The 'da Vinci' of Rare Coins

The Executive Vice-President of Private Client Services – Mike Bonham accompanied the owner of Tangible Investments, Inc., Silvano DiGenova, to the huge vault where only the top tier, the rarest of the rare, coins are stored. Silvano walked into the vault (the size of some master bedrooms) while Mike waited by the heavily fortified door. A few moments later, Silvano emerged and handed him a small silver dollar encased in a PCGS holder. The coin is certified as a Mint State 63+ and also has a bright blue holographic CAC sticker – a kind of third party “Good House Keeping” Seal of Approval verifying that the coin is indeed regarded as a Mint state 63+ grade. A perfect coin is graded 70, but considering this coin has been around since 1794, it’s in really good shape.

Mike puts the coin into a wooden presentation box. A short time later, he is joined by an armed guard and escorted to the airport. He’s flying to meet with his client…now the proud owner of one of the rarest and most valuable U.S. coins, the 1794 Silver Dollar – America’s first silver dollar. The interesting thing about Mike’s client is he’s never invested in a rare coin. Never.

“In our business, we have the privilege of placing a number of high-end rare coins,” Mike goes on to say, “Every once in a while, and I mean few and far between, we get something truly spectacular. Usually, the only possibility one gets to own something of this magnitude is through public auction where the competition is heavy and many, highly experienced, sharpshooters are gunning for it. I met this prospect who had previously never invested in numismatics before. I made a presentation, showed him this coin’s amazing track record, and he recognized the importance and value of it.”

The Mint State 63+ 1794 Dollar is no stranger to the company’s president Silvano DiGenova. “This is the third time I’ve bought and sold this specific coin, and every time I’ve had it, it’s been easy to find someone else who wanted it no matter what the price was.” Fine Art from the masters can sell for hundreds of millions of dollars. Think about the daVinci painting – SALVATOR MUNDI, that just sold for $450,000,000. This coin is the “daVinci” of numismatics and is far rarer than paintings of that nature. There are about 24 works attributed to da Vinci, 35 paintings attributed to Vermeer. There are only 6 mint state examples of this coin known to exist. The 1794 dollar is a true artifact of American history. When one appears on the market. There’s a fight for it.

When America’s first silver dollar was being considered, large amounts of silver were simply not available and the Mint had no funds with which to purchase any; instead, the Mint relied on depositors who were willing to bring their raw silver or foreign silver coins to the Mint for conversion into American silver coins

This meant that each batch of silver had to be processed individually, sometimes more than once. From melting, to refining, to rolling out the ingots into sheets of silver, to punching out blanks, to the actual coining, each batch was kept separate from all others. Eventually, the depositor would receive a parcel of U.S. coins in an amount equal to the value of the silver contributed.

These coins were struck with a hand crank used to exert the pressure. Not only was the process time consuming, most of the coins resulted in poor striking characteristics with much of the detail missing.

Of the 2,000 1794 Silver Dollars struck on October 15, 1794, 242 were rejected as being too poorly struck and having insufficient details. In 1794, the largest coin press at the Mint was the one used to make cents and half dollars. This proved to be inadequate for striking coins as large as the Silver Dollar. In fact, virtually all of the 1,758 coins that survived the quality inspection are still surprisingly weak, a combination of the press capability and the fact that the faces of the dies were not parallel.

Additionally, many 1794 Dollars display adjustment marks. These marks are the result of the Mint’s filing down of overweight planchets to make them confirm to the legally specified weight range for this issue. While these adjustment marks are often innocuous, they are sometimes so numerous as to severely compromise one or more elements of a coin’s design. Finding a well struck 1794 Silver Dollar with clean surface design is extremely difficult. The particular specimen, certified as MS (mint state) 63+, placed by Tangible Investments, has incredible detail especially in the hair. The date “1794” is especially strong and bold. The surface, amazingly, still has its original blazing luster. This is the fifth finest known specimen. The finest known specimen sold at auction for $10,000,000.

Regardless of striking quality or level of preservation, a 1794 Flowing Hair Silver Dollar is an extremely important find in numismatic circles, and the ownership of even a low-grade and/or impaired example is the earmark of an important collection.

Ever since numismatics became popular, beginning in the 1850s, the 1794 silver dollar has been recognized as a great rarity. One collector, Jack Collins, spent over 30 years tracking all of the known examples, uncovering 100 demonstrably different ones. In the past few years, only a handful of examples in mint condition have surfaced.

Michael Malone, in his book on Gold and Silver investing, points out that numismatic premiums can vary from a few bucks to several million, depending on the coin and the grade. “The most expensive coins, the rarest of the rare, will probably always be good investments because there are only a few of them. Only a few of the world’s wealthiest collectors can own them.” On the contrary, one of the more alluring aspects of investing in numismatics, assuming you’re working with a PNG dealer, is there’s a viable entry point at all levels. In fact, Silvano has written a book – THE INVESTOR’S GUIDE TO UNITED STATES COINS in which he includes his top fifty investment picks.

Investors tend to be trepidatious about investing in numismatics because of their limited knowledge of numismatics. They don’t know the right coins to buy and at what price to buy them. Warren Buffet fundamental principle is not to invest in something you don’t understand. That’s why it is critical, if you don’t know rare coins, to know your dealer. Silvano stresses the importance of dealing with a PNG dealer ( The Professional Numismatists Guild is a non-profit organization that was founded in 1955. Their motto is Knowledge, Integrity, and Responsibility. Out of the thousands of coin dealers worldwide, only a few hundred qualify for PNG membership.

Tangible alternative assets, as indexed by the global consultancy group Knight Frank illustrates returns on rare coins over the past 10 years to the end of 2016. This rare coin index easily out performed fine art, stamps, antiques and the S&P 500. Coins are more portable than paintings or antiques and boast a much higher value-to-volume ratio. The global sales of rare coins are estimated at about $8 Billion, with 85% of the market being in the United States.

Even most problem-free 1794 Flowing Hair Dollars that have survived did so only after acquiring some degree of wear. Only six coins, in fact, are universally recognized by numismatic experts as Mint State 1794 Silver Dollars:

1. The Carter Cardinal Specimen. Silver Plug. Specimen-66 (PCGS). This coin was acquired by the Cardinal Collection Educational Foundation in May of 2010 for $7,850,000—the price setting the world record for a single coin. The coin was sold again for a new world record on January, 2013 for $10,016,875.

2. The Col. Green-Rogers-Stellar Specimen. MS-66 (PCGS). This coin is also impounded for the foreseeable future.

3. The Lord St. Oswald-Ostheimer-Hayes-Pogue Specimen. S-66 (PCGS). This coin soldin September, 2015 for $4,993,750.

4. The Lord St. Oswald-Norweb Specimen. MS-64 (PCGS). Sold most recently for $2,820,000. We list this above our specimen (#5); however, many catalogues have listed the specimen offered herein as the finer including Martin Logies, the author of the definitive work on the subject - THE FLOWING HAIR SILVER DOLLARS OF 1794.

5. The Virgil Brand-F.C.C. Boyd-Cardinal Specimen. MS-64 (NGC). Now MS63+ PCGS CAC, our coin presently offered here.

6. The L.R. French, Jr. Family Specimen. MS-62+ (PCGS). Impounded for the foreseeable future in a private Midwestern collections.


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