The world’s most expensive coin, the Flowing Hair Dollar, went up for auction yesterday. In 2010 it sold for just under $8 million, three years later it set a world record when it sold for over $10 million. It was bought by a collector to add to a unique collection of Early Silver Dollars – including the 1804 Draped Bust Dollar which made headlines when it sold for over $3 million in 2017.

NNC US 1795 1 Flowing hair - Collectors Guide: What makes a coin so collectable?

What makes a coin collectable?

It’s incredible to think that a 1 dollar coin could be worth millions today, but there’s several things that determine the numismatic value and collectability of a coin. So we’ve put together a collector’s guide to help you know what to look out for when adding coins to your collection.

Several things determine the numismatic value and collectability of a coin – usually it’s based on the type of coin, the year it was minted, the place it was minted and even its condition or finish. But the biggest factor is probably the mintage of a coin and its rarity.

Mintage and Rarity

It’s the old rule of supply and demand – the less that are made, the more difficult a coin is to source and the more collectable it becomes. There are thought to be less than 150 of the Flowing hair dollars in existence today which contributes to the value of them.

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Or take for example the US 2015 Silver Eagle. This had a mintage of just 79,640, making it three times rarer than the second rarest silver Eagle (this year’s COVID Eagle). As these were snapped up by collectors, they have become more and more scarce, and in higher demand than ever, with collectors willing to pay a premium just to add one to their collections.

Year of issue

This doesn’t always mean age of the coin, but the year can play an important factor in determining the value of a coin. Generally you can expect to pay a premium for historic issues but this isn’t always the case. In fact some Roman coins can be picked up for less than £50, but coins from much more recent times, such as Victorian Crowns can sell for hundreds of pounds! Victorian crowns struck in important years, such as the 1887 Jubilee Head crowns are more desirable because of their links to significant events.

Finish

The finish of a coin, or the strike, is also an important factor to consider. Proof finished coins are struck several times with specially prepared blanks, which gives the design a particularly sharp edge and shows every detail. Proof finishes are highly desired among collectors, as are coins issued in BU – or brilliant uncirculated finish. This means the coin hasn’t been in circulation so is free from all the scratches you’d find on coins in your change.

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Minting location

Sometimes the mintmark or location of the mint in which a coin was struck can affect the collectability of the coin. The mintmark on a coin tells us where a coin was struck, and from that collectors use historical records to work out just how rare each coin is. For example, the Morgan Dollar was struck in 5 different mints, but the Carson City issues are the most sought after – they were struck for only 13 of the 43 years in which the Morgan Dollar was minted.

Morgan dollar minmarks - Collectors Guide: What makes a coin so collectable?

Many collectors specialise in some of these areas and build their collections around rare coins, themes and years of issue, or even mintmarks. But demand can and often will change over time and sometimes that means the value someone is willing to pay for a coin will increase over time – just as we’ve seen with the Flowing Hair Dollar.


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You might have heard in the news recently that the world’s most expensive coin is due to be sold at auction next month.

The 1794 Flowing Hair Dollar is believed to be the first silver dollar to be struck by the US Mint. It was last for sale in 2013 and was auctioned for just over $10 Million Dollars, making it the most expensive coin in the world.

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The Flowing Hair Dollar Obverse. Image credit: the National Numismatic Collection, National Museum of American History

The First US Dollar

In 1792, the US Congress issued an act stating that the Dollar was to be the cornerstone of US coinage. It was to be based on the Spanish Silver Dollar which was already widely used throughout the Americas. The act also stated that coins should include a symbol of Lady Liberty as well as an eagle – two icons that remain today on many US coins.

Where the nickname came from

The coin was designed by Robert Scot, who was Chief Engraver at the US Mint. His take on the bust of Liberty is what gave rise to the nickname of the coin with its detailed hair ‘flowing’ from the head of Lady Liberty. There are also fifteen stars on the coin, to represent each of the 15 states that had ratified the Constitution.

Was it just a PR stunt?

It’s thought that because the US was still struggling from the impact of the War of Independence it didn’t have access to much silver and other precious metals. Historians have argued that the introduction of a silver dollar was a way to showcase the power and capability of the US.

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The Flowing Hair Dollar Reverse. Image credit: the National Numismatic Collection, National Museum of American History

Very few of the 1794 Dollars were issued but they weren’t released into general circulation. They were mostly given to international VIPs or important congressmen, further adding fuel to the rumours that the Dollar was originally issued as part of a PR stunt.

Struck on just one day in October

Only 1,758 of these coins were struck, and according to the National Museum of American History, they were all minted on the same day. It’s thought that of this tiny number, less than 150 still survive today. Many would have been hidden forever, or melted down for their precious metal content, adding to the coin’s collectability.

It’s given rise to one of the most competitive collecting markets worldwide…

Eight of the top ten most expensive coins are US coins and the market is one of the most competitive around the world. Whether it’s the Coin of the Cowboys, the Mercury Dime, or even the first Half Dollar to feature a non-president, US coins have some of the most collectable stories attached to them. It’s hardly surprising that many collectors are looking to source American coins for their collection these days.

The Flowing Hair Dollar is due to be sold on October 8th 2020. How much do you think it will sell for this time? Let us know in the comments below!


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