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Historic hoards echo in population reports

There have always been some mixed emotions when it comes to hoards. It’s probably natural if you are a collector or dealer to have a concern about hoards and the possibility that one might appear and cause a sharp decline in the price of a coin you own.

The classic instance of that happening occurred to collectors owning 1903-O Morgan dollars back in 1962. They thought that they had a $1,500 coin only to see it fall to $15 seemingly overnight as hundreds of thousands of examples were released by the Treasury.

It would be hard to convince them that hoards are good.

On the other side of the matter, there is the very real fact that a hoard can make a certain coin much more available and at a much more reasonable price than was previously the case. This allows many collectors who otherwise would never have owned something to be able to acquire it.

The discovery of roughly 5,400 examples of the 1857-S Coronet Head double eagle on the sunken wreck of the S.S. Central America made not only the date available, but it also made it possible for many to have a chance to have a Mint State Coronet Head double eagle and one that was produced from the early days of the San Francisco Mint.

Without that recovery of 5,400 examples of the 1857-S from their underwater resting place, the possibilities of owning a nice Mint State double eagle from San Francisco in the 1850s would definitely be reduced and that is just one of many examples.

The discovery, promotion and original sale of hoard coins is just one part of the story. That may be the most exciting part of the story, but after the hoard coins are dispersed, how well do they really hold up in terms of price? In fact, there may be no single answer for the simple reason that there are literally hundreds, if not thousands of hoard coins.

In many cases, we simply do not have a name and story to attach to the numbers of one issue or another that are known today. That is especially true in the case of gold where hundreds and in a few cases even thousands of Mint State coins returned to the United States from primarily European bank vaults in the past half century.

There was no accounting of the numbers, but when you check the numbers seen at grading services today there is absolutely no doubt that there were substantial numbers.

Even in the cases where we know of specific hoards and likely numbers involved, it is unfair to expect that each and every hoard coin will show similar price movements. After all, they are part of a set and a set of large cents is not likely to move in price at the same rate as double eagles or silver dollars or Jefferson nickels. Consequently, we cannot really expect uniform results. That said, there is still a certain question as to just how well hoard coins have done in recent years, not when compared with each other, but perhaps when compared to other non-hoard dates of the same type.

One of the most famous hoards of all was the Randall Hoard. If you have collected large cents for more than three hours you have probably heard of the Randall Hoard. The story may not be quite in tune with the reality, but the fact remains that sometime in the late 1860s in Georgia there was a discovery of a significant number of large cents allegedly in a keg. The precise dates were debated as were an assortment of issues and the story over the years has evolved slightly but we have very solid evidence that five dates were found in some numbers in Mint State in the Randall Hoard.

The two most heavily represented dates were the 1818 and the 1820, with lesser numbers of the 1816, 1817 and 1819. We can say that with some certainty as the numbers of Mint State examples of the dates found at the grading services showed the 1818 having been seen 296 times at the Professional Coin Grading Service and 288 times at Numismatic Guaranty Corp. in Mint State,  while the 1820 was seen 267 times at PCGS and 391 times at NGC. In comparison, the lowest numbers for any of the five dates were posted by the 1819, which appeared 81 times at each service. In the case of a date with a similar mintage from the period the combined total at the grading services was basically under 50.

Clearly the 1818 and 1820 are available in significantly higher numbers. Back in 1998 in MS-60 the 1818 was priced at $250 while the 1820 was $275. Today, in the same grade, the 1818 is $270 and the 1820 is at $300. It would appear that the dates are not doing well except for the fact that the large cents of the period in general have moved very little. The 1816 for example was $420 in 1998 and still is $420. Other dates have increased and usually more than the 1818 and 1820, so while perhaps increasing in price at a below average pace, it would be hard to say that the Randall Hoard dates are very different from other dates of the type.

The 1857-S double eagle found in such large numbers on the S.S. Central America, which sank in 1857 off the North Carolina coast, certainly has to be seen as an extreme test in terms of double eagles. It is not simply a case where the numbers are large, but it is also a case where the S.S. Central America is a relatively recent hoard.

The market has had very little time to really absorb what was over $100 million in sales. It is probably too early to expect the 1857-S, which was basically an available date in circulated grades but not a readily available date in Mint State,  to show any signs of price increases. In fact, with very serious doubts that there are even 5,400 collectors of Mint State Coronet Head double eagles to absorb the supply, it would not be at all out of the question to expect the 1857-S to show some potentially serious price declines.

