Thaler? – Daler? – What about “Dollar?”

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The one dollar coin signs in

 The world’s reserve currency – and the standard by which all other currencies are judged. That’s quite a claim to fame. And the one dollar coin is the star of the show.

Not many people know the origin of this fabled monetary unit though – and as with most things connected with the history of American coinage – it makes fascinating reading.

People from across Europe colonized the US after it’s discovery. Like migrants today, they were looking for a fresh start – somewhere they could make their futures. One country from which these settlers arrived in relatively large numbers was the Czech Republic (as it is now).

The population here spoke a mix of Low German and Flemish, initially, and the German word “T(h)aler” – which was short for “Joachimsthaler” – a silver coin, produced by a mine called Joachimsthal (‘Joachim’s valley’), now Jáchymov – was changed to “daler”.

As you can see from this link (this coin is Swedish – from the early 1700s) the name spread throughout Europe. It was only natural then, that the settlers adopted it – and anglicized it – for the currency of their new homeland.

The Spanish-American colonies were the first to use the term – followed by the British North American settlers around the time of the American War of Independence.

It was finally made the official name of the US monetary unit of currency, in 1794, when the first “dollar” was minted.

New beginnings

The first of these dollar coins were made of silver.

They had an engraving of “Liberty with flowing hair” on their face side – and an heraldic eagle on an arched olive branch on the obverse.

Just 1,758 of them were pressed – on October 15, 1794. This makes them one of the rarest coins on earth.

To be the first of such an iconic currency – and produced in such small numbers, is the perfect recipe for collectability.

One example fetched over $10,000,000 in 2013 at an auction by Stack’s Bowers in New York.

The following year, a new design – known as “Draped bust” was released. Both designs were then minted in quantity until 1803. None were then produced until 1836.

What is fascinating about this nine-year period of coin production is that, because the manufacture of the dies from which the coins were pressed were all engraved by hand, each of them has slight variations in differences which can be seen in the coins produced by them.

Because these dies broke, or sometimes wore badly, the coin runs struck on them were sometimes short. This means that where some coins of this era are common – some are extraordinarily rare.

It may seem odd to have stopped production after such a short period of time – but the US government realised that its silver was being exported, in great quantities, and being sold in the Caribbean in exchange for Spanish eight reale coins. These were worth more – so when they were imported back into the US the dealers made a profit on the exchange.


Mistaken identity?

As we mentioned above – because the dies used in coin production at this time were made of steel – they often cracked or broke completely because they were not tempered properly. It was this problem that led to a mistake by the US Mint in 1804.

The one dollar coins minted in this year were actually dated 1803 by mistake. It is one of the amazing facts of history that no 1804 coin struck in the US – in 1804 – was made in 1804!

In another twist to this remarkable story, the first “1804” silver one dollar coin was actually minted in 1834. this came about because the US Department of State wanted to organise a “gift” for Asian leaders when it was organising a trade mission.

Thinking that all the 1804 coins were dated 1804, the mint went ahead and pressed just 15 of these – and these 15 are the only known examples of 1804 dollars.

This article explains more about these rarest of coins.

Of course, there have been many forms and types of one dollar coin minted in the years since– the Seated Liberty dollar was produced between 1836 and 1873


There were even gold dollar coins produced between 1849 and 1889. These were made of 90% pure gold and what the lowest value gold coins ever produced in the US.

Between 1873 and 1885, there was, what is known as a trade dollar. This was 90% silver but slightly heavier than the normal silver dollars produced by the US Mint.

Between 1878 and 1904 – and (famously) in 1921 – the Morgan silver dollar was minted.

This was followed between 1921 in 1928 – then 1934 to 1935 – by the Peace dollar.

1971 to 1978 saw the issue of the Eisenhower dollar– and 1979 to 1981 (and 1999) saw the introduction of the Susan B. Anthony dollar.

There have been several issues since including the Sacagawea dollar and the native American series – not to mention the “Presidential dollar coins program”.

As you can see “just” collecting one dollar coins is a hobby which can be utterly absorbing by itself. There is a whole range of coins available – from some of the highest prices in the world down to – well – a dollar!

Charles Thorngren

Charles Thorngren

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The Morgan Silver Dollar is an essential part of American History. The first was released in 1878 and became an immediate success. We have sourced 3 different versions of this iconic coin. These will be an investment as well as a family heirloom for generations to come.

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