US Coins

Family finds 1876 Proof set buried in yard

An eight-coin 1876 Proof set containing silver and minor coinage, buried by its owner in the backyard of his Chicago home more than two decades ago, was brought for authentication and grading April 27 to the Central States Numismatic Society convention in Schaumburg, Illinois, by the late owner’s son.

The set was certified by ANACS. The coins were housed in an acrylic plastic holder.

The unusual story has a tragic element. The late collector, who died in 1994 at age 84, suffered with Alzheimer’s disease the last five years of his life, according to his son. The son said there’s a possibility that his father may have buried his entire extensive collection of United States coins. The coins, which have been off the market for more than 50 years, were primarily silver and gold issues.

In a May 3 interview with Coin World, the son, who requested anonymity, indicated his father collected a lot of U.S. gold coins, focusing on his birth year of 1915. Asked how many coins he had dug up from his father’s backyard, the son indicated he didn’t have a firm count but he had weighed them all, and combined they weighed “in the pounds.”

The son said he dug up the 1876 Proof set not long after his father’s passing and had stored it in a closet in his own home.

The son said he finally decided to find out the true value of the coins in the set only after seeing CSNS advertisements promoting the convention. Since his own expertise is in Byzantine gold coins, not U.S. issues, the son believed the coins might be worth a few hundred dollars each, rather than the likely thousands of dollars each that Paul DeFelice, ANACS’s vice president of marketing and client relations, informed him of when evaluating the set.

ANACS grader Brian Kent said the high points of each coin in the 1876 Proof set were purple in color, which was determined to be contamination from some sort of ink product. Kent said each coin was conserved to remove the ink and other contaminants without damaging the surfaces of any of the Proof coins.

The set contains:

??An 1876 Indian Head bronze cent, that was graded and encapsulated after conservation as Proof 64 Brown by ANACS.

??An 1876 Liberty Head copper-nickel 3-cent coin graded Proof 64 Deep Cameo.

??An 1876 Shield copper-nickel 5-cent coin Proof 67 Cameo.

??An 1876 Seated Liberty silver dime graded Proof 62.

??An 1876 Seated Liberty silver 20-cent coin graded Proof 65.

??An 1876 Seated Liberty silver quarter dollar graded Proof 64 Cameo.

??An 1876 Seated Liberty silver half dollar graded Proof 62.

??An 1876 Trade dollar silver graded Proof 62 Cameo.

The Philadelphia Mint struck 1,150 Proof versions of each coin contained in the set.

Buried treasure

The son said he has purchased a metal detector to help better pinpoint where else on his father’s property other coins may have been buried.

The son said his father told him some time before his death that, if something happened to him, to be sure to look under the home’s front porch. After his father passed, the son said, he did just that, and discovered three metal coffee cans housing Morgan silver dollars that were also wrapped in plastic bags. Although he has never executed a complete inventory of his discoveries to date, he said there are examples of Morgan dollars from the Philadelphia, Denver, San Francisco, New Orleans and Carson City Mints.

More than 150 silver dollars were in that find alone, the son said. He said he has also discovered parts of the collection in the fireplace of his father’s home.

Going through the residence and searching the property has also yielded a quantity of pre-1929 large-size United States paper money, including 19th century issues, that were housed in protective currency sleeves.

The son says he plans to eventually liquidate all of his father’s collection that he can find, either by private sale or public auction, and use the proceeds to expand his own collection of ancient gold coins. 

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