A Numismatic Time Capsule
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by Jeff Garrett 6/28/2018

The excitement of examining a hoard of thousands of silver dollars

One of the very best parts of my job is not knowing what the next phone call will bring. I tell people that for me, every day is an episode of the “Antiques Road Show.”

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Over the years, I have been privileged to have received many amazing phone calls about rare coins or groups of rare coins. Around 20 years ago, someone offered me over one dozen Mint condition 1929 Double Eagles.

Another favorite was a call from a lady who stated she had some world coins handed down to her from her great-great-great-grandfather. Sure enough, she had a cloth sack of coins her distant heir had purchased while on a grand tour of Europe in 1876. The coins were totally unsearched and original. The bag even contained the gentleman’s 1876 passport!

I could go on and on about the fun discoveries that have come my way over the years.

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A Treasury bag of silver dollars from the New York Bank Hoard.
Click image to enlarge.

 

Luckily for me, I still receive amazing calls from time to time. One such call came about six months ago when a gentlemen called to inquire about a large group of silver dollars that had been inherited. We receive calls about silver dollars almost daily, but this group sounded more interesting than most. We set up an appointment for a few weeks later.

The person who came to my office had very little idea of what they actually had. All they knew was that they had inherited a large safety deposit box full of silver dollars. It was also known that the coins had been in that box since 1964. After some brief questions, that was little doubt that the coins had been purchased during the great U.S. Treasury release of silver dollars in the early 1960s. The coins have been sitting untouched for over 50 years.

Interestingly, it was also unknown exactly how many silver dollars were in the safety deposit box. From what he could remember, the coins were all in cloth bags and his guess was between 15 and 17 bags of silver dollars. That translates to over 15,000 unsearched and original silver dollars. A recent article by Q. David Bowers ranks the discovery of the S.S. Central America gold and the release of the U.S. Treasury silver dollars as the two greatest events in the history of numismatics. I could hardly contain my excitement!

The family that controls these coins were in no hurry to consummate a deal for selling the coins. The coins had been in the family for over 50 years, and doing it right was more important than speed. After many, many meetings to discuss strategy on the best way to sell the coins, I was able to strike a deal to market the coins for the family. Every detail of how the coins would be sold was worked out before I even knew exactly what was in those 15 to 17 bags.

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Jeff Garrett with a Treasury bag from the New York Bank Hoard.
Click image to enlarge.

 

The basic plan was to fly to New York, where the coins were stored, and then conduct a preliminary inventory. The best coins would be placed in plastic flips for protection and the remainder would be placed in square silver dollar tubes for transportation to NGC. Over the years, I have done many large bulk deals with NGC, and their amazing customer service made choosing them to grade the coins an easy decision.

Finally, the day came to travel to New York City to start the process of selling this amazing time capsule of numismatic history. As much fun as this project would be, I knew it would actually be a lot of work. My son, Ben Garrett, volunteered to help, and Mark Salzberg, the chairman of NGC, offered to help as well. We were all three extremely excited to see what was actually in these bags of silver dollars.

Our first chore was to move the coins slowly from the vaults to a small office that had been provided by the bank. We did this very carefully to avoid additional bag mark damage to the coins. A quick count of the bags after removal confirmed that there were actually 16,000 coins.

US Treasury release silver dollars can include almost anything. After doing some research, I had read tales of some people even finding a bag of Liberty Seated Dollars in the 1960s. Many previously extreme rarities were also discovered in the US Treasury hoard, including 1903-O and 1904-O silver dollars. These dates crashed overnight in value when it became known how many were in the hoard. Our biggest fear was that some or all were circulated silver dollars. This was a real possibility.

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Coins from the New York Bank Hoard.
Click image to enlarge.

 

At last it was time to open the first bag. After great anticipation and careful handling, I slowly cut the seal and strings which secured the first bag. We did not want to damage the original mint bags as these are actually collector items in their own right. The bag was full of glistening uncirculated 1881-S silver dollars. They look as if they had been struck last week. The bags were exactly what you would expect of an original group of silver dollars that had been stashed away over 50 years ago. We slowly sorted the coins by condition, with the best being placed in protective holders.

