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First American dollar could fetch $5 million

As the saying goes, a dollar ain't worth what it used to be. That is, unless it's a silver dollar from 1794.

One of these rare coins — from the first batch of dollar-denominated coins ever produced in the country — is expected to fetch $3 million to $5 million when it goes up for auction Wednesday.

It's the top lot in a sale of 104 American federal coins from the 1790s to 1830s that are part of the famed Pogue collection, being sold by Stack's Bowers Galleries.

The 1794 silver dollar is one of more than 1,750 that were minted, and roughly 100 that survived, according to Lawrence R. Stack, a founder of Stack's Bowers. Of those surviving coins, only a handful are in top condition.

The first American dollar, from 1794.
Source: Stack’s Bowers
The first American dollar, from 1794.

A prototype version of the coin sold for $10 million in 2013. And while the one being sold Wednesday isn't as valuable, it's still one of the most prized coins in the world, Stack said.

"It represents the founding of our economic system," he said. "Through the years the dollar has grown to be the dominant currency."

Stack added that the coin going up for auction Wednesday has an ideal provenance. It was first acquired by Lord St. Oswald, a British aristocrat who acquired many coins during his travels to the U.S. in 1794 and 1795.

Because his travels were so well documented — and his coins kept in such pristine condition — the so-called "St. Oswald" coins are prized in the collecting community.

Lord St. Oswald's silver dollar sold at Christie's for 4,000 pounds in 1964, showing its dramatic increase in value.

Coins in general have turned out to be a wise investment for many collectors in recent years. Collectible coins gained 13 percent in value last year and 92 percent over five years, outperforming art, wine and diamonds, according to the firm Knight Frank.