1796 Early Silver Dollar (1796 S$1) Large Date, Small Letter, NGC MS62. BB-65, B-5. Not often does one see a mint state early 1796 Silver Dollar. On this one, from the famous Whitney Collection, the central devices on both sides are lighter than the peripheries. Light shades of rose, teal, and lavender and tan are seen on both sides. Liberty’s face and hair glow with mint luster as do most of the eagle and some of the wreath on the left. A couple of tiny marks are noted on each side in keeping with the grade. The strike is above average with some weakness shown on stars two and three, the central obverse, and the lower central reverse. There is a die chip, seen as a lump, above IC in AMERICA that clearly identifies the variety and indicates by its size that this piece is one of the later impressions. This die chip does not detract from the coin’s grade or its value.
The 1796 dollar is the second type called the Draped Bust Small Eagle. It was made from 1795 to 1798. The design shows a draped bust of Liberty facing right. Above is the word LIBERTY, and below is the date. Seven six-pointed stars are to the left and six are to the right. The portrait, taken from a drawing by the famous artist Gilbert Stuart, is of Ann Bingham. John Eckstein translated this drawing to models for Engraver Robert Scot. Evidently Eckstein lost many of the nuances, which might explain why Stuart’s family would not acknowledge his role in the coinage design. Dentils are near the edge on both sides of the coin. The edge is lettered HUNDRED CENTS ONE DOLLAR OR UNIT with ornamentation between the words. The reverse shows a small, unrealistic eagle poised to fly standing on a rock. Around the eagle is a wreath of laurel on the left and palm on the right. A ribbon ties the ends of the wreath together. The inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA encircles the design. The 1796 dollar has fifteen stars on the obverse; however, on June 1, 1796 Tennessee was admitted to the Union. It was the sixteenth state and should have had a star marking its statehood. The star was added in 1797, which suggests that all of the 1796 dies were made earlier in the year before Tennessee was admitted.
Thomas Jefferson chose Robert Scot to be the first Chief Engraver of the United States Mint on November 23, 1793. During the Revolution, he had been an engraver of paper money. His ability to make dies was limited, and he was advanced in years with failing eyesight. His work was poorer in quality than that done in Europe at the time, and Scot was criticized for it.
The Mint Director, Henry William DeSaussure, wished to place gold coinage in circulation and to improve the design of the other denominations especially silver. This desire is the reason he engaged Gilbert Stuart to submit a drawing for the new dollar obverse. In 1795 DeSaussure resigned his position because of illness and hostility from Congress. Many of the lawmakers wanted to abolish the Mint and continue the practice of using copper coins made at British token factories and foreign silver and gold coins. Elias Boudinot became the Mint Director after DeSaussure.
In 1796 the number of coins struck was more than in previous years, but there were problems at the Mint. One problem was die breakage. Consequently many new dies had to be made which, in turn, slowed production. Another was the annual epidemic of Yellow Fever. It caused the Mint to be closed each fall for at least two months, and valuable employees were killed because of it. Finally there was constant fear that Congress would prevail and the Mint would be closed, which led to low morale among Mint workers.
There were several varieties of 1796 dollars. They include a small date with small letters, a small date with large letters, and a large date with small letters, the present coin.
With an original mintage of 79,920, one might think that these coins are readily available; however, in its population report NGC shows a total of 380 coins graded for 1796, with 38 for the large date, small letters variety. In MS62 there is this coin and only one better. PCGS also shows one in MS62 with one better.
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