A piece of copper struck by the United States Mint in Philadelphia in 1794 that served as a prototype for the first U.S. dollar coins has gone up for auction online in Dallas on Friday.
The piece, known as the “No Stars Flowing Hair Dollar,” is owned by businessman and Texas Rangers co-chairman Bob Simpson.
While it is similar to silver dollars later minted in Philadelphia, it was given its name because it lacks stars.
“While subsequent dollar coins struck featuring stars were added to the front of the coin, starless coins are considered by collectors and institutions as one-of-a-kind prototypes for the silver examples that would follow,” said Jacob Lipson of Heritage Auctions.
Heritage Auctions expects the prototype to fetch between $350,000 and $500,000.
The front side displays a swirling hair portrait of Liberty and the date 1794, while the reverse side depicts a small eagle on a rock amid a wreath. The Smithsonian Institution’s National Numismatic Collection contains similar starless examples.
“It’s incredibly exciting,” said a numismatist from California David McCarthy. “It gives us a view into what was going on inside the Mint in 1794 when it was gearing up to make the first dollars ever struck.”
As the Mint continued to produce the nation’s first silver dollars, the pattern was forgotten.
“Coin collecting lore states the unique rarity was excavated from the site of the first Philadelphia Mint before 1876,” Lipson said. That was how the coin’s first owner described its history at its first auction appearance in 1890.
According to Lipson, the pattern is corroded and not in excellent shape since it was buried at the site of the original Mint. Its brown surfaces have some bruises and other markings.
According to the auction house, it has changed hands eight times.
Bob Simpson, 73, bought it in 2008 along with other patterns to add to his extensive collection. He sees himself as a steward and believes it is time for someone else to enjoy it.
“I think coins should be appreciated almost as artwork,” he said. “I have gotten more than enough joy from them.”
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Simpson said that he wasn’t rich when he began collecting. As he was a kid, he would go to a store, get a roll of coins, and analyze them. It was part of the fun he has had in this country, he said.
“America is the only place I think where you can travel from near poverty to wealth based on education,” he said.
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