Redfield and GSA Hoard Morgan Dollars

By Harvey StackFounder, Stack’s Bowers….
 

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

In this article I will continue to discuss how the rarity of Morgan silver dollars was affected by changes in supply and availability. This story is of a hoard of mostly Morgan silver dollars that was discovered in the estate of Lavere Redfield, of Reno, Nevada, who died in 1976.

Lavere Redfield started out as a potato farmer, bought and sold land, became wealthy and moved to Reno in the heart of the silver mining area of the American West. It seems that besides his accumulated wealth – in excess of $100 million – he apparently did not trust currency or banks, and purchased at face value silver dollars in $1,000 sacks. He would cart them home in his out-dated truck. Many bags were found under the floorboards of his cabin-like home, and also in the rear of his faithful truck. Altogether he accumulated 400 bags with a face value of $400,000. He kept them in his home as a personal store of wealth.

After he died, with the value of silver dollars increased due to the rise in the price of silver, the hoard was sold at auction for US$7,300,000, an astounding price at the time. The coins became known as the Redfield Hoard. About 15% were said to be circulated and the largest amount were dollars of the San Francisco Mint, primarily in Mint State. Most were of the Morgan design, but there also were Peace dollars in the hoard.

A group of dealers banded together to make the purchase, and they then offered them in special plastic holders, each marked The Lavere Redfield Collection and marketed them throughout the country for many years.

No full inventory has ever been published, to my knowledge, but the availability of these coins had an immense effect on the silver dollar market at that time. Similar to the Treasury releases of silver dollars, the dispersal of this hoard and the publicity that accompanied it attracted new collectors to the field, increasing demand. The fact that the hoard was marketed with care and not “dumped” on collectors kept the prices relatively stable. Also, the ongoing rise of silver prices up to 1981 gave extra support to the prices that were charged and helped maintain the value of the coins. As the Hunt Brothers manipulated silver prices, others accumulated silver dollars, including those from the Redfield Hoard, as a store of value.

LeVere Redfield
LeVere Redfield and the house he stored his Hoard of Morgan dollars.

But many of the coins went to collectors, and eventually quite a few of the Redfield silver dollars were broken out of their special holders and sent to the grading services. In turn the grading services graded them and put them back in holders. In many cases high grades increased the value of the silver dollars.

So as you see, these hoards of silver dollars at the Mint and in Reno may have affected the rarity of certain dates and mintmarks, but over time did not negatively affect the overall desirability of Morgan and other silver dollars. A temporary drop in price can be overcome later by the stimulus a hoard provides in the market. For a growing number of collectors, finding many silver dollar dates and mintmarks at relatively reasonable prices created a new rage for collecting these coins. The slow and deliberate distribution, accompanied by effective marketing, attracted attention and encouraged many to collect.

The Mint Finds a Hoard of Carson City Morgan Dollars

During an audit made in 1964, the Mint discovered a hoard of Carson City silver dollars, mostly original bags that were not melted as the result of the Pittman Act of 1918.

The Carson City dollars were inventoried and the Mint found that they had a group of dollars that were scarce, rare and primarily in Mint State. For some reason these had escaped being melted into bars. When sorted by date, 2,825,319 were found with the following counts:

  • 1878-CC: 60,993
  • 1879-CC: 4,123
  • 1880-CC: 131,529
  • 1881-CC: 147,485
  • 1882-CC: 605,028
  • 1883-CC: 605,029
  • 1884-CC: 962,638
  • 1885-CC: 148,285
  • 1889-CC: 1
  • 1890-CC: 3,949
  • 1891-CC: 5,687
  • 1892-CC: 1
  • 1893-CC: 1

These were determined to be in Mint State. They were sorted into two categories: Average Mint State with the expected nicks, scratches, rubs, etc. that many coins develop – even in original bags – due to counting and re-bagging; and higher end Mint State that were less marked up. These coins were sorted by white-gloved Mint employees and some professional numismatists that the General Services Administration (GSA) and the Mint employed to do the job.

Those judged to be of Extra Ordinary Uncirculated (Mint State) Quality were packaged in 3 x 8 inch wide sealed plastic holders that were stamped with CARSON CITY above the coin and UNCIRCULATED and SILVER DOLLAR below the coin. The plastic holder and a special card were enclosed in a box. The card was stamped “As we approach America’s Bicentennial this Silver Dollar is one of the most valued reminders of our National Heritage. RICHARD NIXON.” A perfect way to pitch this sale with a presidential endorsement!

GSA Flyer
Promotional pamphlet used to market GSA dollars.

The GSA felt that the card and box would add value and distinction to the items they were selling. There were eight sales from 1972 to 1980, as the GSA attempted to entice collectors and non-collectors to purchase these relics of the history of the West and our National interest in “hard currency.” The actual sales figures were never published in a public record.

The quantities for most years of Carson City dollars were known, but premiums received by these sales were only expressed in dollars. The sales totaled some $107 million for the slightly over $2.8 million in face value originally found, resulting in a profit for the United States of over $100 million. This was quite a nice profit for storing these coins for years and not melting them.

The number found did allow some rare and scarce Carson City silver dollars dates to stay within the range of most collectors. Additionally the marketing and sales of these coins attracted many people to numismatics. Most of these dates have held their value in the period from 1980 until now (some 35 years), and most have increased in value as they became dispersed. However, this large Carson City discovery was sometimes costly to those who had acquired specimens before the hoard was found.

So I will end with the old adage: “Value grows often as things age and get spread out, and interest in numismatics has been rewarding over time.”
 

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