The first coins of the United States are both historic and interesting. They are also generally scarce, and for some of us, they can be frustrating. For example, if you like exact information, these coins may not be for you. Determining how many were minted can be a lot closer to an art than a science.
The 1801 Draped Bust dollar, with a reported mintage of just 54,454 pieces, is a typical example. There is almost no way to compare its seemingly low mintage issue to other dollars of the period. Not many exist, as the production of silver dollars was suspended in 1804, and the next was not made for decades.
This production suspension occurred because silver dollars were not circulating. Instead, in many cases, they were exported almost as fast as they were struck. When coins are exported for their silver or gold values, as was the case with silver dollars, they rarely return. And when the production of a denomination is suspended, as was the case in 1804, it suggests the number of dollars lost from each reported mintage could be very high.
Even if 1801 dollars avoided being exported (and certainly the government action of 1804 suggests many did not), we have to consider the fate of those 1801 dollars that did not leave the country.
In 1801, the U.S. Mint was not doing a booming business selling mail order coins to collectors. There were a few collectors, but at the time, they did not routinely put aside nice rolls of the coins as they were released each year. In fact, it was not even all that easy to get a new coin for every denomination each year.
Also worth remembering is that the country was in perhaps one of the worst coin shortages in its history. Any coin from virtually any nation was being used in commerce, and so were many other items. When a coin did reach circulation, it was likely to circulate actively.
In addition, with production stopped in 1804 and not resumed until 1840, those silver dollars in circulation were likely to circulate for a very long time. Simply put, there were numerous threats to the potential for a dollar surviving until the present day.
Another consideration is whether that mintage of 54,454 is in fact the mintage of dollars dated 1801. Some have their doubts, suggesting that part of that total were dollars produced in 1801 but dated 1800. They have no proof, but history is on their side, as this is how things were routinely done in the early 1800s. For example, we believe the reported silver dollar mintage for 1804 was composed entirely of dollars produced in 1804 but dated 1803. This leaves the actual mintage of the 1801 dollar in some doubt.
As was often the case during the period, there are an assortment of varieties for almost every year of the early dollar, but the 1801 seems to be something of an exception. Relatively few significant varieties have been found, with the most interesting actually being 1802/1 overdate dollars that come with the close and wide dates. They are another question mark for those trying to determine the accuracy of that 1801 mintage figure.
We do find a small indication in current prices that the 1801 dollar may be a bit better than some of the more available dollars of the period. Listed at basically the same levels as other dollars of the time in other grades, MS60 examples are at $28,000, which is between $2,500 and $5,000 higher than comparable coins.
The MS60 price also represents an increase of 2.8 times its 1998 value of $10,000. This suggests that the 1801 Draped Bust silver dollar has recently been discovered to be a good deal tougher and more desirable than other more available dates.
This situation may be limited to upper grades, or it may prove to be true in all grades for early dollars. We are still learning.
This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.
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