Hoard coins are enormous fun to study for a variety of reasons. In some cases trying to determine if there really was a hoard is a reasonable place to start. In the case of many coins there are rumors of hoards but not always proof that such hoards did in fact exist. In other cases the size of the hoard and its impact can be at least tracked down if not actually proven.
The 1874-S Seated Liberty quarter is reportedly a hoard coin and trying to get to the bottom of the situation means trying to piece together missing bits of information.
We start out with the basic information on the 1874-S and whether there would have been any logical reason to hoard it. If hoarded, the 1874-S seemingly was a chance hoard.
The 1874-S was the second and final year of the with-arrows type of Seated Liberty quarter. There were arrows at the date as the amount of silver had been increased sightly. There was no reason to hoard the 1874-S, because the design applied to the 1873-S as well as Philadelphia quarters of the time.
There were no numismatic reasons to hoard the 1874-S. There were few if any collectors at the time who were collecting Seated Liberty quarters or anything else by date and mint. As a result there were few prospects for additional demand for a date like the 1874-S. The 1874-S had a mintage of 392,000. That sounds low, but the 1873-S had a mintage of 156,000, so there was no reason to hoard the 1874-S on the notion that it might some day be tough or better.
According to Q. David Bowers in his book American Coin Treasures and Hoards, in the 1960s New York dealer Lester Merkin acquired several dozen examples of the 1874-S that Bowers describes as “mostly brilliant with light silver-gray and iridescent toning and of a quality that in a later time (when grading by numbers became popular) would be an easy call at MS-65 or MS-66. The story was told that these pieces turned up in Mexico.”
Walter Breen checked in with an 1874-S story of uncirculated examples turning up in a West Coast bank about 1949. His estimate was between 80 and 100.
In a letter to Bowers from John J. Ford Jr., Ford said he bought some 1874-S quarters from a dealer who had 300 or 400 that he bought somewhere in Latin America. Put together, we have between a few dozen and 400 examples of the 1874-S that were maybe found in Mexico or Latin America.
There is proof behind some of these stories. Numismatic Guaranty Corporation has graded a total of 98 examples of the 1874-S MS-60 or better. Thirty-three were MS-65, 13 were MS-66 and one was MS-67. Professional Coin Grading Service has graded just under 150, with 49 in MS-65, 24 in MS-66 and one in MS-67.
The conclusion is that a hoard in very high grades was likely. The numbers seem to suggest a total similar to those given by Bowers and Breen.