It should be elusive, if not rare. But it is not. That makes the 1880 gold Indian Head dollar an interesting coin, even if we are not quite sure of the story behind the hoard that makes it available.
By 1880, the gold dollar had fallen from favor. During the 1850s, the situation had been reversed, with the new gold dollar much more popular than the silver.
This was easy to gauge by mintages. Some silver dollars in the 1850s had totals of less than 100,000 and were generally struck just at the main facility. Gold dollars were struck at Philadelphia and also at assorted branch mints, with Philadelphia totals sometimes in the millions.
Of course, much changed after the 1850s. The Civil War had played a major role in causing gold to disappear from circulation, except in California. Even though gold was back by 1880, there had been other changes as well.
Coins were not being produced based on their use in commerce. The Western mining interests had been busily at work for decades, and by 1880, there efforts led to the Mint producing little else than the silver dollars that were required by law.
With the Mint’s vaults already stuffed with silver dollars and no end in sight to their production, there would have been little reason to produce many gold dollars, as it would have just duplicated the denomination. Moreover, for international trade and other needs, there was a higher priority for denominations such as double eagles. Sending ships full of gold dollars to Europe would have seemed like a poor use of space.
The logical result was that gold dollar mintages dropped. Few dates showed it better than the 1880, which had a total mintage of just 1,636 pieces. Except for the 1875 mintage of 420, this was the lowest total for an Indian Head gold dollar since the 1860-D at 1,566.
Yet, today, the 1860-D lists for $1,600 in F-12 condition, while the 1880 is $177. An MS-60 1860-D, if you can find one, is priced at $13,000, while an 1880 in that condition is $300.
Obviously something very unusual is at play with the 1880 gold Indian Head dollar, and that is the previously mentioned hoard. While we are not sure precisely how many pieces were in the hoard, it numbered in the hundreds.
These hoards were a sign of the times. Some collectors were attempting to pick off quantities of low-mintage dates. It must have been for investment, although they forgot the need for demand. There was very little for the coins that were hoarded, including $3 gold pieces and proof Trade dollars.
In the case of the 1880 gold dollar, the hoard has been traced to Baltimore, making T. Harrison Garrett a likely suspect. That cannot be proven, however.
According to numismatic authority 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 hundreds of the date in Mint State, which is a significant percentage of the 1880 mintage.
Grading services confirm the situation. The Professional Coin Grading Service reports grading 417 examples of the 1880, and all but seven were Mint State. At the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation, the number graded is 291 with only two AU-58 examples not called Mint State.
You do not get numbers like that from a coin with a mintage of just over 1,600, or Mint State percentages like that, unless the coin was part of a hoard.
That makes the 1880 gold Indian Head dollar a good deal today. It is the only gold coin of such a low mintage that you will find at such prices.
This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.
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