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While the Class I, II, and III 1804 silver dollars garner unflagging fame and fortune, the real numismatic controversy and intrigue surrounds the production of their 1801-1803 'novodel' counterparts. The term 'restrike' implies the production of a coinage issue subsequent to an original delivery and, usually, with the same dies. A 'novodel,' on the other hand, is a piece struck from dies that the Mint produced later than the year on the coins. In addition, as is the case with the pieces in question, the novodel does not follow an original delivery.
Over the years, numerous stories have surfaced within numismatic circles that attempted to explain the existence of the 1801-1803 novodels. One of the more persistent of these is the one that Walter Breen puts forth in his Encyclopedia. The author asserts that, while the Class I 1804 novodel dollar dies were produced in the 1830s, those of the 1801-1803 pieces trace their roots to the 1850s. Sometime around 1858, an unknown party obtained access to the Chief Coiner's vault, retrieved the 'original' 1804 dies of the 1830s along with Robert Scot's old device punches, and created three new obverse dies backdated 1801, 1802, and 1803. The pieces that these new dies produced remained in the hands of noted dealer William Idler for the better part of twenty years. In 1876, Idler's son-in-law, Captain John W. Haseltine, revealed the coins' existence to the numismatic community. He was unable to sell the pieces, according to Breen, because collectors dismissed them as fantasy pieces that were produced within the past few months. Regardless of our respect for Walter Breen, we cannot agree with the his history of the novodel dollars.
In his book Silver Dollars and Trade Dollars of the United States: A Complete Encyclopedia, Q. David Bowers outlines a much more coherent argument that we wholeheartedly endorse here. His story of the novodel dollars begins in 1831. By this time, the amount of silver bullion that flowed into the United States from Canton was large enough to prompt Mint Director Samuel Moore to petition President Andrew Jackson to lift the ban on silver dollar production. In anticipation of this resumption in dollar coinage, Moore instructed his staff to prepare four obverse dies and two reverse dies. Since the Draped Bust motif had not been used on any United States coin since the 1808 half cent, Chief Coiner Adam Eckfeldt had to consult old Mint records to ascertain that 1804, 1803, and 1802 were the last years that dollar production featured this design. (What he did not know, however, was that the 1804 delivery contained dollars dated 1803.) By the end of 1831, the Philadelphia Mint had on hand one incomplete obverse die, three obverse dies dated 1802, 1803, and 1804, respectively, and two distinct reverse dies (designated X and Y by Eric P. Newman and Kenneth E. Bressett in their book The Fantastic 1804 Dollar). Between that year and 1837, whenever the Chief Coiner needed to produce proof silver dollars for presentation purposes, he selected the 1804 obverse die and reverse die X. It was at this time that the Class I 1804 silver dollars, of which the King of Siam and Imam of Muscat specimens are the most famous examples, were produced. After their completion sometime in 1831, the Mint locked the novodel dollar dies away for several decades. While the 1804 obverse die was retrieved circa 1858 along with reverse die Y to strike the Class II and Class III specimens, the remaining four dies remained tucked away until the early 1870s.
Sometime during 1873-1876, Mint Director Henry R. Lindermann entered the story of the novodels. Under his direction, an employee at the Mint retrieved the 1802, 1803, and undated obverse dies from the vault, added stars and the 1801 date to the previously incomplete obverse die, mated the three obverses with reverse die X of the Class I 1804 dollar, and produced fewer than twenty-five novodels dated 1801-1803. To support this assessment, Bowers cites the following facts:
1. The surviving 1803 novodels exhibit varying degrees of die rust marks about both star 4 and the date. This feature indicates that the 1803 obverse die was used long after it was made in 1831.
2. The 1801-1803 novodels exhibit a linear die crack through NITED on the reverse that is a later state than that on the Class I 1804 dollars. Therefore, the 1801-1803 issues were produced at a later date than their Class I 1804 counterparts of the 1830s.
3. The 1801-1803 specimens were unknown to numismatists until Captain John Haseltine revealed several specimens and offered them for sale in 1876. It seems highly unlikely that someone would have produced the 1801-1803 specimens in the 1830s and held them for forty years while their associates at the Mint made a small fortune selling fantasy pieces and restrikes during the 1830s, 1840s, 1850s, and 1860s.
4. The Class I 1804 dollars all have weights that conform to the pre-1837 standard of 416 grains. The Class III 1804 dollars (produced sometime circa 1858) all have weights that conform to either the pre-1837 standard of 416 grains or the post-1837 standard of 412.5 grains. The 1801-1803 novodels, however, weigh between 419.5 and 423 grains. This spread is within the legal tolerance range of the 420 grain standard. Since the Trade dollar of 1873-1883 is the only coin that conformed to this standard, it seems nearly impossible that the Mint would have had planchets of this weight on hand during and earlier than the 1870s.
5. The higher average grade of the surviving 1801-1803 novodels as compared to their Class I 1804 counterparts suggests a much later date of manufacture for the prior pieces. In addition, all surviving proof coins of the 1830s, such as the 1836-1839 Gobrecht patterns, display average levels of preservation that are markedly below those of the 1801-1803 novodels. The information given above proves decisively that Q. David Bowers' assessment is accurate--the 1801-1803 novodels trace their production date to the 1870s. Although Mint Director Samuel Moore oversaw the production of these dies in the 1830s for seemingly official purposes, his successor by forty years, Henry R. Lindermann, undoubtedly reaped the financial rewards of the novodels themselves alongside the numerous patterns and fantasy pieces that flowed from the Philadelphia Mint during his tenure. Considerably rarer than the 1804, the 1803 novodel dollar has an original mintage of no more than ten specimens.
Description and Analysis courtesy of Heritage Auctions and may not be republished without written permission.
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