The most valuable coin in the world is set to go on auction in Las Vegas—and experts say it could fetch upward of $10 million, reports Ken Ritter for the Associated Press.
Dated to 1794, the rare silver dollar is thought to be one of the first, if not the very first, coins minted in the newly independent United States of America.
Las Vegas resident Bruce Morelan purchased the coin, known to collectors as a “Flowing Hair” silver dollar, for $10,016,875 in 2013. The sale marked the highest price ever paid at auction for a single coin.
“Coins are in my blood, and the 1794 dollar was a lifelong dream,” says Morelan in a statement. “Now that my early American dollars collection is complete and nothing else can be added, I’ve decided it’s time for other collectors to enjoy these magnificent coins.”
Douglas Mudd, director of the Colorado-based American Numismatic Association’s Money Museum, tells the AP that the coin is one of just 300 surviving specimens from a cache of 1,758 silver dollars struck in a single day—October 15, 1794—at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia. Around 100 of these dollars remain in circulation among collectors.
Several characteristics point to the Flowing Hair dollar’s identity as the very first coin minted in the U.S. In addition to displaying a silver plug used to adjust its weight, explains Steve Roach for Coin World, the coin “was struck with obvious care from the earliest state of the dies for the 1,758 1794 dollars issued.”
As the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History—which houses one of the rare coins in its collections—notes, Mint Director David Rittenhouse distributed the newly struck silver dollars to dignitaries as souvenirs.
“The reason for producing these was to say, ‘We can do this. Let’s get them out to senators, congressmen, and other VIPs, to show them the Mint is moving forward,’” Mudd tells Atlas Obscura’s Isaac Schultz. “1794 is the year they say, ‘We’ll start the dollar coin, the linchpin of the system.’ Because our system is built on the dollar, and then multiples of the dollar, and then fractions of the dollar.”
Prior to the creation of the U.S. Mint, a mixture of bartering, colonial currency and foreign money drove the economy. At the time, few people made a dollar in a day, according to Atlas Obscura, so in 1804, the bureau decided to stop producing silver dollars. The next major dollar coin, dubbed the Seated Liberty, only entered circulation in 1840.
Per the AP, the 1794 coin was reportedly presented to then-Secretary of State Edmund Jennings Randolph, who referred to it in a letter addressed to George Washington.
Professional coin graders score collectibles’ quality on a 70-point scale. A perfect score denotes a coin with no discernable defects at five times magnification. The Flowing Hair silver dollar scores a 66 on this scale, making it a “specimen,” or “proof-quality” coin, above mint condition. Comparatively, another 1794 silver dollar graded at just 35 sold in 2019 for $288,000.
As the Asbury Park Press notes, the upcoming auction will feature a total of 15 silver dollars minted between 1794 and 1804. The entire collection is expected to fetch between $15 and $18 million, but Atlas Obscura reports that if the asking prices for the coins aren’t met, they will remain in private collections.