Gerald Tebben

Five Facts

Gerald Tebben

Gerald Tebben, a Coin World columnist for more than 30 years, also contributes to Coin World’s Coin Values and edits the Central States Numismatic Society’s journal, The Centinel. He collects coins that tell stories.

Coin World’s bloggers are not edited by Coin World’s editorial staff and blog posts reflect the views of the individual author.

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The ice cream dime

Hallie Daggett of 1894-S dime fame served 15 years as a fire lookout atop a mountain. The Forest Service magazine ran an article about her in 1914 that is an interesting read about an interesting person in the history of numismatics. It is attached as a special extra segment after the blog.

The ice cream dime

The 1894-S dime, a fabled rarity sometimes selling for more than $2 million, comes with one of coin collecting’s most endearing stories – the ice cream dime.

The story requires several leaps of faith and researchers have cast serious doubts about its authenticity. Nonetheless, the story endures, perhaps more as a fairy tale than a truth, but a good yarn nonetheless.

The story builds on one fact, a fact documented in Mint records and on pages 212-213 of the massive 1895 Report of the Director of the Mint: the San Francisco mint struck 24 dimes in 1894.

The whys, wherefores and whos differ in each version of the coin’s story and there are even two versions of just the ice cream story.

The most famous one begins with San Francisco Mint Supt. John Daggett ordering the 24 coins struck to end the fiscal year on an even dollar amount. He gave three each to seven of his banker friends and to his daughter Hallie, telling her to keep them until she was as old as he was (61 in 1894) at which time they would be very valuable.

On her way home from the Mint, the story goes, she spent one of the dimes on ice cream. The fact that three of the known 1894-S dimes bear evidence of circulation is often cited as proof of the story’s veracity.

The story traces its origin to a 1954 meeting of the Redwood Empire Coin Club of Santa Barbara, Calif., where San Francisco coin dealer Earl Parker reportedly said Hallie Daggett told him the story in 1949 when he bought her remaining two 1894-S dimes. Another version of the ice cream story says the daughter of a Ukiah, Calif., banker was given three of the coins in 1894 but spent one on ice cream.

The Ukiah story predates the Hallie Daggett story by three years. It was first reported in the February 1951 issue of Numismatic Scrapbook magazine, but disappeared into obscurity, largely forgotten by the collector community.

Of the 24 dimes, five were reserved for assay, leaving a possible 19 for collectors. Only nine are known to collectors today, leaving open the possibility that some may exist out there in unsearched rolls and bags of worn Barber dimes.

The last one to surface appeared in 1957 when its finder sold it over the counter to the coin department at New York City’s Gimbels Department Store. That coin, grading Good 4, sold for $33,000 in 1989 and is traditionally described as Hallie Daggett’s ice cream coin.

Believe what you will, but I know just as surely as there is a Santa Claus that young Hallie Daggett spent the 2 million-dollar dime on ice cream on a hot summer’s day in the Gay ’90s.

Hallie Daggett achieved a sort of fame later in life when she became the first woman fire spotter in the United States Forest Service. You can read about her years on the mountain in this 1914 article from the May 1914 issue of American Forestry, the magazine of the American Forestry Association.

  A WOMAN AS A FOREST FIRE LOOKOUT

  In May 1914, American Forestry, the magazine of the American Forestry Association ran this article on Hallie Daggett’s work as the United States Forest Service’s first woman fire lookout.

The article provides an unusual insight into Hallie Daggett’s childhood and life. Daggett, who was 35 when she began working for the Forest Service, died in 1964.

 

All alone, 6,444 feet above sea level, on top of Klamath Peak in Siskiyou County, California, a young woman for months at a time during the prevalence of the forest fire season, did her part, and did it well, in the effort the Government is making to preserve the forests of the country from the destructive flames which have for years past caused an average annual property loss of twenty- five million dollars, and cost annually an average of seventy-five human lives. She is Miss Hallie M. Daggett, and she is the only woman lookout employed by the Forest Service. Posted in her small cabin on top of the mountain peak it was her duty to scan the vast forest in every direction as far as she could see by naked eye and telescope by day for smoke, and for the red glare of fire by night, and report the result of her observations by telephone to the main office of the forest patrol miles and miles away. 

Few women would care for such a job, fewer still would seek it, and still less would be able to stand the strain of the infinite loneliness, or the roar of the violent storms which sweep the peak, or the menace of the wild beasts which roam the heavily wooded ridges. Miss Daggett, however, not only eagerly longed for the station but secured it after considerable exertion and now she declares that she enjoyed the life and was intensely interested in the work she had to do. 

