By Rick Bretz for CoinWeek …..
The Binion Hoard offers the collector a variety of ways to collect coins, currency, and memorabilia like ashtrays, dice, gambling equipment, photos, and casino chips (among other things). A collector could assemble a traditional date/mintmark set, or they could choose to assemble a set of the various souvenir items available. But what was the Binion Hoard? And who was its namesake, Ted Binion? In case you missed the Court TV documentary about him and didn’t read any of the several books written about him or his father, here it is in a nutshell.
Recipe for Tragedy
- Benny Binion: Father of Ted Binion
Benny was involved in gambling and other racketeering activities in Dallas, Texas, from around 1924 to 1946. In 1946 and just ahead of the law, Benny relocated his family to Las Vegas, where he became involved in gaming activities. In 1951, Benny purchased both the El Dorado Club and the Apache Club and reopened them as Binion’s Horseshoe Casino.
- Ted Binion: Youngest Son of Benny
Early in his life, Ted worked different jobs in Binion’s Horseshoe Casino and became well respected for his gaming knowledge. As he matured, he started associating with “undesirable” persons and eventually lost his casino license. This had a devastating effect on the younger Binion, as he loved the gaming industry and loved being part of the casino’s operations. Things got worse when Ted met Sandy Murphy, a stripper in Las Vegas, and he became more dependent on drugs and alcohol.
Ted had a fondness for silver bars and silver coins. He especially liked silver dollars, and stored them in the vault at the Horseshoe as well as at his residence. When he permanently lost his gaming license, he was forced to remove his silver dollars from the Horseshoe.
- Sandy Murphy: Girlfriend of Ted (and Rick)
A California transplant working as a stripper in a popular Vegas club. Shortly after she met him at her work, Sandy moved in with Ted and enjoyed all the amenities that his wealth could provide. She was 23; he was 55.
During Sandy’s time living with Ted, she developed and maintained a romantic relationship with one Rick Tabish.
- Rick Tabish: Itinerant Contractor
A traveling contractor (sometimes working, sometimes not) that befriended Ted. Tabish was married with two daughters while having a relationship with Sandy Murphy. When Ted needed a place to store/hide his silver dollars, Tabish was hired to bury them in an underground vault in Pahrump, Nevada, on property that Ted owned. As the story goes, Binion and Tabish met by chance–that “chance” having been arranged by Sandy.
Timeline of the Crime
“Take Sandy out of the will if she doesn’t kill me tonight. If I’m dead you will know what happened.”
July 4, 1998: The vault was completed and filled with 46,000 pounds of silver.
Sept. 16, 1998: During a telephone conversation, Ted told his lawyer that he wanted Sandy removed from his will. In later testimony, Ted’s lawyer stated that the younger Binion said: Take Sandy out of the will if she doesn’t kill me tonight. If I’m dead you will know what happened.
Sept. 17, 1998: Paramedics were called to the Binion home. Ted was found dead of a suspicious drug overdose.
Sept. 19, 1998: Rick Tabish was caught at 2 am digging up Binion’s buried treasure, estimated at the time to be worth $7 million USD. Also found was a note from Sandy Murphy to Tabish, professing her love for him and revealing the combination to the underground storage vault.
Tabish and Murphy were eventually charged with the murder of Ted Binion.
What Happened to the Treasure?
The company Spectrum Numismatic International (SNI) purchased the coins in November 2001 for $3 million. Marketing of the coins was assigned to Goldline International, Inc. There were over 100,000 Morgan and Peace silver dollars, and an unspecified number of silver half dollars. The coins were authenticated and graded by Numismatic Guaranty Company (NGC, formerly Numismatic Guaranty Corporation), and a unique white and green label was designed for the pedigree.
Before I get into the technical features of population statistics, I’d like to offer a salute to NGC and the service they provide to the collecting public. PCGS, ANACS, and ICG are also involved in the pedigree authentication process and provide valuable services to the collector. However, NGC seems to have the leading edge in this collecting niche. And because of NGC’s reputation in the industry, SNI selected the grading service to validate the Binion Hoard.
So with that said, we can proceed to the population reports.
The last NGC Binion silver dollar population report that I’ve seen was contained in the October 2009 NGC Census and covered just silver dollars that received “hard” grades. No population reports were available for “soft” graded coins, or for coins merely authenticated as from the hoard and not graded. The 2009 report shows 28,788 Morgan silver dollars receiving official “hard” grades.
While population reports change over time (for a variety of reasons), I believe that the 2009 report is directionally correct and provides insight into the rarity of certain dates and mintmarks. It also provides the Binion collector with a valuable tool for determining the pedigree premium when purchasing a Binion coin.
Appearance and Grading
Compared to other hoards, collections, and general population coins, Binion silver dollars do not have great (or in many cases, even “good”) eye appeal. This is largely due to the storage and handling of the coins received while under Binion’s ownership and their subsequent storage as evidence by the State of Nevada. In both cases, the coins were commodities (evidence) and not collectibles. They were transferred in work trucks, tossed about like lumps of coal, and industrial equipment was used to load and unload the coins.
NGC-labeled Binion coins fall into three grading categories:
Coins in the first category were authenticated as being from the hoard and graded. Graded coins have a specific and defined grade–a “hard” grade–like MS63 or AU55.
Coins in the second category were authenticated and received “soft” grades. Examples of soft grades are “Uncirculated” or “Brilliant Uncirculated”. No numeric grade is assigned. Coins in this group are less desirable than “hard”-graded coins.
Coins in the third category were authenticated as from the Binion hoard but did not receive a grade. Many hard-to-find dates fall into this category. While they’re the least desirable to the refined collector, in many cases the rarity of the date/mintmark still creates a market premium for the coin.
Collecting Binion Silver Dollars
For clarification, there were other silver coins in the hoard besides silver dollars. Some very nice silver coin sets–with an example apiece of a Roosevelt dime, a Washington quarter, a Kennedy half dollar, and a Peace dollar–have been assembled. But the most popular way to collect coins from the Binion hoard is the traditional method of assembling a set with as many date/mintmark combinations as you can find.
Assembling a set by date and mintmark has become more difficult as time passes–with the rarer coins residing in private collections from which they may not resurface for many years. Most of the Binion coins available now are the most common of date/mintmark varieties; an experienced collector occasionally, however, may dissolve their collection, and rare varieties will suddenly appear at auction.
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