1797 Silver Dollar S$1 10x6, Large Letters, BB-71, B-3 NGC AU50. This early 1797 Silver Dollar has lovely surfaces enhanced by original toning and color. Shades of green, teal, lavender, and silver-grey enhance both sides. Mint luster remains within the devices. The coin has an above average strike with the hair and drapery strong on the obverse and most of the breast and wing feathers showing on the reverse. Some reverse dies of this coin type have very little detail on the eagle. A fairly sharp strike and excellent eye appeal, such as the present coin, dramatically add to the value. Sufficient separation of the lines of Liberty’s hair and the eagle’s feathers confirms the grade.
The 1797 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. Ten 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.
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 1797 the number of coins struck was less than in previous years because 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 1797 dollars. They include the present coin with ten stars left and six right and a version with nine stars left and seven right with both large and small letters.
With an original mintage of 7,776 for all varieties, the 1797 dollar is rare in all conditions. In its population report, NGC has 6 in AU50 for the 10x6 Large Letters with 19 better.
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