In 1947, the owner of one of Lake Tahoe’s most luxurious hotels and casinos sent his sons on a bank run for more silver dollars. They returned from their routine run with bags filled with coins to be used in the casino’s slot machines. Except the boys and the coins never made it as far as the casino floor. Upon their return, the fellows from the Tahoe Tavern Casino discovered their sacks of silver were filled mostly with uncirculated Morgan dollars from the Carson City Mint!
Seventy-six years later, that jackpot heads to auction for the very first time. On August 14, Heritage Auctions presents The Tahoe Tavern Casino Collection U.S. Coins Showcase Auction, which consists of 286 Morgan dollars – a vast majority of which date to that fortuitous bank run in the summer of ’47.
“The lots in this auction are completely fresh to the collecting community,” says Heritage Auctions President Greg Rohan. “Everything about these Morgan dollars is historic: Most hail from the Carson City Mint, which is significant as they’re among the most collected Morgan dollars. They come from the Tahoe Tavern, a landmark in Tahoe’s development as a tourist destination. And it’s extraordinarily rare when you get a hoard like this, and this is the biggest one Heritage has handled in a long, long time.”
Among these coveted coins from Carson City by way of Tahoe are numerous 1879 Morgan dollars, among the most challenging from the Carson City Mint because of their scant mintage (only 756,000). Among the highlights: this lustrous MS62 example possesses a sharp central strike, making it a beautiful – and highly in-demand – specimen.
Here, too, are myriad Morgans from 1893, the year the Carson City Mint ceased operations – and a decade before it closed altogether after serving its final days as a U.S. Assay Office. One of this auction’s most sought-after offerings is this MS62 example, a Far Date variety with slight punching at the top of the “3” in the date. This offering is a well-struck example, with attractive gold and blue obverse toning and a brilliant reverse.
The origin story of this hoard only sounds like a tall tale, perhaps appropriate given the Tahoe Tavern’s deep roots amid the pine, cedar and tall firs atop and along the shores of Lake Tahoe.
Timber and mining magnate Duane L. Bliss, a Massachusetts man who gold-rushed his way to San Francisco, wanted to capitalize on the influx of Californians summer vacationing in Lake Tahoe. So he had his son, architect Walter Danforth Bliss, design what became the sprawling luxe hideaway called the Tahoe Tavern, which opened in 1902 and quickly expanded into an imposing 450-room resort complete with a bowling alley (which later turned into a movie theater), a doctor’s office, a barber shop, and a ballroom – and, of course, the casino.
The Tahoe Tavern changed hands a few times upon its completion, and in 1946 brothers John and A.J. Flagg, real-estate developers and restaurateurs from Northern California, bought the resort. They owned it for just one year – but it was a lucky year.
Sometime in the summer of ’47, John’s son Marvin and A.J.’s son Morgan drove 15 miles north from Tahoe City to Truckee to secure those silver dollars. When the Flaggs realized their score, the Morgan dollars were split between John and A.J.
The coins have remained in the family ever since. Until now.