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Hoards Assembled in Various Ways
By Paul M. Green, Numismatic News
October 01, 2013

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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There is nothing more exciting than finding treasure coins or hearing an announcement of a major hoard.

“How can I get some” very often is the first question collectors ask when they hear about it. Actually the excitement can be a little muted if you happen to own examples of the coins found in the treasure or hoard, but even then things are frequently not as bad as might be expected as there is one example after another of treasures and hoards where the publicity surrounding them creates enough demand to actually see the price increase. The law of supply and demand still works. It is just that in the excitement immediately after a discovery more demand is created to grab the new supply.

There is no better example of publicity actually creating increasing and not decreasing prices than the Mint State double eagles found on wrecks like the S.S. Central America and S.S. Brother Jonathan.

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According to Q. David Bowers some 5,400 Mint State 1857-S double eagles were found on the S.S. Central America and it is hard to imagine that there are 5,400 people seriously collecting Mint State Coronet Head double eagles, yet the price over the course of a few years of the 1857-S actually went up after they reached the market just as the 21st century was dawning. Suffice to say that other dates found on the S.S. Central America and other treasures actually went up in price as well with the publicity surrounding their discovery and sale.

A very similar case could be made for the Carson City silver dollars sold by the General Services Administration during the 1970s. Realistically it is unlikely that there has ever been a situation like the one with the 1884-CC as in the GSA sales were nearly 85 percent of the entire mintage. Not only that, they were in Mint State. That simply does not happen under normal circumstances.

With the 1884-CC being offered at the time as uncirculated for $30 there was some reason to suspect that it might be decades before the 1884-CC was back to $30 in MS-60. In fact it was nothing like that as the 1884-CC basically hovered around $30 in uncirculated grades for a while and then began to move to ever higher prices. Even in MS-60, the coin is $210 today. Certainly with nearly 85 percent of the entire mintage available and in Mint State it would be expecting far too much to think that the 1884-CC would be one of the higher priced Morgan dollars, but the fact remains that the 1884-CC and other dates where large percentages of the original mintage were sold have done reasonably well when you consider they are available in significant numbers.

Those are just a couple examples to calm the nerves of those who might have coins that were at one time found in these cases on a shipwreck and in government vaults. Neither was a disaster for those owning the date and both made fascinating stories and great opportunities for the majority of collectors who had a chance to acquire a nice coin at a very favorable price.

In many cases the discovery of a hoard or treasure is really a great opportunity for many. A good example was a hoard of 1908 no motto double eagles known to most as the Wells Fargo hoard. The hoard was simply stored in the Wells Fargo Bank for some years having really come from Europe where they had been sitting since World War I when they were apparently used for the payment of some type of international debt.

In fact the 1908 no motto Saint-Gaudens double eagle was really an available date before the hoard was placed on the market during 1997-1998. What the hoard coins had that others in most cases did not was unusual quality. In his book A Guide Book Of Double Eagle Gold Coins, Q. David Bowers observed, “Some of the Wells Fargo coins are so nice that it is easy to forget about checking how well they are struck.” In fact, that is true as Bowers quotes Ron Gillio who was involved with the hoard. The Gillio breakdown of grades showed literally thousands of examples in grades above MS-65. For any double eagle such numbers in such grades represents virtually no threat to the prices of the coins held by anyone prior to the discovery of the hoard, but rather an amazing opportunity to acquire an extraordinary coin you could otherwise never hope to find or afford.

It is that unusual opportunity that is at the heart of the interest in any treasure or hoard. Over the years people dealing and collecting ancient coins have perhaps realized the value of treasures and hoards better than those in the U.S. market as they see hoards and treasures of various sizes more often.

It is simply a fact of life that the modern metal detector put to use in what was the ancient world has enabled us to tap directly into the banking system of the day. Roughly translated that means that the average wage earner in ancient times would cheerfully take their wages and if they wanted to save some money for a rainy day or the next invasion or other disaster they would simply dig a hole and place their coins in the hole.

People have been doing something like that for centuries as without banks in many cases until the mid 1850s or even 1900s there was no good place to store their coins. In 19th century and early 20th century Central America they were hidden in walls and foundations, but back in ancient times it was more basic as you simply dug a hole.

Over the years with the metal detector thousands of such hoards of various sizes have been discovered as sometimes the owners for one reason or another did not return to claim their coins. As a result of the discoveries, the ancient coin dealers and collectors have become used to hoard offerings and they almost universally see them as an opportunity to acquire coins at good prices. The same type of hoard was seen in the famous Harmony Society hoard from Pennsylvania. The hoard was assembled prior to 1836. Whether you call it treasure or a hoard, just assets of the society, it was an enormous amount of silver for the time primarily in the form of half dollars.

