and preservation, both of which are superior in a 1794 dollar, this coin is significant due to its association with two of the most famous provenances ever associated with United States coins: the Lord St. Oswald and Norweb collections. The Lord St. Oswald name became associated with this dollar, and a number of other high grade American coins dated 1794 and 1795, in 1964, when they appeared in a London Christie's auction as "the property of Major the Lord St. Oswald, M.C." The title belonged to a 48-year-old member of the House of Lords named Rowland Denys Guy Winn, who had won a Military Cross during his service in Korea. The coins sold with his name had descended through his family for generations, housed in a beautiful 18th century coin cabinet made by Thomas Chippendale himself for the family estate, known as Nostell Priory, in Yorkshire. The collection had been assembled beginning in the 18th century and added to in the 19th, though it had been left static ever since. Nostell Priory contained a bounty of antiques, including fine art, antiquities, and more, much of which was acquired by England's National Trust, along with the house itself, in 1953.
Though the name "Lord St. Oswald" is now inseparable from the coins of Nostell Priory, the man who actually collected these coins was named William Strickland. David Tripp has uncovered and reanimated Strickland's extraordinary visit to the United States, which lasted from September 20, 1794, until July 29, 1795. Strickland was a collector of many things, including coins, and he appears to have gathered a sensible and organized grouping of American coins during his 10-month visit. The coins from the Strickland-Lord St. Oswald Collection span the breadth of the Philadelphia Mint's production until the time of Strickland's departure from Philadelphia at the end of July 1795, ranging from half cents to dollars, from a lightly worn Chain cent to virtually perfect Gem coins struck in the weeks before his return home. Further, the coins struck after that date, including 1795-dated gold coins, Draped Bust issues, and more, were not present here, suggesting that the American portion of this collection was formed entirely during Strickland's visit and never augmented later. He rubbed elbows with John Adams in Massachusetts, raised glasses with George Washington, and talked farming with Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. As both of those men were collectors, perhaps coins and medals came up in conversation as well. When George Washington hosted another foreign visitor in June 1798, the Polish poet and warrior Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz, he recalled that during his visit to Mount Vernon, "Mrs. Washington showed me a small collection of medals struck during the Revolution" including "one of at least 100 ducats in gold, with the head closely resembling that of G[enera]l. Washington." Strickland's interests were so diverse, he undoubtedly found much to discuss with each of the Founders he encountered.
After nearly 170 years stored in the Lord St. Oswald family's coin cabinet, this dollar re-entered a world that had been utterly transformed since it was first lovingly placed in a mahogany drawer. The coin was acquired by Lester Merkin from the Lord St. Oswald sale, who shipped it to Ambassador and Mrs. R. Henry Norweb for placement in their collection. The Norweb Collection was begun by Liberty Emery Holden (1833-1913), who furnished the spark for Albert Fairchild Holden (1866-1913), one of America's most prominent industrialists, who developed an interest in numismatics. At the turn of the century he ordered Proof coins directly from the Philadelphia Mint and circulation strikes of high denomination branch mint coins directly from San Francisco and New Orleans. His interest in turn was transferred to his daughter, young Emery May, born in 1896, who by the age of 12 exhibited a precocious interest in numismatics and was attributing die varieties of Massachusetts silver and other coins, keeping inventory notebooks, and perusing the auction catalogs of Lyman H. Low, Henry Chapman, and others, to make recommendations for additions to the family collection.
Emery May Holden married R. Henry Norweb in 1917. Subsequently, R. Henry rose to ambassadorial rank and played an important part in world history. In the meantime, the Norwebs pursued numismatics together and became private clients of leading dealers all over the globe. They personally attended the Palace Collection Sale of King Farouk of Egypt when it was auctioned in Cairo in 1954. When the New Netherlands Coin Company was distributing Gems and rarities from the Virgil Brand Estate in the 1950s, John J. Ford, Jr., a principal of the firm, gave the Norwebs first chance at the treasures. Likewise, other dealers recognized the Norwebs' connoisseurship and the depth of their collection, and whenever a needed rarity was obtained, the Norwebs were the first to learn of it.
