Many collectors wonder what stories their coins could tell, if only the coins could talk. Certain silver dollars tell their stories through their special engraving.
Some would call the coins “damaged.” These coins are not defaced, and are not love tokens, coins engraved with a scene, a name or a sentiment. These dollars were specially engraved presentation pieces.
The coins are quite rare, and many collectors are not aware of their existence. Even in 40 years of silver dollar collecting, a numismatist may see only one or two, or none, of these coins, and rarely have a chance to buy such a coin, or bid for it in an auction.
The best known of specially engraved dollars may be the 1921-D Morgan dollar. The first silver dollars minted at Denver were struck on May 5, 1921, according to the State Historical Society. No special ceremony was held to mark the occasion; indeed, the exact time and date are not known.
The superintendent of the Denver Mint, Thomas Annear, sent the director of the Mint a letter dated May 4, including two of the first dollars struck, so obviously the May 5 date cannot be accurate.
The first silver dollar minted in Denver was presented to the Colorado Historical Society; the coin was stolen in 1980 and has never been recovered. The coin was not engraved, and probably will never be positively identified. The Colorado School of Mines supposedly received the second coin, which also was not engraved, although the school does not have the coin now.
A number of coins were engraved with the following words: “—th dollar released from first 100/ever coined at Denver Mint/Thomas Annear Supt.” Only coins numbered 3 through 12 have been located, and were most likely the only ones engraved, as no more have shown up in the ensuing years. Correspondence from Thomas Annear to “Mr. Cowell” states that the first two coins struck were given to the two United States Senators from Colorado, and “yours were the next ten released.”
These special dollars were not specimen strikes, but have been described as “bright uncirculated,” or “Mint State,” or even “prooflike.” A few of the coins have spelling errors in the engraving.
The 10 engraved and numbered coins appeared in the Dec. 18, 1923, B. Max Mehl sale. Over the years, a number of numismatic researchers, and silver dollar fans, have attempted to locate the numbered coins; it seems that all 10 survived the massive melting of silver coins in 1979-1980, when the price of silver reached $50 an ounce. This was lucky, as a couple of the special coins turned up in circulation, and one was found in a junk box.
Roster of engraved 1921-D silver dollars as of October 2009:
3. In Colorado collection in 1989, authenticated by ANACS in 1982. Sold by Heritage at 1996 ANA Signature Sale, graded MS-60. Price realized: $4,675.
4. Found at a bingo game in Illinois in 1989. Graded MS-64 by NGC. A photo of this coin can be found at the Brokencc.com Web site.
5. Bowers and Merena, Miller Collection auction, November 1992. “R” in “DENVER” originally engraved as “D.” “MINT” engraved as “MIINT.” Graded AU-55. Unsold.
6. Superior, Hoagy Carmichael and Wayne Miller collections auction, January 1986. Graded MS-65. Sold for $5,500.
7. Unknown to author as of October 2009.
8. Found in circulation in Tennessee, 1935. Owned by an Alabama collector as of 1973.
9. Tidewater Coin Club auction, 1961 or 1962. See below. Offered for sale in a Bowers and Ruddy “Rare Coin Review” in the early 1970s. Sold by Heritage at the 1997 ANA Signature Sale, graded MS-60. Price realized: $2,990.
10. Tidewater Coin Club auction, 1961 or 1962. “1st” engraved as “ISI.” This and previous coin sold to Charles Taliaferro for a total of $15. Coin #9 was resold to a club member for $7.50. This coin was the subject of an article in the Sept. 9, 1978 Numismatic News by Alan Herbert, an attempt to locate and register the genuine specimens.
11. Seen by dealer Julian Leidman in June 2007.
12. Superior, Hoagy Carmichael and Wayne Miller collections auction, January 1986. “L” in ‘RELEASED’ originally engraved as “E.” Graded MS-65. Sold for $3,410. Sold by Heritage Numismatic Auctions at the Long Beach Expo, February 1989, graded MS-64/64; price was $2,300. Offered for sale by Julian Leidman at the ANA World’s Fair of Money in Baltimore, August 2008, the first specimen seen by this author. Offered at the Bowers and Merena auction of June 2009, and went unsold. This coin was part of the Julian Leidman inventory that was stolen in October 2009 and then recovered.
Another rare engraved dollar was part of the Louis Eliasberg collection, a souvenir of the day the first Morgan dollars were struck at San Francisco. Unlike the 1921 Denver dollars, this coin is a specimen striking, showing beautiful mirror-like surfaces and a strong strike; a case can be made that the coin is actually a branch-mint proof. The coin was graded Proof-63 in the Eliasberg Collection catalog.
I had a chance to examine this coin at a major convention years ago. It’s a beauty that could hold its own with proof dollars. (I also recall that the price was not outrageous.) The coin was housed in a special green holder, and would have made a wonderful exhibit all by itself.
A first strike ceremony was held at the San Francisco Mint on April 17, 1878, which included Mint Superintendent Henry Dodge and former governor, F.F. Low. The Eliasberg coin was engraved, “One of the first ten coined April 17th from J.Gus.Burt.” This coin is the only known engraved piece, although another specimen strike was sold as part of the Samuel Mills Damon Collection in March 2006.
These two engraved coins, from the first and last years of Morgan dollar production, would make great “book-end” coins to an advanced Morgan dollar collection.
Two notable Seated Liberty silver dollars also bear special engraving. One Gobrecht dollar of 1836 is engraved, “A. Jackson to J.W. McGrath.” President Andrew Jackson took an interest in the Gobrecht dollar and its minting; McGrath was a federal judge. Perhaps the President had other dollars engraved and presented to people who were important to him.
Another 1836 Gobrecht dollar, not engraved, was purported to be President Jackson’s personal specimen. The coin, graded from Proof-63 to EF-45 over the years, has been offered at auction, along with a handwritten letter documenting its famous ownership. This coin was offered at a Bowers and Merena auction in 2002 and an American Numismatic Rarities sale the following year, and went unsold on both occasions.
A Carson City dollar of 1870, the first year of production for that mint, was engraved “H.F. Rice to C.C. Warner.” Rice was the second superintendent of the Carson City Mint, and Warner was the postmaster of the Virginia City post office. This coin was displayed by Rusty Goe, president of the Carson City Coin Collectors of America, at a meeting of the club on Aug. 21, 2009. Also displayed were two blank planchets, given by Abe Curry, the first Carson City Mint superintendent, to local entrepreneurs, and a specially engraved dollar mounted in a bracelet, given by Curry to friends. Perhaps other Carson City silver dollars were engraved by the superintendent, or another bigwig, and presented to dignitaries.
The exact number of specially engraved dollars cannot be known with any certainty. Maybe a few were spent, or melted for silver value; others may rest in family safe deposit boxes or jewelry boxes. Many collectors or grading services consider the coins damaged, with the engraving, and classify them with love tokens. A number of these coins have appeared at major auctions and went unsold.
Perhaps specialists who want something different, something historical, and a little something out of the ordinary could keep their eyes open for these engraved dollars. The numismatist who desires one of these coins may be able to obtain one at a decent price, and have the satisfaction of owning a coin that practically tells you its history.
Additional 1921-D roster information may be sent to Gcoinlady@aol.com.