It’s now been over three decades since LaVere Redfield passed away in 1974 and the process of settling what turned out to be his memorable estate began. Eventually Redfield’s holdings would be sold to A-Mark for $7.3 million. It was a lot of money at the time. It was closer to a fortune, but for a reported 407,000 Morgan and Peace dollars of which 351,259 were considered Mint State, it was well worth the money.
You do not simply dump 407,000 silver dollars into the market without making waves and the Redfield coins made waves at the time.
Of course collectors of the 1970s were well versed in the details of the 1962-1964 heavy release of millions of silver dollars from the Treasury. While the process of settling the Redfield estate and selling the coins was going on, the General Services Administration was also busily selling the leftover Carson City dollars that had been left in Treasury vaults after the Treasury had stopped redeeming Silver Certificates with silver dollars, meaning when it came to silver dollars this was probably a unique time in U.S. history both in terms of activity and in terms of information.
In some respects, the two decades starting about 1962 as the Treasury releases picked up momentum were probably too much for the market to absorb at the time. Eventually, all the coins involved were sold and today there are some willing to pay extra premiums for Carson City dollars from the GSA sales or dollars from the Redfield Hoard in their original holders as the importance of such sales has actually come to be appreciated more with the passage of time.
We have also come to appreciate more what a difference the dollars in the various hoards have made in terms of Morgan and Peace dollar availability today. There is simply no doubt that if there had not been bags sitting in Treasury vaults and the basement of the LaVere Redfield home you might well be faced with much higher prices and much less chance to acquire the dollars you want for your collection.
The GSA sales of Carson City dollars are well documented but things are not as clear with the Redfield Hoard. We have the total numbers and the reported sale price, but as Q. David Bowers suggests in his analysis in his book American Coin Treasures and Hoards, the actual breakdown of the 407,000 dollars is not known. He points out, “Contents of the Redfield silver dollar hoard were never made public.” Over time, however, reports especially from John Highfill’s Comprehensive U.S. Silver Dollar Encyclopedia, have emerged enabling us to at least get a better idea of the impact of the hoard on the market at the time and today.
Like so many hoards from the past, the actual facts regarding the LaVere Redfield hoard are not always clear. In fact, because of his personal lifestyle LaVere Redfield made it fairly easy to move from fact to something closer to Hollywood casting when it came to describing the man and his hoard.
The basic facts about LaVere Redfield are that he was born in Utah in 1897. While clerking in a department store in Idaho he met and married his wife Nell and the couple moved to Los Angeles where he made it big as a securities broker. By the late 1930s he was a millionaire with much of his money being invested in real estate, including a 51,000 acre spread near Reno, Nev., the city where he would later move and begin to amass his dollar hoard.
Redfield liked “hard assets” and in his Reno home there were bags of assorted types of U.S. coins although in reality he was no collector. He had some basic numismatic knowledge but realistically his goal was quantity especially in terms of silver dollars with quality being a very distant second.
Living in Reno gave him an advantage when it came to dollar bags as Reno at the time was the heart of the gambling industry in Nevada. Redfield would go to a local casino at times, but in this period bags and bags of silver dollars would be sent to Reno for use in the various casinos. Had he lived someplace else Redfield might have had a tougher time acquiring bag after bag of dollars, but in Reno a $1,000 bag of silver dollars was a very basic item found at the local banks or casinos.
It is possible and certainly it is tempting to paint Redfield as something of an odd loner along the lines of Howard Hughes. In fact, while he may have elements of that sitting in a house with a basement full of silver dollars and various canned goods apparently anticipating the worst, the fact is that he was married and he apparently did get out and around in Reno going to the casinos where he allegedly liked playing Blackjack.
At the local library he and Nell apparently were known for a special interest in travel films. Additionally there are reports that he was generous to those in need so despite the fact that he at least twice used bags full of currency at land auctions and had continuing troubles with the IRS, LaVere Redfield does not perfectly fit the mold of odd character waiting for the end of the world.
