It should be elusive, if not rare. It is neither. This is what makes the 1880 gold dollar such an interesting coin, even if we are not quite sure of the story behind the hoard that makes it available.
During the 1850s the gold dollar had been much more popular than the silver dollar. Silver dollars had mintage totals of less than 100,000 and were mostly produced at the main facility. Gold dollars were being produced not just at Philadelphia, but also at assorted branch mints. The total at Philadelphia was sometimes in the millions.
By 1880, however, the gold dollar had fallen from favor. Much had changed since the 1850s. The Civil War played a major role in causing gold to all but disappear from circulation, except in California. Even though gold was back by 1880, there had been other changes as well.
Coins were no longer being produced based on their use in commerce. The Western mining interests had been busily at work for decades, and by 1880 the mints produced little other than silver dollars, which were required by law.
The nation?s major mint vaults were already stuffed with silver dollars, and there was no end in sight for its production. There would have been little reason to produce many gold dollars since it would have just duplicated the denomination. Moreover, if there was an international trade priority for gold coins, it would have been for higher dollar coins like double eagles. Sending ships full of gold dollars to Europe would have seemed like a poor use of space.
Gold dollar mintages dropped, and few dates showed it better than the 1880. It had a total mintage of just 1,636 pieces. Except for the 1875, it was the lowest total stretching all the way back to the 1,566 1860-D. However, the 1860-D is $2,000 in F-12, while the 1880 is $150. If you can find one in MS-60, an 1860-D is $23,000. The 1880 is $440. That is nearly an available date price.
Something very unusual happened to the 1880, and that was a hoard. We are not sure precisely how many pieces the hoard contained, but it was in the hundreds.
The hoard was a sign of the times. There were collectors who were attempting to pick off quantities of low-mintage dates. They may have done it for investment, but there was very little demand for the coins that were hoarded. These were gold dollars, $3 gold pieces and proof Trade dollars.
The 1880 gold dollar hoard has been traced to Baltimore, making T. Harrison Garrett a likely suspect. That, however, cannot be proven.
According to Q. David Bowers, the coins ultimately emerged through the offices of Abner Kreisberg in California and Thomas Warfield in Baltimore during the 1950s and 1960s. Bowers remembers there being hundreds of the date in Mint State. That is a significant percentage of the 1880?s mintage.
The grading services confirm the situation. Professional Coin Grading Service reports grading 371 examples of the 1880, and all but six were Mint State. The Numismatic Guaranty Corporation graded 228, and only a single AU-58 was not called Mint State.
Even without the details, it is certain that the 1880 was hoarded heavily in Mint State. That makes it a good deal today, since it?s the only 1,600 mintage gold coin you will find at such prices.