Time wasted over claims Saddle Ridge Hoard was once stolen from Mint

One of the cans found as part of the Saddle Ridge Gold Coin Hoard

One of the cans found as part of the Saddle Ridge Gold Coin Hoard

Anyone following the main stream media has heard of the Saddle Ridge Hoard, the 1,427 gold coins found in cans buried under a tree somewhere in California. The couple who found the coins and their location has been kept confidential to prevent potential prospectors on their property. Reports have surfaced that the find has opened a new gold rush in California.

This is not to say that treasures can only be found in California. As someone who has started a business dealing with collectibles, I have found interesting items at good prices in the most unexpected places. The concept is not to start digging where someone else made their discovery but look for clues to new finds elsewhere. Chances are that the next find will not be the same area.

One of the more interesting aspects of the Saddle Ridge Hoard story is the speculation of where the coins came from and why were they buried in that location. The most entertaining was the story that these coins were stolen in 1901 from the U.S. Mint in San Francisco. Even though it sounds plausible, the details of what would have happened based on historical record does not support this theory.

The old San Francisco Mint building built in 1874

The old San Francisco Mint building built in 1874

Based on the response of David McCarthy, senior numismatist for Kagin’s, the firm working with the family, the two factors that debunks the theory that the coins were stolen from the Mint is that the coins in the hoard were mixed dates with the latest being six years prior to the theft and many of them were circulated. If they were stolen from the Mint, they would be all uncirculated, one date, and all with S-mintmarks.

Also, the U.S. Mint is not a bank. It does not save inventory. Records† show that over the years, the U.S. Mint loathes keeping inventory for long periods of time. These sources report a revolving inventory suggesting that only the 1933 Double Eagles may have been kept in the vaults longer than other coins while the policies about gold coins were being settled.

Anticipating the question about the GSA Hoard of silver dollars, those coins were not stored by the U.S. Mint. Those dollars were delivered to the Department of the Treasury to use as backing for silver certificates. The storage areas where the coins were found were either facilities used or leased by Treasury. Coins that were melted under the Pittman Act for sale to the British to help them fund their defense in World War I were coins held by the Treasury. Coins struck to replace the melted coins were then stored in Treasury facilities.

When the General Services Administration (GSA) worked to consolidate and reduce office space in the 1960s, millions of mostly Morgan dollars struck in Carson City were found in several buildings including in storage areas off the historic cash room in the Treasury Building in Washington, D.C. Coins were sold the public by sealed bid over five auction sales between 1972 and 1974 with one final sale in 1980.

Up until 1964, anyone could trade a silver certificate for silver coin at par (e.g., $1 silver certificate for one silver dollar). This ended when silver rose in price making the price of silver more expensive than par value.

One of the 1,427 "Saddle Ridge Hoard" buried treasure gold coins certified MS66 by PCGS

One of the 1,427 “Saddle Ridge Hoard” buried treasure gold coins certified by PCGS

Even though the Treasury issued gold certificates, the gold backing were stored in limited vaults—and eventually Fort Knox. While there was some trading of gold certificates for gold coin, which is where the problems of the 1930s came from, gold was handled differently. The U.S. Mint had a cash operation where they would trade gold for coin (after it was assayed) and gold certificates for coins. This type of trade could also be accomplished at assay offices. But banks of the time were not required to make the trade. While many did as a service, with a service fee of course, there is no record of the government hoarding gold coins in the way silver dollars were hoarded.

Saying that the Saddle Ridge coins were once stolen from the Mint makes for a good headline. Good headlines makes for page views and page views translates into more advertising dollars for those blindly reproducing the erroneous story without checking the facts. Unfortunately, the truth cannot be explained on a bumper sticker or in a sensational headline—but that does not mean I will not try!

See the Saddle Ridge Hoard at Whitman Baltimore

It is being reported that Don Kagin will bring many of the coins in the Saddle Ridge Hoard to the Whitman Expo that will be held March 27-30, 2014 at the Baltimore Convention Center. If you need an excuse to come to Baltimore aside from attending the largest coin and currency show that is not run by the American Numismatic Association, coming to see the Saddle Ridge Hoard before it is broken up and sold later this year.

