Did you hear about the 1794 United States silver dollar that auctioned for more than $10 million in January 2013?
Now the most expensive coin ever sold, the 1794 Flowing Hair dollar was the first silver dollar ever officially minted in the United States. A coin that most collectors (including myself) would have loved to place a bid on, the specimen that sold for $10 million is considered by several consummate numismatists to have been among the first very few made, if not actually the first ever made.
It’s the allure that such a coin may have been touched by George Washington or our other Founding Fathers that is part of the reason people are drawn to old, rare U.S. coins like the 1794 silver dollar. Another thing that makes old coins like the 1794 dollar coin so sought after is that they physically embody the very essence of our country’s earliest times as a nation.
Old Silver Dollars: Historic Vessels Of Our Nation’s History
Our young nation was still sorting many operational matters out during the last decade of the 18th century, and one of those issues was finalizing an official monetary system for our country. Many pattern coins were made as test pieces during the early 1790s, but it was the 1794 silver dollar that would be the first official United States currency bearing the face value of our monetary basis unit, the dollar (paper currency would not be authorized until the Civil War, by the way).
Imagine holding a coin that is nearly as old as the United States! I once held a 1799 silver dollar, and upon closing my eyes with the heavy, silver coin in my hand, imagined all the incredible stories it was trying to tell me.
Of course, a coin like the 1794 Flowing Hair silver dollar would also have many tales to tell. And, if the $10 million specimen indeed was the very first dollar coin ever made, it would definitely take the cake as the most interesting coin in my collection. The question I ask is what is the greater claim to fame? First dollar coin ever made or most expensive coin? Perhaps I’d need to flip that coin to get the answer. (Numismatists, I am only kidding about flipping a 1794 silver dollar).
The 1933 Double Eagle Gold Coin – The Previously Most Expensive Coin
If you want to hear about another coin with a really interesting story, perhaps you’d like to learn more about the 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle gold coin. This coin, with a face value of $20, was the most expensive coin ever sold until the 1794 Flowing Hair dollar hit the auction block in January 2013. What was the final price of the 1933 double eagle coin, you may ask? Read on to find out!
The 1933 $20 double eagle didn’t start out as a particularly rare coin. In fact, more than 445,000 were minted. However, none of these were released into circulation because that same year, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt took the United States off the gold standard.
Virtually all 1933 $20 gold double eagles were then melted to become gold bullion. United States government officials had believed only two pieces, which the U.S. Mint gifted to the U.S. National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institute, had escaped melting. However, a handful of other 1933 double eagle coins soon began surfacing.
As some historians believe, a mint cashier named George McCann had taken roughly 20 1933 double eagle coins that were on the way to the melting vat and replaced them with double eagles of earlier dates, keeping the accounting books balanced.
Eventually, many of these coins found their way to Israel Switt, who was a jeweler in the Philadelphia area. Switt later sold nine of these to various coin collectors, and one came into the possession of King Farouk of Egypt. The Secret Service was able to confiscate all but the Farouk specimen, which eventually appeared in New York in the 1970s in the hands of British coin dealer Stephen Fenton.
The Secret Service confiscated the coin during a sting operation, but Fenton fought the law on the seizure. The coin was stored in U.S. Treasury vaults at the World Trade Center in New York City but was removed, only two months before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when Fenton and the U.S. government agreed on a compromise; the deal involved selling the coin at auction, with the earnings being split between Fenton and the U.S. Mint.
What was the final price of the 1933 double eagle gold coin? Try more than $7.5 million! While the buyer of this famous coin hasn’t been officially disclosed, I can break the news to you now that it wasn’t me.
My love for coins began when I was 11 years old. I primarily collect and study U.S. coins produced during the 20th century. I'm a member of the American Numismatic Association (ANA) and the Numismatic Literary Guild (NLG) and have won multiple awards from the NLG for my work as a coin journalist. I'm also the editor at CDN Publishing (a trusted source for the price of U.S. rare coins), editor at the Florida United Numismatists Club (FUN Topics magazine), and author of Images of America: The United States Mint in Philadelphia (a book that explores the colorful history of the Philadelphia Mint). I've contributed hundreds of articles for various coin publications including COINage, The Numismatist, Numismatic News, Coin Dealer Newsletter, Coin Values, and CoinWeek. I've also authored nearly 1,000 articles here at The Fun Times Guide to Coins — and I welcome your coin questions in the comments below!