If you check the prices for the 1857-S back in 1998 in MS-60 it listed for $2,600 while an MS-63 was $10,000 with no price listed in higher grades. Today in MS-60 the 1857-S  is at $4,500 while an MS-65 is at $7,250. It’s a very interesting situation and a somewhat volatile one as prices are all over the board depending on the price guide. The consensus, however, is that in MS-60 the 1857-S seems to have increased in price perhaps as publicity over the sale of the S.S. Central America coins encouraged some to want to acquire a lower cost example of a famous date.

The price decline in MS-63 may well be a case of this grade was actually hurt because there were suddenly significant numbers of higher grade examples. It is definitely an opposite trend from other Coronet Head double eagle dates. The question for the next few years is likely to be not what happens to the MS-60 or MS-63 prices, but rather how does an MS-65 or MS-66 fare at their current levels.

Another recent double eagle was one involving Saint-Gaudens double eagles. Called the Wells Fargo Hoard, the hoard involved 19,900 examples of the 1908 no motto double eagle. The number was extraordinary and so was the quality of the coins. The breakdown given to Q. David Bowers for his book A Guide Book of Double Eagle Gold Coins by Ron Gillio, who purchased the hoard, had 6,000+ in MS-66 with 1,700+ in MS-67.

These high grades were not just wishful thinking by the person buying the hoard. The coins have gone through the major grading services with stunning results. At PCGS, 793 Wells Fargo hoard coins were called MS-67 compared to 38 that were not from the hoard.

At NGC the number of Wells Fargo MS-67 coins was 941 compared to 94 not from the hoard. There were similar numbers in other high grades. The impact of so many top quality examples of a single date almost had to have an impact.

The MS-65 listing of the no motto 1908 back in 1998 was $1,350 and today in MS-65 the price is $2,350.  This is the cheapest of the “No Motto” type.

If MS-65 were the top grade available, then there would be considerable pressure on buyers to find and buy an MS-65. The Wells Fargo Hoard, however, has made MS-65 an average grade for this one date. Combined NGC and PCGS have graded over 6,400 Wells Fargo coins as MS-66 and 1,700 more as MS-67. Under the circumstances, buyers will seek those upper grades and not the MS-65 so there are more than just numbers potentially working against the MS-65 price of the “No Motto” 1908.

A dramatically different situation involving gold coins would be the gold dollars of 1879, 1880 and 1881. The three were low mintage, with the 1879 having a mintage of 3,030 while the 1880 was just 1,636 and the 1881 was 7,707. The three should have all been tough dates, but back at the time they were released someone saved examples. In fact. they saved hundreds of each.

We can see evidence in hundreds of each in Mint State reported by both PCGS and NGC. The hoards of the three were not all that well known, although it is a case where relatively few study and collect gold dollars. While we do not know the details of the hoard, we know that hundreds of each of the three dates are known and the MS-60 price of the three back in 1998 saw the 1879 at $700 while the 1880 and 1881 were each at $400. Today in MS-60 the 1879 is $525, the 1880 is $425 and the 1881 is $410.

There is simply no good way to make sense of that change. Ironically, the 1879 which declined the most in price is the least often seen of the three in highest grades, while the 1881 which actually increased in price in the highest Mint State grades has been graded more often than either of the other dates. There is no good way of explaining the changes, but every so often strange things happen in the market and this would have to qualify as one of those times.

If there is such a thing as a blue chip hoard coin, it is ironically a pattern as the 1856 Flying Eagle cent could not have been a coin even though it circulated simply because the law authorizing the Flying Eagle cent was passed in 1857. Over the years, few coins have been hoarded like the 1856, which seemed to always inspire speculation or at minimum a hoarding instinct.

George Rice of Detroit probably won the prize for the largest hoard of the 1856 with his accumulation numbered 756 pieces while close behind was John Andrew Beck of Pittsburgh, whose total included some from the Rice collection,  reached 531.

In the case of the 1856 the numbers are small, but the percentage of the total mintage is large. Produced both in proof and also with a small number of business strikes there is no certainty regarding the 1856 mintage although perhaps 1,500 to 2,500 pieces would be a good range. Back in 1998 the 1856 was at $4,000 in G-4 and today that price is $6,250. In MS-65, the 1998 price was $21,000 and today that price is $65,000. Clearly as hoard coins go, the 1856 Flying Eagle cent continues to defy the other patterns by surging strongly to higher prices and in all grades.

