There are many mysteries, some solved, some unsolved up to this day regarding the 1804 silver dollars. Compared to other issues from the Philadelphia Mint, facts are scarce. We know that the first batch of coins, known as “Class I”, included pieces that were struck for diplomatic purposes, although some also appear to have served other needs (collectors or influential men in Philadelphia). The date of striking for these pieces took place sometime after November 11, 1834. On that date two sets had been requested by the State Department. The total mintage is of Class I 1804 Silver Dollars is unknown, but at present eight individual examples have been identified, five of which are in private collections. One piece is in the Smithsonian collection (it was retained for the Mint collection immediately after striking), another is in the collection of the American Numismatic Association, and a third is in the Durham Western Heritage Museum in Omaha, Nebraska. These pieces were struck on planchets of the pre-1837 weight standard and have a lettered edge. These are all struck from a single reverse die which appears to have been destroyed after striking.
Only a single specimen is known of the “Class II” group, currently in the Smithsonian Institution, making this class uncollectable. It is known to have been struck after 1857, most likely around 1858, as it is overstruck on a so-called “Shooting Thaler” of Bern, Switzerland, dated 1857. This piece has a plain edge, and is believed to have been the illegal product of Mint employee Theodore Eckfeldt (probably assisted by others), who might have struck as many as ten or fifteen 1804 Silver Dollars in the late 1850s. Eckfeldt had apparently sold them for $75 each, a healthy profit, it seems. When the existence of the coins was discovered, Mint Director James R. Snowden ordered them to be destroyed. Only the coin, which would eventually reside within the Smithsonian Institution collection managed to survive.
It is believed that after Snowden discovered the illegal activities of Eckfeldt, the dies remained in Eckfeldt’s possession. Sometime around 1859, or perhaps as late as 1860, he managed to acquire dollar blanks from the coiners vault. These were of the new weight, and were meant to be used for mintage of regular Liberty Seated Silver Dollars. A minimum of six pieces were struck (the total number of pieces known today), which would be known as “Class III” specimens. To prevent easy discovery the edges of the coins were crudely lettered. Research has revealed that it might have been possible that some pieces were struck after Snowden had left the Mint, being part of a large number of restrikes made in the early 1870’s. This, however, remains unconfirmed. Three of the Class III 1804 Silver Dollars reside in museum collections, while three are currently owned by private collectors. Four of the six known examples display artificial wear; perhaps this was done to make it easier to sell them to collectors as Mint products.