By Rick Bretz for Coinweek….
The Fitzgerald Collection (also referred to as Fitzgerald’s Nevada Club Reno Hoard) is one of my favorite collections (and pedigrees) for a variety of reasons. First, it has a heritage spanning from the early life of Lincoln Fitzgerald and his involvement in illegal gambling activities with the Purple Gang in Detroit until his crowning achievement in building Fitzgerald’s Casino in Reno. Second, it offers the collector a variety of ways and items to collect in addition to the silver dollars. And third, the variety of Morgan and Peace silver dollars from the hoard provide the collector with a challenging path to assemble a collection. I like this collection so much that I published a book about it.
When Ron Gillio purchased the contents of the old Fitzgerald’s warehouse in 2003 he found a treasure of old roulette wheels, gambling tables, casino chips and slot machines. He also found over 100,000 Morgan and Peace silver dollars in bags piled in a corner of the building. Sensing the potential collector’s value of such a find, Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) was contracted to be the grading/authenticating agency and over 10,000 of the silver dollars received “hard / official” grades. It is unknown how many received “soft” grades of Brilliant Uncirculated or Almost Uncirculated. And from here a collection was born.
The diversity of the collection gives the collector an opportunity to assemble a broad spectrum of varieties. The Fitzgerald Collection has 120 different date, mintmark and VAM variations. Of the 120 variations, 43 categories have a population of just one coin and 72 categories have a population of five or less. An educated collector could search for truly unique and rare examples from this collection.
For those collectors wanting to dig deeper into the life of Lincoln Fitzgerald, you can also find a variety of casino chips from illegal casinos that Lincoln operated for the Purple Gang in the Detroit area. The most famous illegal casino operated by Lincoln was the Chesterfield Club on Gratiot Avenue. Buses and taxies would drive up and down Gratiot picking up patrons and taking them to the Chesterfield Club that was designed in such a way that it was almost “raid proof” from local authorities.
Lincoln died in 1981 and his wife Meta continued to operate Fitzgerald’s until 1986 when she sold the property to Lincoln Management Company. Eventually, the casino closed but the legacy of Lincoln Fitzgerald lives on.