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Denver Coins --> United States Coins --> Obsolete United State coins --> Silver Dollar

Denver Gold and Silver Exchange
5475 Leetsdale Dr Suite 210
Denver, Colorado 80246

Open Monday - Friday from 9 am to 5 pm
Friday 9 am to 5 pm and Sunday from 10 am to 2 pm
Call anytime - leave a message: Main Number: 303-333-1411

Dollar coins have been minted in the United States in gold, silver, and base metal versions. The term silver dollar is often used for any large white metal coin issued by the United States with a face value of one dollar; although purists insist that a dollar is not silver unless it contains some of that metal. Silver dollars, the first dollar coin issue, were minted beginning in 1794. Gold and gold-colored dollars have also been produced by the United States. The Sacagawea and Presidential dollars are usually referred to as golden, despite not containing any gold, as they are of a golden color.

The mint marks are "C", "CC", "D", "D", "O", "P", "S", and "W". "C"-Charlotte, North Carolina (gold coins only; 1838-1861). "CC"-Carson City, Nevada (1870-1893). "D"-Dahlonega, Georgia (gold coins only; 1838-1861). "D"- Denver, Colorado (1906 to date). "O"-New Orleans, Louisiana (1838-1861; 1879-1909). "P"-Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1793 to date). "S"-San Francisco, California (1854 to date). "W"-West Point, New York (1984 to date).

Dollar coins have found little popular acceptance in circulation in the United States since the early 20th century, despite several attempts since 1971 to phase in a coin in place of the one dollar bill. This contrasts with currencies of most other developed countries, where denominations of similar value exist only in coin. These coins have largely succeeded because of a removal (or lack) of their corresponding paper issues, whereas the United States government has taken no action to remove the one-dollar bill, due to either intensive lobbying by "Save the Greenback" or genuine consumer resistance.


Early dollar coins

Before the Revolutionary War, coins from many European nations circulated freely in the American colonies, as well as decimal coinage issued by the various colonies. Chief among these was the Spanish silver dollar coins (also called pieces of eight or eight reales) minted in Mexico and other colonies with silver mined from Central and South American mines. These coins, along with others of similar size and value, were in use throughout the colonies and later the United States and were legal tender until 1857.

In 1776, the Continental Congress authorized plans to produce a silver coin to prop up the rapidly failing Continental—the first attempt by the fledgling US at paper currency. Several examples were struck in brass, pewter, and silver, but a circulating coin was not produced, due in large part to the financial difficulties of running the Revolutionary War. The Continental Dollar bears a date of 1776, and while its true denomination is not known, it is generally the size of later dollars, and the name has stuck. The failure of the Continental exacerbated a distrust of paper money amongst both politicians and the populace at large. The letters of Thomas Jefferson indicate that he wished the United States to eschew paper money and instead mint coins of similar perceived value and worth to those foreign coins circulating at the time.

The Coinage Act of 1792 authorized the production of dollar coins from silver. The United States Mint produced silver dollar coins from 1794 to 1803, then ceased regular production of silver dollars until 1836. The first silver dollars, precisely 1,758 of them, were coined on October 15, 1794 and were immediately delivered to Mint Director David Rittenhouse for distribution to dignitaries as souvenirs. Thereafter, until 1804, they were struck in varying quantities. There are two obverse designs: Flowing Hair (1794-1795) and Draped Bust (1795-1804). There are also two reverse designs used for the Draped Bust variety: small eagle (1795-1798) and heraldic eagle (1798-1804). Original silver dollars from this period are highly prized by coin collectors and are exceptionally valuable, and range from fairly common to incredibly rare. Due to the early practice of hand engraving each die, there are dozens of varieties known for all dates between 1795-1803. As the earliest examples of the largest circulating coins ever struck by the United States Mint, they bear a certain mystique that has enthralled collectors for two centuries.

It is also one of only two denominations (the other being the cent) minted in every year from its inception during the first decade of mint operation. However, the order was given by President Thomas Jefferson to halt silver dollar production due to the continued exportation of US dollars. The Spanish 8 Reale, which was slightly heavier than the US dollar, nonetheless traded at a 1-to-1 ratio. So US dollars went to the Caribbean, were traded for heavier 8 Reales, and those were then brought back to the US, where they would be recoined for free into more US dollars, and the difference in silver was kept by the exporter. This ensured that no dollars would circulate in the US, but would instead be exported for their heavier counterparts overseas, leaving little but old, foreign money to circulate in the United States in a process known as Gresham's Law.

This highlights a dilemma that would continue to haunt the United States mint well into the 20th century: if a coin was too heavy in precious metal, it would simply be melted and sold for more as bullion. If it was too light, it would be exported for heavier weight coins from foreign governments. Maintaining this precarious balance is eventually what led to the abandonment of gold as specie worldwide in the 1930s and 1940s, and silver rapidly following suit by the late 1960s and early 1970s.

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