Perhaps the call of the wild is in her blood. Her parents are pioneers, her father, John Daggett, having crossed the Isthmus in 1852 and her mother, a mere baby, being taken across the plains from Kentucky the same year. Miss Daggett was born at the Klamath mine, in the shadow of the peak on which the lookout station is perched. She spent most of her early years out of doors riding and tramping over the hills with her brother, so that it was natural that with her inborn love of the forests she should be anxious to take part in the fight which the Forest Service men are making for the protection of the forests. Debarred by her sex, however, from the kind of work which most of the Service men are doing she saw no opportunity until lookout stations were established, and then after earnest solicitation secured the place she held so well. 

Some of the Service men predicted that after a few days of life on the peak she would telephone that she was frightened by the loneliness and the danger, but she was full of pluck and high spirit, and day after day as her keen eyes ranged the hills which constitute the Salmon River watershed and as she made her daily reports by telephone she grew more and more in love with the work. Even when the telephone wires were broken and when for a long time she was cut off from communication with the world below she did not lose heart. She not only filled the place with all the skill which a trained man could have shown but she desires to be reappointed when the fire season opens this year. 

The story of her experiences she has told for American Forestry and here it is: 

“My earliest recollections abound with smoke-clouded summer days and fires that wandered over the country at their own sweet will, unchecked unless they happened to interfere seriously with someone's claim or woodpile, when they were usually turned off by back firing and headed in another direction, to continue their mischief till they either died for lack of fuel or were quenched by the fall rains. Such being the case, it is easy to see that I grew up with a fierce hatred of the devastating fires, and welcomed the force which arrived to combat them. But not until the lookout stations were installed did there come an opportunity to join what had up till then been a man's fight; although my sister and I had frequently been able to help on the small things, such as extinguishing spreading camp fires or carrying supplies to the firing line. 

"Then, thanks to the liberal mindedness and courtesy of the officials in charge of our district, I was given the position of lookout at the Eddy's Gulch Station in the fourth District of the Klamath National Forest; and entered upon my work the first day of June, 1913, with a firm determination to make good, for I knew that the appointment of a woman was rather in the nature of an experiment, and naturally felt that there was a great deal due the men who had been willing to give me the chance. 

"It was quite a swift change in three days, from San Francisco, civilization and sea level, to a solitary cabin on a still more solitary mountain, 6,444 feet elevation and three hours' hard climb from everywhere, but in spite of the fact that almost the very first question asked by everyone was 'Isn't it awfully lonesome up there?' I never felt a moment's longing to retrace the step, that is, not after the first half hour following my sister's departure with the pack animals, when I had a chance to look around. Of course I had been on the peak before during my early rambles, but had never thought of it as a possible home. One of my pet dreams had always been of a log cabin, and here was an ideal one, brand new the summer before, and indoors as cozy as could be wished; while outdoors, all outdoors, was a grander dooryard than any estate in the land could boast; and, oh, what a prospect of glorious freedom from four walls and a time clock! 

“Klamath Peak is not really a peak in the conventional sense of the word, but as can be seen from the picture, is rather the culmination of a long series of ridges running up from the watersheds of the north and south forks of the Salmon River. Its central location in the district makes it, however, an ideal spot for a station. I can think of no better description of it than the hub of a wheel with the lines of ridges as spokes, and an unbroken rim of peaks circling around it; some eternally snow capped, and most all of them higher than itself. 

"To the east, a shoulder of snowy Shasta and an unseen neighbor lookout on Eagle Peak; further to the south, the high jagged edge of Trinity County and, just discernible with the glasses, a shining new cabin on Packers Peak; in the west, behind Orleans Mountain with its ever watchful occupant, a faint glimpse of the shining Pacific showing with a favorable sunset; and all in between, a seeming wilderness of ridges and gulches, making up what is said to be one of the finest continuous views in this western country. 

“However that may be, it was certainly a never-ending pleasure to search its vast acres for new beauties at every changing hour, from sunrise to sunrise again. 

"Added to the view was a constantly spreading, gaily tinted carpet of flowers to the very edges of the snow banks. These all summer and then the gorgeous autumn coloring on the hillsides later on, when the whole country seemed one vast Persian rug. 