We repeated this process for all 16 bags over the course of 3 days. Amazingly, each bag contained fully original and brilliant mint state coins. With each bag being open, our small group was able to witness the reveal of a numismatic time capsule. The overall quality of the coins is amazing.

Our only disappointment was the relatively small number of attractively toned coins. There are probably less than 100 examples with rainbow toning. I would have thought that 50 years of sitting in cloth bags would have produced a much different result in that regard. Nearly all of the coins are frosty white in appearance.

Interestingly, of the 16,000 coins, there are 11 different date and mintmark combinations represented. The issue include: 1878-S, 1880-S, 1881-S, 1883-O, 1884-O, 1885, 1885-O, 1886, 1887, 1888, 1889.

 

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An 1885 Morgan Dollar, graded NGC MS 67, and pedigreed to the New York Bank Hoard, with the special NGC label for this hoard.
Click images to enlarge.

 

All 16,000 coins are presently at NGC being graded and encapsulated. NGC has also created an amazing special label for the hoard. The grading results will be known soon, and after that information has been digested, it will be time to bring the coins to market.

Several dealers have been overheard expressing concern that this many coins could adversely affect the market. The opposite is always true, as many new collectors will be brought into the hobby when these coins are marketed to the general public. This has occurred nearly every time a large group of coins is discovered.

The New York Bank hoard of U.S. Treasury silver dollars was one of the most exciting chapters of my numismatic career. I am honored to have been chosen to bring these coins to market. Many thanks to Mark Salzberg and the NGC team for all of your assistance.

Want to see more articles like this? Subscribe to the free NGC Weekly Market Report.

Jeff Garrett bio

Related Link

NGC Coin Explorer: Morgan Dollars

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I hope someone will print a breakdown of the grades by date and mint mark.

It will be interesting to see how well these do when brought to market, and what effect it has on the price of these dates.

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There is a thread on this silver dollar hoard on the PCGS Forum.  It's an interesting story but there's nothing remotely rare about the coins which were found.

Also, if Bowers actually ranks the discovery of the SS Central America and the release of the GSA hoard as the two greatest events in the history of numismatics, he either has an inflated opinion of these events or doesn't know what's going on anywhere else.  I don't see either of these events as being any more significant than the recovery of numerous other shipwrecks.  There have been numerous hoards discovered elsewhere (such as ancients) though I don't recall the specifics.  The coins in the GSA hoard weren't even actually rare before the release.   

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3 hours ago, World Colonial said:

 The coins in the GSA hoard weren't even actually rare before the release.   

I thought the 03-O was a major rarity prior to the GSA release.

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25 minutes ago, JIM F. said:

I thought the 03-O was a major rarity prior to the GSA release.

Yes, by US standards it was considered "rare" but from my copy of the 1963 Red Book, I don't recall it's price being much higher or lower than the 1893-S.  I don't have this edition with me now but my recollection is that the 1893-S was still the #1 "key" date of the series.  But if I am wrong, the proportional price difference wasn't that great.

http://www.us-coin-values-advisor.com/US-coin-values.html

In the above link, the price of both coins is listed at $500 in MS-60 (a contemporary UNC) for both dates.  Elsewhere, I have heard that the coin in UNC sold for as high as $1000.

Taking into account the communication limitations of the time, I can understand why most collectors did or might have thought the 1903-O was rare.  It's the same reason why they thought the 09-S VDB cent, 16-D Mercury and 1916 SLQ were also "rare".

Outside of branch mint proofs, there is no such thing as an actually rare Morgan dollar.  Scarcity from specialization (such as VAMs) and from appearance (such as the TPG grade and DMPL) isn't an actual scarcity.  It's an exaggerated and contrived one. 

Even Philadelphia proof Morgans which I recall have recorded mintages of 600 to 800 aren't actually rare, even if the survival rate is only 50%.  

