Hoard stories are fun. Of course, the problem is that hoard stories, like other types of stories, can get somewhat bigger each time they are told. The 1796 quarter is a good example. The story is that Col. E.H.R. Green had perhaps 200 Mint State examples.
The total is very impressive when you consider the 1796 quarter had a mintage of less than 7,000 and that someone would have had to save 200 at a time when there seems to have been little saving.
Today when a story does not quite ring true, at least in terms of numbers, we can check on it with grading service totals. If the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation and the Professional Coin Grading Service totals do not show signs of a hoard, it casts a great deal of doubt on the story. What we find with the 1796 quarter is that there was a hoard in all probability but one probably closer to 100 pieces and not the 200 reported in some stories.
A similar story is told about the 1835 half cent. During the 1930s, a dealer by the name of Elmer Sears was, according to Walter Breen, lucky enough to find a hoard of the 1835 half cent that was “probably a bag of 1,000 pieces, possibly more than that. They were spotty mint red Uncirculated state,” Breen writes.
On the surface the story seems incredible, but this was supposed to have happened in the 1930s, and at that time there were a number of surprising discoveries. At the time the economy was in terrible shape, and that included businesses and banks. In a number of cases, old forgotten groups of coins were discovered and sold in banks and other places, so the timing for such a hoard is actually very likely.
Assuming there were thousands of 1835 half cents found, one might wonder if they are still around – certainly not as a group. Although the 1930s were a very difficult time, financially they were actually a very good time for interest in coin collecting.
Holders and albums to house collections were introduced. While it is not always seen as good, there was a large number of commemoratives and they too helped to increase interest in the hobby. In the case of a hoard of 1835 half cents, they would have sold fairly well at about a quarter each.
There is no doubt that, if there actually was anywhere close to 1,000 examples of the 1835, it would take a long time to sell them all. In fact, it is probably unlikely that they all could be sold during that decade.
The 1835 had a mintage of 398,000, which was slightly above average at the time. There was, however, no additional production for circulation for many years, so it is possible that some examples were set aside. While collectors of the 1930s might not have been able to absorb the entire hoard, certainly by the 1960s the hoard would have been all placed in homes, at minimum of type collectors.
Was the hoard possible? Today the 1835 lists for $51 in G-4 like other available dates. It is at $225 in MS-60, and that is basically the price for an available date.
The question is whether it is available, and to find out we check the grading services. At NGC, the 1835 in Mint State has been seen about 315 times, and that total is well above other dates not associated with hoards. The PCGS total produces a similar result with nearly 500 examples of the 1835 called Mint State, many times more than non-hoard dates.
The conclusion is simple. The hoard appears to have existed, making the 1835 much more available than otherwise would be the case.