There was a great deal of hoarding during the Civil War and some of that even reached down to copper-nickel cents. As a result, small groups of the copper-nickel cent dates have been reported over the years. The largest was discussed by Q. David Bowers in his book American Coin Treasures and Hoards” The group of probably 1,000 Mint State specimens of the 1862 was offered in a Thomas Elder auction in 1918. The group was significant based on the fact that PCGS has seen about 675 Mint State examples of the 1862 while NGC is at roughly 850. The 1998 prices for the 1862 in Mint State were $80 for an MS-60 and $575 for an MS-65. Today those listings are the same for an MS-60 but $1,050 for an MS-65. For a hoard coin that is not heavily publicized, that’s a strong MS-65 increase, although in reality it reflects a general increase in copper-nickel Indian cents prices in MS-65 as all dates have done basically the same thing in terms of price.

One of the more interesting dates that was heavily hoarded was the 1883 without “CENTS” Liberty Head nickel. No particular hoard can be discussed although groups of 100 or more were known. The 1883 without “CENTS” was simply hoarded by many as a new design. It was an unusual time for hoarding, but people then also hoarded the last couple years of the Shield nickel series. We see the proof in the fact that there are thousands of Mint State 1883 without “CENTS” nickels reported at the grading services  and that produced 1998 prices of$32 in MS-60 and $300 in MS-65. Today those prices are $25 in MS-60 and $260 in MS-65, so clearly the extremely large numbers reported by the grading services are keeping the price down.

In his book, Bowers reports on the mysterious appearance on the market of hundreds of Mint State 1877-CC quarters in Mint State. It was an odd situation as traditionally there was very little saving of new coins at Carson City and even if there had been, the 1877-CC quarter with a mintage of nearly 4.2 million would have been an odd choice. That said, the observation of Bowers is supported by grading service totals, which show hundreds of examples of the 1877-CC in Mint State.

Since 1998, the 1877-CC which was at $375 in MS-60 has dropped to $325. Interestingly enough, that is still a premium over the most available Mint State Seated Liberty quarter dates of the type. Realistically the 1877-CC is one of those most available dates, but it happens to have a “CC” mintmark, which may be the only thing stopping it from further declines.

There is no doubt there have been a few Lincoln cents that were hoarded. It was reported that John Zug had some 25,000 examples of the 1909-S VDB, although that hoard was allegedly broken up before 1920. There were at least 10 or more rolls that hit the market in the 1950s, but the demand for the 1909-S VDB is so great that such numbers were drops in the bucket when it came to meeting demand.

Since 1998 the 1909-S VDB has gone from $720 in MS-60 and $1,800 in MS-65 to a current $1,825 in MS-60 and $6,850 in MS-65, proving that with enough demand no hoard can keep prices from rising.

The situation with the Philadelphia 1909 VDB is slightly different. Its total numbers hoarded were much, much larger. There is solid demand for the 1909 VDB, also. Its 1998 prices of $9 in MS-60 and $39 in MS-65, respectively, have risen to $25 in MS-60 and $195 in MS-65.

A final Lincoln cent worth noting is the 1931-S. With a mintage below 1 million we know the 1931-S was hoarded. We can dispute the numbers hoarded with a Walter Breen claim that the Maurice Scharlack hoard had 200,000 pieces, which would have been about 25 percent of the entire mintage, but there is no doubt the 1931-S was heavily hoarded in Mint State and upper circulated grades. Since 1998 in Mint State the 1931-S has moved from $53 in MS-60 and $215 in MS-65 to a current $163 in MS-60 and $685 in MS-65.

Probably the most famous hoard coin of all time would be the 1950-D Jefferson nickel. We frankly do not know what percentage of its 2,630,030 mintage was hoarded initially, but somewhere on the order of 50 percent or more would be in the ballpark. A.J. Mitula of Houston, Texas, reportedly had 1 million pieces while another 320,000 were reported in Wisconsin and there were others with larger numbers involved.

The 1950-D soared in price during the 1950s and 1960s probably in part because all were tied up in hoards. Then it simply went into a coma, not moving for decades. In 1998 the 1950-D was $6.50 in MS-60 and $9.50 in MS-65. Today it sits at $18 in MS-60 and $30 in MS-65.

It is certainly a mixed bag when it comes to prices of hoard coins. Greater numbers should hold prices down, but a good story or heavy demand for the whole series can still lift prices higher.

More Resources:

• Subscribe to our Coin Price Guide, buy Coin BooksCoin Folders and join the NumisMaster VIP Program

2010 U.S. Coin Digest, The Complete Guide to Current Market Values, 8th ed.

State Quarters Deluxe Folder By Warmans

Standard Guide to Small-Size U.S. Paper Money, 1928 to Date

Strike It Rich with Pocket Change, 2nd Edition



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