The 1804 Silver Dollar is considered by many to be the “King of American Coins.” It is certainly a coin which captures attention and sparks the imagination. When one of the known examples is sold, it invariably becomes part of the world news headlines. The fifteen examples known to exist are classified into three different groups, or classes, two of which are collectable. The history of the coins is different from any other made by the United States Mint. In the first place, none were struck until 1834, and it is believed that the last examples were not made until as late as the 1870s, almost a lifetime after the date that is seen on the coins.
The 1804 silver dollars are of the so-called Draped Bust design, by Robert Scot, which was first struck for circulation in 1798. The final circulation strikes released from the Philadelphia Mint were dated 1803, although the delivery of some of these pieces occurred in 1804. After the final delivery, production of silver dollars ceased (making the half dollar the highest denomination struck out of silver) and would not resume until the end of the 1830’s. Nonetheless, proof silver dollars dated 1804 are known, and they are generally accepted as regular product of the United States Mint.
The reason for the existence of this enigmatic issue can be found in 19th century diplomacy at an international level. In 1834 Proof strikings were made of all United States coins in production at the time, from half cent to half eagle, for inclusion into special presentation sets to be given as diplomatic gifts. The eagle denomination (ten dollar gold piece), like the silver dollar, had not been struck since 1804. These coins, the highest denominations in both silver and gold, were deemed necessary for inclusion in a Proof set made for presentation purposes.
The Mint had struck 1804 eagles, and the newly struck pieces were merely restrikes, as they are known today. However, most likely due to a simple oversight, it was forgotten that no 1804 dated silver dollars had been struck for circulation. In 1834, one 1804 dated obverse die was created, along with two reverse dies, slightly different in appearance to the dies used to strike 1798-1803 silver dollars of the same design. Through this unique set of circumstances, the 1804 Silver Dollar was created.