A Numismatic Time Capsule

Posted on 6/28/2018

The excitement of examining a hoard of thousands of silver dollars

One of the very best parts of my job is not knowing what the next phone call will bring. I tell people that for me, every day is an episode of the “Antiques Road Show.”

Over the years, I have been privileged to have received many amazing phone calls about rare coins or groups of rare coins. Around 20 years ago, someone offered me over one dozen Mint condition 1929 Double Eagles.

Another favorite was a call from a lady who stated she had some world coins handed down to her from her great-great-great-grandfather. Sure enough, she had a cloth sack of coins her distant heir had purchased while on a grand tour of Europe in 1876. The coins were totally unsearched and original. The bag even contained the gentleman’s 1876 passport!

I could go on and on about the fun discoveries that have come my way over the years.

A Treasury bag of silver dollars from the New York Bank Hoard.
Click image to enlarge.

Luckily for me, I still receive amazing calls from time to time. One such call came about six months ago when a gentlemen called to inquire about a large group of silver dollars that had been inherited. We receive calls about silver dollars almost daily, but this group sounded more interesting than most. We set up an appointment for a few weeks later.

The person who came to my office had very little idea of what they actually had. All they knew was that they had inherited a large safety deposit box full of silver dollars. It was also known that the coins had been in that box since 1964. After some brief questions, that was little doubt that the coins had been purchased during the great U.S. Treasury release of silver dollars in the early 1960s. The coins have been sitting untouched for over 50 years.

Interestingly, it was also unknown exactly how many silver dollars were in the safety deposit box. From what he could remember, the coins were all in cloth bags and his guess was between 15 and 17 bags of silver dollars. That translates to over 15,000 unsearched and original silver dollars. A recent article by Q. David Bowers ranks the discovery of the S.S. Central America gold and the release of the U.S. Treasury silver dollars as the two greatest events in the history of numismatics. I could hardly contain my excitement!

The family that controls these coins were in no hurry to consummate a deal for selling the coins. The coins had been in the family for over 50 years, and doing it right was more important than speed. After many, many meetings to discuss strategy on the best way to sell the coins, I was able to strike a deal to market the coins for the family. Every detail of how the coins would be sold was worked out before I even knew exactly what was in those 15 to 17 bags.

Jeff Garrett with a Treasury bag from the New York Bank Hoard.
Click image to enlarge.

The basic plan was to fly to New York, where the coins were stored, and then conduct a preliminary inventory. The best coins would be placed in plastic flips for protection and the remainder would be placed in square silver dollar tubes for transportation to NGC. Over the years, I have done many large bulk deals with NGC, and their amazing customer service made choosing them to grade the coins an easy decision.

Finally, the day came to travel to New York City to start the process of selling this amazing time capsule of numismatic history. As much fun as this project would be, I knew it would actually be a lot of work. My son, Ben Garrett, volunteered to help, and Mark Salzberg, the chairman of NGC, offered to help as well. We were all three extremely excited to see what was actually in these bags of silver dollars.

Our first chore was to move the coins slowly from the vaults to a small office that had been provided by the bank. We did this very carefully to avoid additional bag mark damage to the coins. A quick count of the bags after removal confirmed that there were actually 16,000 coins.

US Treasury release silver dollars can include almost anything. After doing some research, I had read tales of some people even finding a bag of Liberty Seated Dollars in the 1960s. Many previously extreme rarities were also discovered in the US Treasury hoard, including 1903-O and 1904-O silver dollars. These dates crashed overnight in value when it became known how many were in the hoard. Our biggest fear was that some or all were circulated silver dollars. This was a real possibility.

Coins from the New York Bank Hoard.
Click image to enlarge.

At last it was time to open the first bag. After great anticipation and careful handling, I slowly cut the seal and strings which secured the first bag. We did not want to damage the original mint bags as these are actually collector items in their own right. The bag was full of glistening uncirculated 1881-S silver dollars. They look as if they had been struck last week. The bags were exactly what you would expect of an original group of silver dollars that had been stashed away over 50 years ago. We slowly sorted the coins by condition, with the best being placed in protective holders.

We repeated this process for all 16 bags over the course of 3 days. Amazingly, each bag contained fully original and brilliant mint state coins. With each bag being opened, our small group was able to witness the reveal of a numismatic time capsule. The overall quality of the coins is amazing.

Our only disappointment was the relatively small number of attractively toned coins. There are probably less than 100 examples with rainbow toning. I would have thought that 50 years of sitting in cloth bags would have produced a much different result in that regard. Nearly all of the coins are frosty white in appearance.

Interestingly, of the 16,000 coins, there are 11 different date and mintmark combinations represented. The issues include: 1878-S, 1880-S, 1881-S, 1883-O, 1884-O, 1885, 1885-O, 1886, 1887, 1888, 1889.

An 1885 Morgan Dollar, graded NGC MS 67, and pedigreed to the New York Bank Hoard, with the special NGC label for this hoard.
Click images to enlarge.

All 16,000 coins are presently at NGC being graded and encapsulated. NGC has also created an amazing special label for the hoard. The grading results will be known soon, and after that information has been digested, it will be time to bring the coins to market.

Several dealers have been overheard expressing concern that this many coins could adversely affect the market. The opposite is always true, as many new collectors will be brought into the hobby when these coins are marketed to the general public. This has occurred nearly every time a large group of coins is discovered.

The New York Bank hoard of U.S. Treasury silver dollars was one of the most exciting chapters of my numismatic career. I am honored to have been chosen to bring these coins to market. Many thanks to Mark Salzberg and the NGC team for all of your assistance.

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Jeff Garrett bio

Related Link

NGC Coin Explorer: Morgan Dollars

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