† A good reference for U.S. Mint statistics is a government-produced publication named Domestic and Foreign Coins Manufactured by the Mints of the United States: 1792-1965. It has been scanned several times and can be found on one of the many archive sites. The problem is that I found only one good scan, and it is not the best, but forgot where I downloaded it from. Printed copies are even more difficult to find.
Credits

  • Image of the can of gold coins from the Saddle Ridge Hoard courtesy of Kagin’s.
  • Image of the old San Francisco Mint courtesy of Wikipedia.
  • Image of the graded eagle courtesy of Professional Coin Grading Service.

Go Have Fun at an Auction in Penna.

How many of you look at the online auctions from the auction houses dedicated to numismatics and feel intimidated?

I can see quite a few virtual hands raised. You probably like coins shows but find the large crowds at some of those shows may also be intimidating. After all, you’re a collector, not an investor or a professional. Sometimes, you can find gems at smaller shows and even smaller auctions.

This is why I was intrigued by an auction notice sent by Stephenson’s Auctioneers and Appraisers from Southampton (Bucks County), Pennsylvania. Judging by their website, Stephenson’s is a local auction company that mainly serves buyers and sellers in its region with and probably has some clientele outside the eastern Pennsylvania area where they are located.

The nice thing about these local auction houses is that they are more accessible than the big houses and they usually have items that are affordable to the average collector. While high-end auctions are fun, if you are buying for yourself, you may not be the type looking to spend six-figures or higher on a coin.

If that is the case and you are in the Bucks County, Pennsylvania area on Friday, November 2, you may want to stop by Stephenson’s and check out their more than 200-lot coin auction that may include “some nice last-minute surprises.”

These are estate auction from the eastern Pennsylvania area. According to the information sent to me, the auction includes a wealth of Morgan silver dollars will be offered, with no fewer than 15 lots comprised of three Morgans each. An uncirculated 1882 Carson City Morgan silver dollar is one of the highlights, and another early example is a trade silver dollar dated 1877. Other antique American coins include Capped Bust half dollars from 1809 and 1838; an 1806 Draped Bust half dollar, and a Seated Liberty half dollar from 1843.

The auction includes two gold pieces. One is a 1914 Indian Head quarter eagle ($2½) and a 1917 $1 gold coin commemorating the slain U.S. President William McKinley.

There are many collectors’ books of coins, including a Washington quarter book (1932-1945) with 24 silver quarters, a Liberty Head nickel book (1883-1912) with 25 nickels, a Standing Liberty book with 10 silver half dollars, a Mercury dime book with 74 silver dimes, including 1921 and 1921-D; and a book consisting of 60 Buffalo nickels. Also included are a Walking Liberty half dollar book with 14 half dollars, a Barber dime book, Roosevelt dime book and Kennedy half dollar book with 59 Kennedy halves, including three 1964 and nine 1965 through 1970 coins. Flying Eagle and Indian Head penny sets will be available, as well as many other books, too numerous to mention.

Desirable non-monetary gold and silver items with both intrinsic and historical value include a boxed set of three 24K gold over .999 silver ingots commemorating the 1973 Triple Crown Winner Secretariat, and a framed sterling silver set titled “The Official Bicentennial Medals of the Thirteen Original States.”

Other lots of interest include two California Gold tokens (1852 and 1853) and an 1860 $5 note issued by the Miners and Planters Bank of North Carolina. Fractional currency, and U.S. Prestige and Olympic Prestige sets.

Auction will be held on Friday, November 2, 2012 at Stephenson’s gallery located at 1005 Industrial Blvd., Southampton, PA 18966. Auction preview is on the auction day from 2-4 p.m. The auction starts at 4 p.m.

For additional information, call Cindy Stephenson at 215-322-6182 or e-mail info@stephensonsauction.com. There will be no Internet bidding for this sale; it is exclusively for gallery, phone and absentee bidders. Visit Stephenson’s online at www.stephensonsauction.com.

If you are in the area, go and have some fun. Who knows, you may find something interesting to bid on!

Some of the items in this auction

All images courtesy of Stephenson’s Auctioneers.