"Bird and animal life was also very plentiful, filling the air with songs and chatter; coming to the doorstep for food, and often invading the cabin itself. I positively declined owning a cat on account of its destructive intentions on small life, — a pair of owls proving satisfactory as mouse catchers, and being amusing neighbors as well. Several deer often fed around evenings; there was a small bear down near the spring, besides several larger ones whose tracks I often saw on the trail; and a couple of porcupines also helped to keep from being lonesome, by using various means to find a way into the cabin at night. 

"All these animals being harmless, it had never been my custom to carry a gun in so-called western fashion, until one morning I discovered a big panther track out on the trail, and then in deference to my family's united request, I buckled on the orthodox weapon, which had been accumulating dust on the cabin shelf, and proceeded to be picturesque, but to no avail, as the beast did not again return. 

"At many of the stations the question of wood and water is a serious one on account of the elevation; but I was especially favored, as wood lies about in all shapes and quantities, only waiting for an ax to convert it into suitable lengths; and water unlimited could be melted from the snow banks which lingered until the last of July, although it did seem a little odd to go for water with a shovel in addition to a bucket. Later the supply was packed in canvas sacks from a spring about a mile away in the timber. This was always a job sought for by anyone coming up on horseback; and thanks to the kindly efforts of the guards who passed that way, and my few visitors, it was always easy to keep the kettle boiling. So I did not need a horse myself, there being, contrary to the general impression, no patrol work in connection with look- out duties, and my sister bringing up my supplies and mail from home every week, a distance of nine miles. 

"The daily duties of life on top were small, merely consisting of an early morning and late evening tramp of half a mile to the point of the ridge where the trees obscured the north view from the cabin; and a constant watch on all sides for a trace of smoke, a watch which soon became a sort of instinct, often awaking one in the night for a look around; for I soon came to feel that the lookout was, what one friend so aptly called it, 'an ounce of prevention.' Then there were the three daily reports to the district headquarters in town, to prove that everything was serene, also the extra reports if they were not; and a little, very little, house-work to do. 

"Taking it all in all, not a very busy day, as judged by modern standards of rush, but a lookout's motto might well be 'They also serve who only stand and wait,' and there was always the great map spread out at one's feet to study by new lights and shadows while waiting, and the ever busy phone with its numerous calls, which must be kept within hearing, so one could not wander far. 

"That phone, with its gradually extending feelers through the district, made me feel exactly like a big spider in the center of a web, with the fires for flies; and those fires were certainly treated to exactly the speedy fate of the other unworthy pests. Through all the days up to the close of the term on November 6th, when a light fall of snow put an end to all danger of fires, there was an ever growing sense of responsibility which finally came to be almost a feeling of proprietorship, resulting in the desire to punish anyone careless enough to set fires in my dooryard. 

"The utter dependence on the telephone was brought vividly to my mind one afternoon, soon after my arrival, when an extra heavy electrical storm which broke close by caused one of the lightning arresters on the outside of the cabin to burn out, quite contrary to precedent, and I was cut off from the world till the next day, when someone from the office came up in haste to find out the cause of the silence and set things aright. They often joke now about expecting to have found me hidden under some log for safety, but it wasn't quite so funny then. 

"However, there seems to be very little actual danger from these storms, in spite of the fact that they are very heavy and numerous at that elevation. One soon becomes accustomed to the racket. But in the damage they cause starting fires lies their chief interest to the lookout, for it requires a quick eye to detect, in among the rags of fog which arise in their wake, the small puff of smoke which tells of some tree struck in a burnable spot. Generally it shows at once, but in one instance there was a lapse of nearly two weeks before the fall of the smouldering top fanned up enough smoke to be seen. 

"At night the new fires show up like tiny candle flames, and are easily spotted against the dark background of the ridges, but are not so easy to exactly locate for an immediate report. Upon the speed and accuracy of this report, however, the efficiency of the Service depends, as was proven by the summer's record of extra small acreage burned in spite of over forty fires reported. 

"To the electrical storms are easily attributed most of our present-day fires, as traveler and citizen alike are daily feeling more responsible for the preservation of the riches bestowed by nature, and although some still hold to the same views as one old timer, who recently made the comment, when lightning fires were being discussed, 'that he guessed that was the Almighty's way of clearing out the forest,' the general trend of opinion seems to be that man, in the form of the Forest Service, is doing an excellent work in keeping a watchful eye on the limits of that hitherto wholesale clearing. A good work and long may it prosper, is the earnest wish of one humble unit, who thanks the men of the Service one and all, for the courtesy and consideration which gave her the happiest summer of her life."  

 Next: A most uncommon common dime 

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