US Coins

NGC authenticates ‘lost’ GSA Morgan dollar error

Numismatic Guaranty Co. has authenticated and graded one of a small number of error Morgan dollars that were sold to collectors from the General Services Administration hoard from 1972 to 1980 — an 1882-CC Morgan dollar struck 15% off-center.

David Camire, NGC finalizer and president of Numismatic Conservation Services, writes that the coin has not been seen publicly for decades. It was purchased for $30 in the GSA’s Jan. 31, 1973, sale, and delivered to Tom Reneke of Astoria, Oregon. The packaging included a note that the coin was a rare error and more valuable than a regular strike.

Camire wrote that the purchaser came forward soon after his lucky purchase. “Initially, he was offered $2,000 for the coin by Fred Weinberg of Numismatics, Ltd. The offer from Fred was not acted upon, and it is not known what offer he accepted or when he sold the coin. However, from this point in time until earlier this year, the coin simply vanished from public sight,” Camire writes.

Weinberg is a well-known specialist in error coins who in 1973 was early in his career. Weinberg is now retiring from his business. He was among the numismatists in the early 1970s advising the government on how to disperse the hoard of mostly Carson City Mint Morgan dollars.

Camire details the provenance of the coin since 1973 as well as it can be determined, writing: “What we can then loosely piece together is the following history of the coin. It subsequently sold, presumably, to a local dealer in the Oregon area. It was then resold to a private collector of GSA material and held in this collection for the past 20 to 30 years. Jack Kelly of the famed ‘The Toneddollars Collection’ then acquired the coin, where it remained until being sold this year to the current owner, who wishes to remain anonymous.”

The existence of the coin was well known even though its location was not. Camire writes: “When I was writing the ‘100 Greatest U.S. Error Coins’ book, along with Fred Weinberg and Nick Brown, we searched exhaustively for this coin. We wanted to include it, but one of our criteria for inclusion was a high-definition photo of the coin, which we could not obtain. In fact, we could not find anyone who had any information on the current whereabouts of the coin. It was truly lost to history for almost 50 years… until now. Mystery solved!”

The coin was submitted to NGC for grading and authentication earlier this year. The grading service assigned it a grade of Mint State 65 and placed the coin, within its distinctive GSA hard plastic holder, inside of one of NGC’s oversized slabs specifically designed to hold Morgan dollars in their original GSA holders. Many of the coins sold in the hoard were subsequently been broken out of their GSA holders, and coins that remain in their holders often carrying premiums over like coins no longer in a GSA holder.

Why it is rare

Camire describes what makes the coin special: “To date, this coin is unique in two ways: It is the farthest-known-off-center Carson City Morgan Dollar and the only one in a GSA holder. Personally, the chance to finally see and hold the coin was especially thrilling!”

When GSA officials and their advisers were examining the coins in the hoard, they realized that it was special. “It was referred to as the ‘Grand Snake’ by Mint technicians. The terminology used internally by the Mint does not always correspond directly to what is used in the numismatic/collecting community. Thus, a ‘snake’ coin is referred to as an off-center by collectors,” Camire writes.

“Normally, these coins would be destroyed as they did not meet the Mint’s technical requirements. Additionally, never had the US Mint ever sold a mis-strike (and for a profit)! The dilemma: what should be done with these error coins. After all, these were now historic artifacts over 90 years old,” Camire writes.

“The decision was made to sell the majority of these ‘oddities’ along with all of the rest of the coins, but without any description or mention of the error, except for the off-center. This coin would include a message informing the purchaser that the coin was different, a mint error and worth more than the other coins. The final step was to sonically seal each coin in a plastic case that was enclosed in a blue cardboard display box with official paperwork describing the coin.”

Camire writes of Weinberg’s reaction when learning of the coin’s resurfacing: “I recently called Fred Weinberg to update him on the coin and to get his thoughts on it. Here is what he had to say: ‘When we were shown this Off-Center Carson City Dollar at the West Point Depository in early 1973, I couldn’t take my eyes off it. It was simply a magnificent example of an Off-Center Morgan Dollar, but the first I had ever seen or heard of from the Carson City Mint. (I was not even 23 years old!) Over the past 50 years, I always hoped that it would surface, and I could buy it, but it never came up on the market.’ ”

About the hoard

Morgan dollars were struck from 1878 to 1904, and again in 1921. While millions of them were struck every year at the Philadelphia Mint, San Francisco Mint, New Orleans Mint and Carson City Mint (and at the Denver Mint in 1921 only), many of them went into Treasury Department vaults in their original canvas bags. Much of the production of the coins was the result of successful lobbying efforts by western silver miners who saw in the Bureau of the Mint a ready source for purchasing their silver. Congress, which had eliminated the standard silver dollar in 1873, bowed to lobbyist pressure and resurrected the denomination in 1878. Morgan dollars were struck beginning that year and every year until 1904 from newly mined silver.

Bags of the silver dollars were held in government vaults for decades, with the dispersal of the coins coming only gradually. Legislation in 1918 required that a significant portion of the coins be melted for various other purposes. However, the silver industry remained powerful, and at its urging, Congress required that every melted silver dollar be replaced with a new silver dollar made from newly purchased metal. The resurrection of the denomination in 1921 was the result of this requirement.

Still, despite the heavy melting of coins, millions of silver dollars remained locked away in government vaults, slowly being dispersed. However, by the early to mid-1960s, with silver prices rising, the once vast hoards were being depleted as the public exchanged paper money to buy bags of the coins at face value. However, Treasury officials by this time had recognized that the Carson City Mint dollars had special collector value due to strong hobby interest. The remaining stocks of those coins were held back from dispersal at face value until a decision could be made as to their future dispersal. Eventually, they were transferred from the Treasury Department to the General Services Administration, the agency tasked with selling government property. The GSA, advised by numismatists, decided to sell them at premiums.

Camire explains: “Most of the sales consisted of Carson City Silver Dollars (over 1.5 million dating 1882, 1883 and 1884). They were sold through seven public mail bid auctions to the highest bidder (beginning in 1972 through 1980), with an initial minimum bid of $30 per coin.

“These coins had been stored for years at the US Treasury Building in Washington, DC in canvas bags, each containing 1,000 coins. The coins were moved in 1972 to the West Point US Silver Depository. (Opened in 1938 and located in West Point, New York, it would not become an official US Mint branch until 1988.) All of the bags were then opened, inventoried and evaluated.”

The coins were housed in several kinds of packaging, the better pieces placed in hard plastic holders inserted into blue cardboard boxes.

Today, intact holders are prized by collectors of the series.

The current owner of the coin wishes to remain anonymous. Camire writes: “The new owner, upon receiving the coin back, had this to say: ‘The first time I became aware of the coin, I knew it was something remarkable and unique that I needed to make every effort to add to my collection. With all of the history and mystique of the Carson City Mint, the legacy of the GSA sale and the magic of coins left untouched in their original government holders, the unique provenance of being included in the GSA sale as a significant error coin (and being used to help promote the first wave of sales to the public in 1973), and then just the dramatic eye-appeal of the coin itself; it just checked so many boxes that I had to have it.’ ”

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