It seems that the group believed in paying “In Money,” which to them meant in silver and as silver dollars were not being produced at the time they opted for the next largest denomination, which was the half dollar.

Being thrifty, the Harmony Society accumulated a lot of half dollars. The total was placed at over 110,000 pieces and in addition to providing the market with an unusual supply of pre-1836 half dollars, the hoard has helped to give us a unique picture of what half dollars were in circulation at the time. In fact, the hoard contained more than one-third of the roughly 400 known examples of the historic 1794 half dollar, the first half dollar of the United States and a date which would be much tougher and more expensive than is already the case were it not for the hoard.

Much the same is true for other dates prior to 1836 as had it not been for the Harmony Society hoard, which was dispersed in the late 1800s, many early half dollar would be much tougher and probably more expensive than they are today. Another hoard that came to light in the 1800s was the Randall hoard of large cents and it too has had an impact on the market even today.

The Randall Hoard involved a keg of large cents with many in Mint State, which were used by a merchant after the Civil War to pay a debt. The coins were then sold to Wm. H. Chapman, who in turn sold them to John Randall at the going rate of 90 to the dollar. As so often happens there is not a complete accounting for the dates in the hoard but in the case of Mint State coins they were primarily from 1816-1820 with the 1818 in particular being heavily represented. The impact of the hoard on availability can be seen with the Professional Coin Grading Service reporting over 500 Mint State examples of the 1818 while the 1820 has a similar number. By comparison the later 1837, which had a higher mintage, has barely reached one-half of the totals of the early dates.

Historically there has been the suggestion that the Randall Hoard large cents while uncirculated were “spotted red” and in other cases “oily,” In fact, like any other hoard there were almost certainly a small number of nicer coins and a much larger number of average ones. In this case the point is that Mint State large cents from 1820 or before do not come along in any numbers every day and the numbers found in the hoard have made a significant difference in supplies today. While that has helped large cent collectors, it has also helped type collectors or anyone wanting an early high grade large cent.

While there was not much collecting as we know it today during the 1800s there was a certain amount of speculation. The collectors and dealers of the day while perhaps not collecting by date and mint were willing in some cases to set aside extra examples of coins they thought would prove to be valuable.

One good example was the 1856 Flying Eagle cent. We can get hung up all day over whether the 1856 Flying Eagle cent was really a coin or a pattern. In fact as the Flying Eagle cent was not even approved until 1857 it had to be a pattern but one which circulated and which was later produced in added numbers. We cannot actually be sure what the total mintage was, but we know that by 1859 it was selling for the lofty sum of one dollar and over the years more than one collector bought as many as they could find and afford.

In 1911, for example, more than 700 examples of the 1856 collected by Detroit department store owner George Rice were sold. In 1920 Pittsburgh oilman John A. Beck died and his hoard of 700 1856 Flying Eagle cents was then sold. In fact those two hoards alone account for perhaps 50 percent of the known examples of the elusive 1856 small cent available today and over the years there were reports of other smaller holdings suggesting that the 1856 was a popular choice for hoarding by those doing a little speculating in better dates in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Not everyone picked a date that would ultimately move to significantly higher prices as was the case with the 1856. There is little doubt that someone was hoarding gold dollars in the 1879-1881 period. In fact they were good gold dollars to hard with the 1880 having the lowest mintage at just 1,600 while the 1879 was at 3,000 and the 1881 at 7,620. If you check the prices of the dates today you find all are not at very high premiums over dates generally viewed as available.

There is a simple reason as those hoards, which might have been only a few hundred pieces, if they were released into the market later and with very limited demand for gold dollars even a few hundred pieces was enough to supply most normal demand at very reasonable prices. The trickle of these dates has now stopped, but the fact is that there are supplies and in Mint State to boot. That is rarely found for any gold dollar no matter what the mintage.

At least part of the joy of treasures and hoards is in the stories and the fun. Of course finding treasure is fun for those lucky enough to actually benefit, but the search and the stories can let us all participate in the story and recovery of the S.S.Central America or other famous shipwrecks.

Of course salvaging shipwrecks is a big business and few of us can get actively involved in that, but I had a chance to experience on a small scale what it is like simply by taking my less than fully trusty metal detector and excavating my yard. As it turned out, there was a small treasure in the form of the Indian Head cent hole that produced well over a roll of Indian Head cents.

Cleaning and attempting to identify each date was enormous fun even if the best date was only from 1885. The hole also let me learn a little more about how the past owners of the home lived. Where it was located indicated that the spot was likely to be the place where having parked the buggy a past owner would fumble for his keys, sometimes dropping small change in the process. Even in the early 1900s it is likely that no one would stand for long in the Wisconsin winter to find an Indian Head cent in the snow. Sadly, those Indian Head cents never included a better date like the 1877, but the experience and fun was priceless.

