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The 1884 T$1 is a coin that needs no introduction. Numismatists young and old, novice or experienced, can quote the number of extant examples and probably relate one or two facts concerning the production and history of this issue. The true story of this fabled numismatic rarity is, however, not widely known. The reason for this is clear: popular numismatic references such as Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of United States and Colonial Proof Coins: 1722-1977, Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, and Q. David Bowers' Silver Dollars and T$1s of the United States: A Complete Encyclopedia, either state explicitly or imply that this issue was created clandestinely by parties within the Mint, at night, and perhaps at a later date, for the well-connected Philadelphia dealer William K. Idler. Research done in 1988 by the late Carl W. A. Carlson, on the other hand, proves that the 1884 T$1 was struck officially and under the supervision of Mint officials. The following commentary is based on the evidence that Carlson brought to light in Stack's June 1988 catalog of the Frank Sprinkle Collection.
The 'Die Record Book' kept by A. W. Straub, foreman of the Die Makers' Room, clearly records receipt from the Engraving Department of one obverse and one reverse die for the proof 1884 T$1 on January 3 of that year. Straub supervised the transfer of these dies from the Die Makers' Room to the Coining Department when Superintendent Colonel A. Loudon Snowden ordered proof production to begin. This most likely happened within the first week of January. The first coins produced with these dies were copper trial pieces (Judd-1732, Pollock-1943), a clear indication that the Mint had plans for large scale production. Today, three or four copper die trial pieces are extant, two of which have been silver plated. We do not know how many silver impressions of the proof 1884 T$1 followed the copper die trial pieces off the coinage press, but we do know that the Mint officially struck a number of examples on January 9. These coins were delivered to the cashier on January 19. Shortly thereafter, the Treasury Department sent orders to the Mint forbidding production of proof T$1s for sale to collectors. Perhaps just 10 coins were originally struck, all of which were preserved, or the 10 coins extant today are those that were not melted after the Treasury Department's decree arrived in Philadelphia. Both the obverse and reverse dies were destroyed on January 2, 1885, as shown by the die destruction report of the coiner. For reasons that will be made clear below, we know for certain that all 10 proof 1884 T$1s were once owned by William K. Idler, who added them to proof sets of that year. There are three scenarios that could explain how Idler acquired these coins, all of which hinge upon his special connections with the Mint, probably through a personal relationship with Superintendent Snowden:
1. Idler acquired the first 10 proof 1884 T$1s delivered on January 19 before the Treasury Department halted production. He would have done this legally because employees and their friends could acquire current coins from the Mint by exchanging them for the proper amount of bullion. This policy remained in effect through the late 1930s.
2. Idler convinced Superintendent Snowden to save 10 of the proof T$1s delivered on January 19, 1884 from destruction. Either Snowden or Idler provided the bullion for exchange so that the Mint's journals would balance.
3. Snowden saved the coins from destruction, provided the bullion, and kept the coins for an unknown period of time. At a later date, Idler acquired the coins from him.
In all of these scenarios, Idler would have obtained the coins legally because the required bullion for exchange would have been deposited at the Mint. The fact that the Mint's bullion journals balanced explains why there is no official correspondence concerning this issue--nobody would have been looking for bullion that was not missing. Regardless of which of these scenarios is correct, there is little doubt that the 1884 T$1 is a legitimate issue that was legally produced and properly acquired from the Mint. We are also fairly certain that Superintendent Snowden played a key role in Idler's acquisition of all 10 coins.
While numismatists were familiar with the copper die trial strikings of the 1884 T$1 early on, the existence of the 10 silver proofs remained largely unknown until the early 20th century. Idler died in 1901, after which his numismatic estate passed to his son-in-law, Captain John W. Haseltine. In 1907, Haseltine's partner Stephen K. Nagy sold the first 1884 T$1 to Chicago beer magnate Virgil M. Brand. The owner of the Brand Brewing Co. would eventually acquire four more of the 10 known examples. The first auction appearance of the 1884 T$1 took place the following year, when an example was offered in Ben G. Green's 44th Sale in Chicago on November 27. The balance of the numismatic community finally learned of the existence of the 1884 T$1 when Haseltine, in an address at the 1908 Philadelphia ANA Convention, revealed that silver examples were included in Idler's estate. By the end of 1909, the existence of 10 proof 1884 T$1s was known widely enough that Farran Zerbe could make mention of this fact in the November issue of The Numismatist.
Today, the 1884 T$1 holds a place of honor in the pantheon of U.S. numismatic rarities. Its status is now assured thanks to Carlson's research and the resultant conclusions that the 1884 is, indeed, a legitimate product of the U.S. Mint.
Description and Analysis courtesy of Heritage Auctions and may not be republished without written permission.
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