Scott’s 10 Most Desired Coins Within Reason

I was reading the article “How to follow the money in rare-coin collecting” at MarketWatch.com about the basics of collecting rare coins when I noticed that it pointed to a page withe a slideshow, “The $1 million penny and 7 more famous coins.”

The list has only one “reasonably priced” coin—that is a coin that someone with a little means could afford. It lists the an 1850 Double Eagle at $13,000. That started me to think about the potential to actually owning a few rare collector coins with value and something more align with my tastes. After thinking about this I came up with a list of my “10 Most Desired Coins Within Reason.” In this case, I defined reason as not being so rare that it could only be bought with the help of a good dealer and would not require bidding on it at a once-in-a-lifetime auction. I also set a limit of $5,000 on the price of any coin. I know this may limit the inventory to lower grade for some coins, but those lower grades could give the coin character.

Mostly in denomination and date order, here are Scott’s 10 Most Desired Coins Within Reason:

  1. 1793 Flowing Hair Chain Cent with AMERI. in Legend is basically amongst the first legal tender coins produced by the U.S. Mint. I know that there was an earlier run of half-dismes, but they were not real production runs. If I am going to produce a list like this, I am going to pick the coin I like and break one of my rules because even at its lowest grade, the coin will probably cost more than $10,000.
  2. 1909-S Indian Head Cent in Mint State Red. Even though the 1908-S was the first Indian Head cent struck in San Francisco, I am choosing the rarer of the two S-mint Indian Heads in Mint State Red. Of course, this may also break my budget but it would be no fun otherwise.
  3. 1909-S VDB Lincoln Cent may not be the most expensive Lincoln Cent (the 1914 is), but it is the first of the iconic series and part of the controversy started because of the “V.D.B” initials on the reverse. Fortunately, I already own one graded as VF-30BN by NGC.
  4. 1955 Double Die Obverse Lincoln Cent is the coin that sparked the interest in error collecting. It is remarkable to think that one coin, a mistake, created a new segment of the hobby. For me, I already own one graded AU-58BN by NGC that I really like.
  5. 1937-D 3-Legged Buffalo is a very cool coin. Aside that the Buffalo Nickel is one of my favorite coin designs, there is something intriguing about the story behind this coin. Fortunately, the one I own was graded VF-25 by NGC and the last of the ones I already own on this list.
  6. 1917 Type 1 Standing Liberty Quarter is a compromise because the 1916 would be too expensive. In order to add a type 1 design (with breast exposed), the 1917 version is more reasonably priced in higher grades.
  7. 1921 Walking Liberty Half Dollar would be the coin I would point to on this list as being my favorite design. For me, only the Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle come close to Adolph Weinman’s design. It should not surprise anyone that Weinman was one of Saint Gaudens’ students. The 1921 half dollars were almost an afterthought as the U.S. Mint was rushing to produce silver dollars and the 1921 fits the criteria to buy one in higher grades.
  8. 1878-CC Morgan Dollar in the GSA Holder because it is interestingly historic. The Morgan Dollar was authorized by the Bland-Allison Act that required the Treasury Department to buy silver from western mines and put them into circulation as silver dollars. It was passed after the Coinage Act of 1873, sometimes referred to as the “Crime of ’73,” demonetized silver and set the standard for gold as the backing of the national currency. Not only do you get the collectible from a western state near a western mine, but the GSA Holder is from the historic sales of the 1970s after the GSA started pulling coins out of storage in buildings long forgotten.
  9. 1908 Indian Head Gold Half-Eagle because if you make a list like this, there has to be some gold on it. If I am going to do a gold coin, I want the only coin whose design is incuse to the coin. Bela Pratt Lyon’s incuse Indian Head design is unique and nicely available in its first year of mintage.
  10. 1907 No Motto Saint Gaudens Double Eagle because this list cannot be complete with the other of the two most iconic designs ever made for a circulating coin. Since 1907 is the first year, this is the most affordable of the three types made that year and is more available than the high-relief versions.

Do you have a similar list? Add it to the comments below.