 

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I like this story and Jeff Garrett did an excellent job presenting this group. I love the 'up front' style he uses to account for the group and I say the owners chose the correct venue to market these coins. No in terms of numbers I don't think these coins will effect market prices and I think I would like one each date in MS 65 holders when they are available.

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At least the buyers will know that the dollars haven't been dipped. It's also instructive that stored silver coins almost 150 years old needn't be tarnished, not that there aren't plenty of other examples. I've often seen cases where collectors made the assumption that all classic white silver had been messed with. 

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Don't know where that site got their values for the 03-O, but before they started coming out of the vaults the 03-O was THE key of the series followed by the 98-O.  Almost unknown in UNC (fewer than 10 coins known) the 03-O would sell at auction for $1500 or more right before the bags started coming out.  And that is $1500 in early 60's dollars, the rough equivalent of $15,000 of todays dollars.  (Unfortunately the CDN didn't begin until after they came out and the earliest listing I have is Dec 1963 @ $30 per coin.)

Edited by Conder101
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19 hours ago, MAULEMALL said:

16000 mint state Morgan's will do some damage to the commons priceing...

Common date Morgan market pricing already assumes there are many thousands of mint state coins yet in hoards right ?

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Something like 5 million Morgans have been graded, maybe more? I don't collect them as a series but I gather the dates discovered are all common. 16k more can hardly matter, once they are absorbed. In the very short term, the marketing of them might cause a blip. It would have been great fun to go through the bags and sort them tho. 

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1 hour ago, numisport said:

Common date Morgan market pricing already assumes there are many thousands of mint state coins yet in hoards right ?

depends on the grades.. 

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21 hours ago, Conder101 said:

Don't know where that site got their values for the 03-O, but before they started coming out of the vaults the 03-O was THE key of the series followed by the 98-O.  Almost unknown in UNC (fewer than 10 coins known) the 03-O would sell at auction for $1500 or more right before the bags started coming out.  And that is $1500 in early 60's dollars, the rough equivalent of $15,000 of todays dollars.  (Unfortunately the CDN didn't begin until after they came out and the earliest listing I have is Dec 1963 @ $30 per coin.)

If you are replying to my prior post, the data included is for 1960 and 1965, nothing in-between.

I'm not trying to argue with you or the poster who provided the prior reply, only explaining that claiming the significance Bowers purportedly does per the OP is nothing but an exaggeration.  From the standpoint of collecting, I don't see that it did anything more than the SQ program, probably a lot less.

What I know it did was provide "product" for the marketing of "rare" coins as "investments" sold by telemarketing firms and larger dealers to financial buyers starting in the 1970's.  Financially, it was probably one of the most significant events in the history of US "collecting" and did a lot to inflate the prices to current levels.  It did so by increasing the number of affluent buyers substantially and the financial scale of US "collecting" which isn't possible anywhere else because "investment" coins don't exist in similar quality in remotely the same number or proportion.  

I was also using UNC as an example.  Only under US standards (the most liberal ones on the planet) would the 1903-O be considered rare even back then since a 1960's UNC is just another definition of conditional scarcity.  Even excluding the Treasury hoard, the only reason I can see why collectors believed this coin "rare" was due to limited communication at the time, just as they did for many other coins that aren't remotely hard to buy now and in the recent past.

Like I said, I had read either here or on PCGS that the 1903-O sold for as much as $1000.  At $1500, there were still many other coins now known to be common (just less common that this one is now known to be) presumably considered "rare" at the time which sold for similar though lower prices.  $1500 was a lot of money in the early 1960's, actually a lot more than $15,000 now measured by asset inflation as opposed to the CPI.  However, even back then this coin was hardly an outlier price wise.  

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On 6/29/2018 at 2:07 PM, dena said:

 

Our only disappointment was the relatively small number of attractively toned coins. There are probably less than 100 examples with rainbow toning. I would have thought that 50 years of sitting in cloth bags would have produced a much different result in that regard. Nearly all of the coins are frosty white in appearance.

 

Cool story. I find the paragraph above to be quite interesting. 

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