Other much more valuable hoards can also be fun. Close to the top of the list has to be the LaVere Redfield hoard of silver dollars. It was the stuff of Hollywood as LaVere Redfield was the sort of recluse the stories always depict. He apparently lived alone near Reno, Nev., and trusted few if any other human beings. In fact, Redfield in an earlier time might have fit right in with the Harmony Society in Pennsylvania hoarding half dollars but in his time the silver coin of choice was the Morgan dollar.

We do not know precisely what Redfield was thinking although there is some reason to believe he was preparing for the worst with canned fruit and other items essential for survival joining his stash of silver dollars in his basement.

The Redfield Hoard was certainly a stash of silver dollars to remember. How long it took to assemble is uncertain but it appears that periodically Redfield would emerge from his home and head to the bank in his pickup truck where he would obtain at face value $1,000 bags of silver dollars. It was possible to do at the time and actually was probably easy in Reno as with a casino industry silver dollars were in constant demand and use.

Selling a few bags at face value to Redfield periodically was no problem and with hundreds of millions sitting in Treasury vaults waiting to be used everyone involved was probably quite happy to transfer the storing responsibility to Redfield, freeing up Treasury vault space. Redfield would take his truckload of silver dollar bags and ride through town to his home where they would be stored in the basement along with his canned fruit and other essentials.

There were problems. At one time he was robbed with a number of coins probably from his holdings turning up in the local casino. Redfield was also not a coin collector. He was a character and a silver dollar hoarder, but careful care of his coins was apparently not a priority.

Sitting in a basement and having been carted around in his truck, the coins were not perfect but that said, there were certainly a lot of them. He died in 1974. When the A-Mark Coin Company purchased the hoard after his death for a sum reported at $7.3 million they reported that there were some 407,596 silver dollars of which 351,259 were uncirculated.

In fact the Redfield dollars, like the later GSA Carson City silver dollars, were packaged in special holders that today bring premium prices adding a certain pedigree to the coins. The Redfield coins in general are not the highest quality. The circumstances of being dumped in a basement with canned peaches just worked against finding extraordinary coins. That said, they were nice coins with a great story.

There were a number of dates represented, with the 1887-S for instance being a so-called “Redfield Date” and that means it is relatively inexpensive in grades like AU-50 and MS-60 thanks in many cases to the time in spent in Redfield’s basement.

Interestingly enough there have been collectors who have assembled great hoards as well. LaVere Redfield is well known, but George Shaw and Morris Moscow are not yet they probably should be as starting in the 1940s Shaw and Moscow assembled a hoard that is legitimately on a par with the Redfield hoard in terms of stunning totals and interesting coins.

The situation was simple in that Shaw at the time was a coin dealer who had been one of the first to recognize the 1942/41 overdate Mercury dime. In his search for the 1942/41 and other better coins he enlisted the help of Moscow, who worked for the New York Transit Authority.

Moscow had the dream job for any coin collector as he could check the coins from the New York Subway system and simply replace good dates if any were found. Starting in the 1940s he found plenty of good dates. In fact, it would be safe to say that no one has ever found as many good dates. In the end assembling the hoard over 20 years the two had assembled the ultimate key date hoard and it was sold to the Littleton Coin Company in the 1990s as the “New York Subway Hoard.”

The coins in the “New York Subway Hoard” probably did not result in lower prices as being key dates there is always a greater demand than a supply, but they certainly made it possible for more collectors to own some of the coins of their dreams as the findings of Shaw and Moscow included 19 examples of the 1916 Standing Liberty quarter, 20 examples of the 1913-S Barber quarter and 8 examples of the 1901-S Barber quarter. The 1914-D Lincoln cent was in the hoard 44 times along with 29 examples of the 1918/17-D overdate Buffalo nickel. The hoard was particularly strong in dimes including 45 complete sets of Barber dimes except for the 1894-S, while the 1942/41 overdate total stood at 166 with the key 1916-D Mercury dime being found a stunning 241 times.

Although the “New York Subway Hoard” did not include every key date from the past century, there is no doubt that there has never been a larger hoard of key dates like the 1916-D Mercury or a better guide as to the sort of coins you could have found in circulation during the 1940s in New York if you had checked enough coins at the time.

Certainly there have been other interesting hoards and with a little luck there will be others in the future. When there are, remember that a hoard or treasure is a great deal of fun and usually a great opportunity to buy excellent coins at sometimes very reasonable prices. Not only do you get the coins, but in many cases you also get a great story to go with your coins. That makes the treasure or hoard a special opportunity and one you will always remember.

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