About My New 1890-CC Morgan Dollar

Morgan Dollars were not popular during the time they were being struck by the US Mint. They were not considered particularly beautiful and most people outside of a few western states preferred to carry paper currency. But the Bland-Allison Act of 1878 and the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890 prescribed large purchases of silver from western mines and the minting of silver coinage to back silver certificates. This continued until the Panic of 1893 when the decline in the economy created a run on the gold supply. Then many were melted as a result of the silver recall prescribed in the Pittman Act while others were stored in Treasury buildings to be discovered by the General Services Administration in the 1960s.

Since their last mintage in 1921, the dollars designed by Mint Engraver George T. Morgan did not enjoy wide popularity until the GSA Hoard. Of the Morgan Dollars that hold the mystique are the ones struck at the Carson City Mint. Situation near the famous Comstock Lode, the Carson City Mint. Most CC minted dollars were amongst the lowest minted of the series. The highest mintage was the 1890-CC where over 2.3 million were struck.

Finding nice, affordable examples of CC mint Morgan Dollars can be difficult. Those of us on a budget compromise and purchase cleaned or polished coins in order to own at least one example. But when I had the opportunity to buy a nice, “common” CC coin for a good price, I could not resist.

I was walking the floor at the American Numismatic Association National Money Show in Charlotte and found a dealer selling quite a few ungraded Morgan Dollars. As I searched through several boxes, I came across a nice 1878-CC Morgan Dollar (2.2 million minted). The 2×2 holder the coins was in said the coin was in Almost Uncirculated. It was a nice, clean coin with some mint luster showing a great strike. I was sure that if it was slabbed it would have graded higher than what was written on the holder. It was priced as if it was an Extra Fine coin.

I could not resist… I bought my first no-problem CC Morgan Dollar!

It is a beautiful coin that looks great in the blue album shining next to my other Morgan Dollars.

My First CC Morgan

There is something magical about the Morgan Dollar. It is the only coin that seems to remind us of the Manifest Destiny as the country expanded across the Great Plains to the Pacific Ocean. It brings up images of the Old West where people moved to make a better life looking for gold and silver or making money from those who have struck it rich. Sure this is a romantic view and does not take into consideration the plight of the Native American nations, but it ties into the fascination there has been with the west of the 19th Century.

The Comstock Lode was the greatest discovery of silver. So much silver was discovered that it was causing the price of silver was declining. To protect the financial interests of the mine owners and allegedly the nation’s economy, congress passed the Bland-Allison Act of 1879 to order the US Mint to buy the silver evacuated from the mines. The law required the Mint to produce 90-percent silver coins for circulation using that silver. The result was an over production of silver that would have repercussions for years to come.

Virginia City was the hub of the region, many deals and other favors lead to the building of an assay office then a full branch mint in nearby Carson City. Its history is an example of how things worked in the 19th century. The cornerstone for this branch mint was laid in September 1865 and was opened to strike coins in 1870. When the Morgan Dollar began its run in 1878, this branch mint would strike far more coins than necessary.

As the Mint purchased the required amount of silver and struck coins, the extra Morgan Dollars were bagged and placed into storage. These bags were transported to different government buildings including the Department of the Treasury in downtown Washington, DC. These coins were discovered in the 1960s by the General Services Administration (GSA) when they were cleaning out old government buildings in Carson City for sale and the Treasury building for refurbishing. The GSA sale of these Carson City dollars in special holders caught the imagination of the public.

The stories of the CC Mint is legendary. Like a lot of people, when I started to collect Morgan Dollars, I thought the cost of purchasing examples of these CC minted dollars was a bit out of my price range. Over the last few years, I have been looking for an affordable (under $100) nice looking coin. It would have to be at least in Very Fine condition with some mint luster, but at least worth the grade.

I finally found one! The 1890-CC Morgan Dollar is not worth a lot in comparison to other CC mint Morgan Dollars. But it is still a nice coin. But when I was able to find a Very Fine 1890-CC Morgan Dollar for under $100, I had to make this purchase. It is a nice coin with a little shine that suggests it was dipped a long time ago. But the elements are nice and the CC mint mark on the reverse is very clear.

While uncirculated coins are very beautiful, circulated coins have a history. What events did this coin see? Whose hands has this coin passed through? Was this coin used in Deadwood, South Dakota? Was it once handled by Buffalo Bill Cody? Or Teddy Roosevelt? I may not know this coin’s history, but it is fun to imagine while admiring its beauty.

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