Just as it is hard to make general statements about Redfield and his life, it is also hard to make sweeping observations regarding what we believe were the dollars he assembled. In fact, his hoard was probably even larger than the 407,000 coins purchased and offered as Redfield coins as there were a couple reported burglaries of his home including one in 1963 that reportedly resulted in the loss of 100,000 dollars. Of course, that is a case where with something less than full accounting. We cannot be sure of the actual loss, although allegedly 1887-S and 1891 dates were among the dates involved and they began appearing at the gaming tables shortly after the theft.
It is worth remembering that in the 407,000 coins reported we have not a collection but a hoard. Redfield bought what was available, which explains the large number of mixed circulated coins as well as original Mint State $1,000 bags.
He could not have been expected to know which bags might be better and which would be ordinary as at the time even the best numismatic scholars were in the dark as to what dates were actually sitting in vaults in what numbers and what dates had been melted in large numbers under the terms of the Pittman Act of 1918. Even if he had tried to hand select better dates, he would not have managed much of a success rate. Of course, Redfield did not try. He just wanted dollars and he got them.
In the Highfill book the dates seen as the most heavily represented in the hoard included the 1881-S, 1880-S, 1879-S, 1878-S, 1882-S, 1896, 1897, 1897-S and 1890-S.
The group is not surprising. The fact that most are San Francisco dates is natural as Reno would basically get it’s $1,000 bags from San Francisco, which quite naturally during his lifetime had primarily San Francisco Morgans.
Carson City dollars around 1900 were shipped either to San Francisco or to the Treasury in Washington, D.C., leaving San Francisco coins the dominant cartwheels in the West.
Eventually New Orleans dollars would also be shipped to Washington and interestingly enough there were apparently no New Orleans Morgan dollars in the Redfield Hoard.
In the case of the few Philadelphia dates seen most often in the hoard we have three dates that are later and which are generally seen as available in Mint State.
The next group in terms of numbers included the 1883-S, 1886-S, 1887-S, 1888-S, 1889-S, 1890, 1890-CC, 1891, 1891-S, 1892-CC, 1893-CC, 1896-S, 1898-S, 1899-S, 1900-S, 1902-S, 1903 and 1921-S.
There are some interesting dates in this group, which included dates found in fewer than 10 bags and others where only a few were present. The fact that there are 1890 dates from Carson City with the exception of the 1891-CC, which was also found but in very small numbers, is interesting as there were very few Carson City dates from the 1890s in the GSA sales.
It would appear that these last dates from Carson City unlike the dates from the first half of the 1880s were shipped from Carson City to San Francisco around 1900, but not to Washington in the sorts of numbers we saw in the case of a date like the 1884-CC.
In fact, the only date seen in the Redfield Hoard that was also seen in significant numbers in the GSA sale was the 1885-CC and it was found in very small numbers in the Redfield Hoard, so it appears that when the dollars of Carson City were shipped out of Carson City, the dates of the 1890s were shipped to San Francisco and later to Reno where they ended up in the Redfield basement.
Some of the other dates are interesting as well. The 1883-S is a date that can be found as it had a mintage of more than six million, but the 1883-S is oftentimes found with bag marks. Some of those bag marks could have well been a result of the indifferent handling the bags received in transit or even in the short trip from the Reno bank to the Redfield home.
The matter of condition is an important one as the general view of the Redfield dollars is that while Mint State they are frequently in lower Mint State grades. It is tempting to blame him but some of the dates were simply not made that well. There was also reportedly a fiasco of sorts after his death as a counting machine apparently damaged some of the coins, including some better dates.
One date where the Redfield Hoard reportedly had nice examples was the 657,000 mintage 1888-S as the report is that there were at least 5,000 examples of the 1888-S and many of them were prooflike. That is significant. With a low mintage and being relatively tough in Mint State in the case of the 1888-S, it appears that the Redfield Hoard made a significant difference in the availability of top quality examples today.