Ambassador and Mrs. R. Henry Norweb were collectors par excellence, but it is important to note that while they were creating one of the finest cabinets ever formed, they were generous to the numismatic hobby with many services and gifts. Both held important positions with the American Numismatic Society in New York, and important donations were made to the ANS and to the Smithsonian Institution, including such notable properties as a 1787 Brasher doubloon and one of just five known 1913 Liberty Head nickels.
When we (Bowers and Merena) sold a significant portion of the Norweb's United States coins in 1987-1988, the 1794 Flowing Hair dollar was included. It appeared in our (Bowers and Merena's) Rare Coin Review of 1990, after which it was acquired by our consignor's father, William Morton-Smith, from Hugh Sconyers of the American Rare Coin Fund Limited Partnership in 1992. The coin has been off the market for 25 years, although our consignor's father did receive several unsolicited offers prior to 2010, and he also briefly contemplated selling it in February of that year. Given its historical significance and rarity, however, he decided to retain this coin for the benefit of his children and grandchildren. The coin has been consigned to this sale by Mr. Morton-Smith's son after his father's passing.
This is the fourth Mint State 1794 Flowing Hair silver dollar that we have had the privilege of bringing to auction since 2010 -- a rare honor given that there are only six such specimens and all have been off the market in tightly held collections for significant periods of their existence. Our January 2013 sale of the Neil-Carter-Contursi-Cardinal specimen set a world record price for a rare coin sold at auction of $10,016,875. Certified Specimen-66 by PCGS, this coin is the only prooflike 1794 Flowing Hair dollar known and is quite possibly the first silver dollar struck in the United States Mint. It is the finest known 1794 silver dollar, Condition Census #1 for the issue.
The Lord St. Oswald-Ostheimer-Hayes-Pogue specimen, Condition Census #2 and the finest non-prooflike 1794 dollar in PCGS MS-66+, realized $4,993,750 in our September 2015 sale of the D. Brent Pogue Collection. In August 2010 we (Bowers and Merena) sold the Brand-Boyd-Cardinal specimen for $1,207,500. Certified MS-64 by NGC at that time, but since graded Ms-63+ by PCGS, that coin is ranked #5 on the Condition Census. Condition Census #4 is the Lord St. Oswald-Norweb specimen, offered here. The "Col." Green-Rogers-Stellar specimen (CC #2) and the L.R. French, Jr. Family specimen (CC #6) have been off the market for many years. In fact, with the exception of the present offering, all Mint State 1794 Flowing Hair dollars are off the market for the foreseeable future, and it could be many years before another opportunity like this comes along. Bidding is sure to be spirited and aggressive when this famous numismatic rarity crosses our auctioneer's block at this year's ANA World's Fair of Money.
PCGS# 6851. NGC ID: 24WY.
Provenance: Ex William Strickland Collection; Charles Winn (husband of Priscilla Strickland, son-in-law and cousin of William Strickland), by sale, 1834; Rowland Winn, 1st Baron St. Oswald of Nostell, by descent, 1874; Rowland Winn, 2nd Baron St. Oswald of Nostell, by descent, 1893; Rowland George Winn, 3rd Baron St. Oswald of Nostell, by descent, 1919; Rowland Denys Guy Winn, Major the Lord St. Oswald, M.C., by descent, 1957; Christie, Manston & Woods' sale of English, Foreign and Important American Coins, the Property of Major the Lord St. Oswald, M.C., October 1964, lot 137; Lester Merkin, on behalf of the following; Ambassador & Mrs. R. Henry Norweb; our (Bowers and Merena's) sale of the Norweb Collection, Part III, November 1988, lot 3741; A Cabinet of Rarities, our (Bowers and Merena's) Rare Coin Review Issue No. 78, 1990, lot 129; Hugh Sconyers for the American Rare Coin Fund Limited Partnership, 1992; William Morton-Smith.