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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Early America Coin Hoards

 More Than Morgans in Coin Hoards
By Paul M. Green, Numismatic News
July 24, 2012

Did you buy any of the Morgan silver dollars sold by the General Services Administration sales in the 1970s and early 1980s? Congratulations. You were part of numismatic history as the U.S. government dispersed its remaining 2.9 million Morgan dollars.

Hoards are fascinating.

How about the famous Redfield Hoard of silver dollars that came on the market privately in the 1970s?

Without such hoards, the supply of Morgan dollars would be far less for collectors today and the prices probably much higher. The Morgan dollar hoards of the past 50 years are pretty well documented, but that is not the case with all hoards and it makes determining the impact of older hoards all the more challenging but interesting.

One of the interesting things about hoards is that they stretch all the way back to ancient times. That is because without banks the average wage earner in ancient times would be paid with coins and perhaps wanting to save some for an emergency it would be commonplace to find a safe spot, dig a hole and bury your coins. There were many such small groups, which is why ancient coin collectors and dealers seem to have been somewhat ahead of their U.S. collecting counterparts when it came to appreciating hoards not only for the coins they provided but also for the small glimpse into a past era they give us.

The situation in the early United States many centuries later was not all that different from the situation in ancient times. We have located a number of absolutely fascinating hoards over the years. One of them is called the Bank of New York Hoard from 1856. It was an entire keg of 1787 Fugio cents. Clearly this hoard was not the work of one individual, but it has certainly proved to be an important hoard for those wanting a nice Fugio cent today.

There was a another large hoard for another colonial issue in the form of the Col. Cohen hoard of 1773 Virginia halfpennies, which reportedly contained some 2,200 coins and which explains why the 1773 Virginia halfpenny is perhaps the only Colonial issue that is reasonably available in Mint State today. Of course like the Bank of New York Hoard, this was a larger group and as they were all basically the same date and denomination it appears to have been a one-time hoard perhaps from a business as the average Colonial farmer was not in the habit of having thousands of coins at one time and especially not in the habit of having thousands of coins that they then forgot or did not recover for other reasons.

There have, however, been discoveries of smaller hoards typical of the farmer or wage earner who did not want to come home with all their money. Such small hoards are not limited to ancient times or even rural areas of the United States. All over Central America small hoards have been found buried in walls and foundations clearly the work of an individual trying to keep the frequently large families in the area from spending all their funds, leaving something for emergencies or special events like paying for a wedding.

Probably the most typical of such hoards would have been the Exeter Hoard of Massachusetts silver that reportedly had 30 to 40 pieces of silver Massachusetts silver shillings buried in the sand in what appeared to be the remains of wooden box. Primarily Pine Tree and Oak Tree types, a small hoard of silver is a true classic in terms of being typical of such hoards from around the world. The owner either had no access to gold or was not wealthy enough for gold issues, but silver was available and within his financial means to save. Early Americans would get silver bury it and bring home the copper coins perhaps with a story about why there was not more money, but whatever the circumstances, which probably varied from hoard to hoard such small silver hoards are great fun and numerous in some parts of the world.

Certainly one of the most interesting, largest and important silver hoards in the history of the United States did not involve Morgan dollars. In fact, it was discovered about the time the first Morgan dollar was being produced as in the small town of Economy, Pa., a subterranean storage area produced a mass of silver coins from the period up to 1836, which has provided the market with a large percentage of today’s available half dollars of the period.

The utopian Harmony Society believed in paying “in money,” which to them meant silver and they were very thrifty. The total face value of the hoard was estimated at $75,000 and it was primarily in the form of half dollars from 1794-1836. When the hoard was accumulate, half dollars were the largest silver denomination readily available in circulation at the time.

In the hoard, the historic 1794 half dollar, according to the Coin Collectors Journal of 1881 was found some 150 times, which may be one-third of the numbers known today while the staggering total of 111,356 available date half dollars from the period 1808-1836 is a significant percentage of the numbers known today and an important factor in the relatively low prices of half dollars from the period.

Graded PCGS Secure Plus MS63+, CAC certified, this 1794 Flowing Hair dollar owned by Bruce Moreland and formerly in the Cardinal Collection has been sold by Legend Numismatics to a Wall Street executive for a price "in the area of $1.5 million." Photo credit: PCGS TrueView™ image.

As interesting as the individual dates in the hoard and its impact on the availability of many half dollars from the period today is the fact that the list of coins from the Harmony Society Hoard gives us an extremely rare view of what coins were in circulation at the time. The rare 1796 and 1797 half dollars were rare even then too as there were two examples of the 1796 and just a single 1797. Also in the one-coin-only class was one of the relatively few silver dollars in the group, but even one 1794 silver dollar is significant.

While the Harmony Society Hoard was a group effort and the hoard was clearly simply pulled from circulation. The Randall Hoard was definitely a different situation as it contained Mint State examples of a number of dates of large cents from about 1816-1820.

As so often happens with older hoards, the details are a little foggy, or perhaps became a little enhanced over the years as it was allegedly a keg of large cents discovered under a railroad platform shortly after the Civil War. In reality, the evidence suggests it was a hoard used basically to pay a debt to a Georgia merchant and eventually it was purchased by John Randall at the going discounted rate at the time of 90 to the dollar, which certainly ranks as an historical bargain. Precisely how many or if it was in fact a wooden keg, which came in different sizes at the time, are questions we will probably never answer with certainty.

We will also probably never know precisely the breakdown of the dates in the hoard or even with absolute certainty every date in the hoard. Grading services, however, do provide a clue as by checking to see which dates in Mint State are unusually available we can reach some reasonable conclusions. While dates from 1816-1820 all appear in greater numbers than is usually the case, it is clear that the two main dates in the hoard were the 1818 and 1820 as they both appear more than any other date with hundreds of examples called Mint State by the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation and the Professional Coin Grading Service while dates not associated with the hoard from the same time are lucky to reach 50 examples graded.
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