A good mystery always satisfies, whether it be between the covers of a mystery novel or behind the origins of a rare coin. Dashiell Hammett’s classic novel, The Maltese Falcon, made into an equally classic movie, is a high point in the genre; the Class II 1804 Draped Bust dollar, like this former Garrett specimen, is shrouded in mystery itself and a high point in anyone’s collection.
?You have to love a good mystery, whether it’s Sam Spade and the Maltese Falcon, or Nate Heller investigating the Lindbergh kidnapping, or a numismatist trying to uncover the truth behind the issuance of a 1913 Liberty Head 5-cent coin, an 1884 and 1885 Trade dollar, or a restrike 1804 Draped Bust dollar.
It’s no mystery that these coins have fascinated collectors ever since they were first discovered and sold by a dealer to a well-heeled collector. Each of the coins is rare, and when one appears on the auction block, all eyes are on the auctioneer. The pedigree of any of the coins invariably reads like a list of the best-known collectors of all time. But what do we know about them?
Our cover feature this issue by Bill Eckberg tells some of the “shady stories” behind these great coins, or as Bill would insist, “coins.” The quote marks are essential punctuation because, he writes, “it’s easy to forget that some of the rarest, priciest and most ‘significant’ rare coins aren’t really coins at all.” The four coins described earlier were all issued without sanction or authority, many numismatists believe; they certainly were not struck for circulation. But for most collectors, that lack of an official stamp doesn’t matter; these are great coins, and just about anyone reading this piece would love to own any one of them.
Even if a collector can’t afford to own one of these coins, there is enjoyment in just looking at them. The just concluded American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money had many great rarities on display at its Museum Showcase, which never wanted for an audience of collectors eager to catch a glimpse of the ANA’s 1913 Liberty Head 5-cent coin and 1804 Draped Bust dollar (and other great rarities as well).
The mysterious origins of coins like the Class II and III 1804 dollars (the restrikes) and 1913 Liberty Head “nickels” enhance each coin’s value. Some other U.S. coins are rarer than the 1804 dollar (which has a sizeable population of 15 counting all three classes), and yet they bring lower prices because they lack the same level of “mystery.”
More-modern coins also have an air of mystery surrounding them, like the quarter dollar/dollar mule of 2000 (how could the Mint make three different die pairs of these coins?), that someday may rank right up there with the older rarities.
So, what is your favorite mystery?