Another date where numbers from the Redfield Hoard have probably made a difference is the 1903-S, which is much tougher in Mint State than many realize. With any Mint State 1903-S costing thousands of dollars, it is likely that those already high prices would be much higher if there had not been at least some in the Redfield Hoard.
There were a few other dates that were found in the Redfield Hoard, but not in bag quantities. Those dates include the 1885-CC, 1891-CC, 1892, 1893, 1895-S and the 1879-CC in the smallest numbers of all.
The dates found only in small numbers include some top dates. The 1892 had a mintage of 1,036,000, so it was not heavily produced and the numbers we have today tend to be poorly struck. It’s an ironic situation as there had been bags paid out in the 1950s and 1960s but not many were saved and the Redfield Hoard has at least helped to add to the numbers even if in a small way.
The 1893 with a mintage of just 378,000 is simply scarce and it is somewhat surprising that the Redfield Hoard would have any examples of a low mintage Philadelphia date, but when you start with such a low mintage any additional coins help a supply that is unlikely to ever be enough.
Sadly, in the case of the Redfield Hoard dollars we do not have much reliable information when it comes to precisely the grade the coins might be if graded by a grading service today. Standards have changed.
That really matters in the case of the 1895-S. Actually the 1895-S with a mintage of 400,000 is just plain tough, anyway, but this is one of the dates that seemed to have had more than its share of trouble in transit as the majority of examples of the 1895-S come with bag marks and many times lots of them.
When you couple an already small supply because of a low mintage and then have many of them being “baggy” in appearance, even a small number of nicer ones from a place like the Redfield Hoard could have made a significant difference, although we really do not know if the Redfield examples were exceptions to the general rule or just added to the supply of baggy examples of this tough date.
Trying to explain the presence of a few examples of the 1879-CC is perhaps the most difficult task of all. Even having just a few is enough to make you expect that maybe Redfield had paid premium prices for a few coins, although that was not likely.
What we know is that the 1879-CC tends to pop up in places where they are not expected but never in any numbers. It only had a mintage of 756,000 and there is some expectation that a number were melted. The GSA sales had just 4,123 examples of the 1879-CC and the Redfield Hoard apparently had a few.
In both cases the numbers are small and they send a mixed message in that the 1879-CC when the Carson City coins were shipped to other vaults apparently went in two directions with some finding their way to San Francisco while a few ended up in Washington.
As one of the toughest of the Carson City dates, we have to be thankful for any examples of the 1879-CC and while not numerous LaVere Redfield apparently at least added a few to the supply for the collectors of today.
The Redfield Hoard was not limited to Morgan dollars. The Peace dollar holdings while important were basically limited to dates from San Francisco probably suggesting that unlike Morgans where bags from various mints had been scattered around the country over the course of decades, the Peace dollars produced at one facility tended to stay in that facility and geographical area.
As a result, the Redfield Hoard Peace dollars are basically all from San Francisco starting with the largest number, which was the 1922-S. Also found in large numbers were the 1923-S, 1926-S and 1935-S.
There were lesser quantities of the 1928-S, 1927-S, 1925-S and 1924-S. It is worth noting that the 1925-S and 1928-S tend to be the most expensive Peace dollars today in MS-65, although there are very real doubts as to whether the Redfield Hoard contributed any coins to the supply of those or other dates in top grades as many of the San Francisco Peace dollars in the hoard were reported poorly struck and just to make matters worse Highfill reports that in the case of the 1928-S the faulty counting machine left many examples with deep scratches.
Naturally without the chances to examine each of the 407,000 individually it is hard to know precisely what impact the Redfield Hoard dollars have had on the supply in a certain grade. Even so, the dates involved and the numbers make it very clear that the Redfield Hoard had a significant impact and is responsible for a large number of the silver dollars being traded today. Each one of those dollars has a special story to tell as part of a fascinating and important hoard.