Flowing Hair Silver Dollars

1794 and 1795 Flowing Hair Silver Dollar Coins

Silver dollars, the largest silver coins of the realm, became a reality in November 1794 when 1,758 coins of the Flowing Hair design were selected as being suitable for circulation. By that time the dollar was a familiar term in America. Indeed, Continental Currency notes issued by the fledgling American government in the 1770s had been denominated in Spanish milled dollars—the popular name for silver coins of the eight reales value.

Following passage of the Mint Act of April 2, 1792, authorization was provided for the coinage of copper half cents and cents, silver half dimes, dimes, quarters, half dollars, and dollars, and gold $2.50, $5, and $10 coins. Although silver half dimes, imprinted HALF DISME (pronounced “dime” as we do today), were made in 1792 from privately-supplied silver, production of precious metal coins could not take place until a surety bond of $10,000 was posted by chief coiner Henry Voigt and assayer Albion Cox. These sums could not be met at the time. Accordingly, the coinage for 1793, the first year the Mint was in full operation, consisted only of copper coins. The first produced were cents, struck in February, delivered by the coiner on March 1, and released into circulation March 15.

As no engraver had been appointed yet, it fell to the chief coiner, Henry Voigt, to engrave the dies (Elias Boudinot’s February 9, 1795, report to the congressional committee investigating the Mint). These were produced in quantity through the spring and summer. In late June or early July Joseph Wright was appointed to the post of engraver. Wright, a highly trained artist in the private sector, is credited with the Liberty Cap design. Unfortunately, he contracted yellow fever and passed away in September 1793. Otherwise later designs of United States coins might well be different from what we know today. Wright’s legacy of Miss Liberty with a cap and pole, inspired by the famous Libertas Americana medal of 1782, lived on and was used in copper issues for the next several years. Half cents of the Liberty Cap design were issued in July.

Robert Scot (often misspelled Scott in contemporary directories), who was born in Scotland and trained as a watchmaker, came to Philadelphia in the early 1780s. He was hired as the Mint engraver on November 23, 1793. By this time he had produced many line engravings, including maps and portraits. Scot would continue in the post for many years, until his death in November 1823. On the following December 31 his estate was paid $100 for one month’s salary to close out his account. While holding the engravership he also did extensive outside work, including for Dobson’s edition of Rees’ Encyclopedia published in Philadelphia from 1794 to 1803. As noted earlier in this text, John Reich was signed as assistant engraver in 1807 and produced most of the new designs after that time.

The surety bond requirements were adjusted and met in 1794. While the coinage of half cents and cents was done for the Mint’s own account, and a profit was registered on the difference between face value and the cost of copper, silver and gold coins were minted only at the specific request of depositors. In the early 1790s the Mint had no bullion account of its own. A depositor of silver or gold had to call at the Mint at a later time to receive coins.

The first silver coins were made in November 1794 and consisted of half dollars and dollars. The obverse was what numismatists call the Flowing Hair design, with Miss Liberty facing right and tresses of hair streaming to the left. All 1794 and 1795 dollars have 8 stars to the left and 7 to the right. Later star counts and arrangements varied. The reverse depicts an eagle perched on a small cloud enclosed within an open wreath. Half dime dies were also prepared in 1794, but they were not used until 1795. Numismatists view the Flowing Hair coins to be of special desirability, the first entries in a type set of American silver issues.

Among silver dollars of the Flowing Hair design there is one die combination for the classic 1794 and over two dozen for 1795.