Minted in commemoration of the idealistic French hero of the American War of Independence, the 1900 Lafayette silver dollar represents a rare opportunity for rare-coin collectors and investors. It was the first silver dollar commemorative coin, the first coin to depict a former U.S. president, and the first coin to depict the same person twice.
A member of one of Frances most esteemed noble families, whose male members were renowned for bravery in battle, Lafayette defied his king, family, and military superiors to sail to America and volunteer himself for the American struggle for independence. He was only 20 years old, and financed the voyage himself. Upon arrival in America, he was first rebuffed by the colonial leaders, but he offered to serve for free and was made a major-general in the Continental Army. Lafayette served with George Washington (who became a lifelong friend) at Valley Forge, was wounded at the Battle of Brandywine, and aided in the victory at Yorktown, Virginia.
After the war, Lafayette returned to France, where he played a pivotal part in the nations history, including drafting the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen a key document in the development of Western democracy. In 1824, Lafayette received a heros tour of the United States, and was honored by Congress.
Commemorating a Hero
In 1899, Congress approved legislation to coin silver dollars to commemorate Lafayette. Charles Barber, Chief Engraver of the Bureau of the Mint, created the design.
The obverse features Washington in profile, with Lafayette in profile behind him. Barber almost certainly derived the design from the 1881 Yorktown Centennial medal designed by Peter Krider, a Philadelphia engraver who created tokens and medals in the 1870s and 1880s.
The design on the reverse of the coin is based on an early sketch of a statue of Lafayette that was given to France by the schoolchildren of America. The coins, in fact, were a means of fundraising for the statue, which was intended to be unveiled on United States Day at the 1900 Worlds Fair in Paris. Lafayette appears on horseback, his sword raised in his right hand.
The commemorative coins were struck in 1899 at the Philadelphia Mint, and the first to be struck was given to the French president. The coins were sold to the public for $2 each by the commission in charge of the statue, although some were released into circulation at face value. 14,000 unsold coins went to the Treasury Building in Washington, D.C. where they were stored, only to be melted down for silver bullion in the 1940s.
Collecting a Lafayette Dollar Today
Because no attempts were made during striking to preserve the coins for collectors, many Lafayette dollars have contact marks from being ejected from the press into a hopper. Many of the coins also have contact marks from being in circulation. These two factors make it difficult to find Lafayette dollars of MS63 and higher quality today. Out of all silver commemorative coins, the Lafayette dollar at high MS levels is one of the most difficult to find.
Blanchard is pleased to offer the Lafayette dollar in the exceedingly rare condition of MS65. We expect this rare, historical coin to continue to increase in value.