Extremely Rare 1870-S Seated Dollar, XF40
1870-S $1 XF40 NGC. For four weeks in the winter of 1914,
the ANS sponsored an exhibit of Colonial and U.S. coins drawn from
all the prominent collectors and dealers of the era. When one views
the catalog of that exhibit today, the number of major rarities is
simply staggering. Such an exhibit probably could not be duplicated
today. Even if collectors and dealers of today would cooperate and
allow their major rarities to be exhibited, the cost of insuring
such an exhibit would likely be prohibitive. A review of the
exhibit and catalog, as interesting as it would be, is beyond the
scope of this writeup. The mention of one major rarity would slight
another that would be omitted. However, it is important to note
that the catalog is organized by area of specialty and interest,
and then by exhibitor. There were 27 exhibitors, and needless to
say, the list reads like a Who's Who in numismatics from a hundred
One of Only Nine Confirmed Pieces
The Stickney-Miles-Queller Example
One of the exhibitors was H.O. Granberg, from Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Granberg made his name and fortune in the railroad and mining businesses. Among the many rarities he contributed to the ANS exhibit was one in the United States Coins chapter on page 36. Under the Silver Dollars section and San Francisco Mint subsection is: "1870. Only specimen known. No record of issue in the mint. (Illustrated.)" Undoubtedly the 44-year-old Seated dollar was little noticed among the well-known rarities on display. However, one collector who did take notice was Waldo C. Newcomer, another former railroad employee who then rose to prominence in banking. Newcomer had similar collecting interests to Granberg's, and after a theft of his collection in 1913 (and sometime before 1916), he purchased both the Granberg and Heaton collections. Among the coins he purchased was the allegedly unique 1870-S silver dollar.
As Nancy Oliver and Richard Kelly point out in "The Saga of the 1870-S Silver Dollar" in the May 2005 Numismatist, after Waldo Newcomer purchased the coin, he exhibited it at the 1916 ANS in Baltimore. This time the piece was noticed, and The Numismatist reported:
"Another excessively rare, if not unique, variety of the silver dollar is the one of the regular die struck in 1870 but bearing the small letter 's' on the reverse, which is shown to most of the collectors probably for the first time, and which to many up to this time has been unknown."
The mystery of the 1870-S dollar had begun, a mystery that would remain unsolved until 2005.
The explanation of the rarity and importance of the 1870-S Seated dollar is rooted in the building of the San Francisco Mint and the laying of its cornerstone on May 25, 1870. For months it had been known that among the items to be included in the time capsule in the new Mint building would be a complete denomination set of U.S. coins dated 1870. The 1870 dies were received in December 1869, shipped from the Philadelphia Mint to San Francisco--with a couple of important omissions. The gold dollar and three dollar dies lacked an S mintmark. Once the reverse dies were received from the Philadelphia Mint and production began in earnest on all of the coins for the time capsule, it was discovered that there was no obverse die for the Seated dollar. Oliver and Kelly found evidence of a close working relationship between San Francisco Mint Superintendent A.H. LaGrange and Carson City Mint Superintendent Abraham Curry. They theorize that LaGrange asked for and received an 1870-dated dollar obverse die from Curry. Unfortunately, vast amounts of data from the various mints were destroyed some 30 years ago as a cost-cutting measure--we will never know for certain. The speculation is plausible, however, as one telegram survives from Curry to LaGrange, dated March 2, 1870:
"I have this day to acknowledge the receipt of silver dollar radius plates, and take this occasion to renew my thanks for your kindness."
What exactly "silver dollar radius plates" are is unknown, but this brief telegram underscores the working relationship between the two mints and the superintendents.
Oliver and Kelly also speculate that an S-mint silver dollar would be an excellent memento for the groundbreaking ceremonies. It is logical to conclude that such coins would be unknown to the collecting public, since they were produced under clandestine circumstances; that is, there is no mint record of the production of these dollars. When one examines the roster of the known 1870-S dollar specimens, it appears that is precisely what they were intended for--mementos--and most appear to have been used as pocket pieces. They certainly show evidence of many years' ownership by non-numismatists. Only two of the nine known examples are Uncirculated. Other pieces are scratched, one shows a test mark, another is pitted, and still another tooled.
The commonly accepted number of 1870-S dollars produced is 12. In the absence of mint records to back up that number, or any other credible primary source, we are left with nine known examples, another that allegedly appeared and then disappeared around 1990, and an 11th piece that is presumably still entombed in the cornerstone of the San Francisco Mint building. That would mean one other piece is lost, which would bring the total to a nice, round figure of 12 pieces. The roster of known and rumored 1870-S dollars follows:
1. Granberg Specimen, MS62. Henry O. Granberg; illustrated in the 1914 ANS Exhibition; Waldo C. Newcomer, and again displayed at the ANS in 1916; William H. Woodin; Colonel E.H.R. Green; Burdette C. Johnson; Anderson Du Pont Collection around 1944; Du Pont Sale (Stack's, 11/1954), lot 2551; Ambassador and Mrs. R. Henry Norweb; Norweb Collection (Bowers and Merena, 11/1988), lot 3825; Jim Jessen Collection.
2. James A. Stack Coin, MS62. Probably Colonel E.H.R. Green; Morton and Joseph Stack; James A. Stack in 1944; James A. Stack Sale (Stack's, 3/1995), lot 212, where it brought $462,000; L.K. Rudolph Collection (Stack's, 5/2003), lot 2136, where it brought $1,092,500.
3. Eliasberg Coin, AU50. George H. Hall Sale (Stack's, 5/1945), lot 1576, where it realized $1,750; Will W. Neil Sale (B. Max Mehl, 1947), lot 202; Stack's to Louis E. Eliasberg; Eliasberg Sale (Bowers and Merena, 4/1997), lot 2243; Stanford Coins and Bullion to Certified Acceptance Corporation (John Albanese, 2/2008).
4. Ostheimer, XF40 PCGS. Compton Collection (M.H. Bolender); Alfred and Jackie Ostheimer; Ostheimer Collection (Merkin, 9/1968), lot 372, bought in; Gilhousen Sale-Ostheimer Dollars (Superior, 10/1973), lot 1339; 1975 ANA Sale (Superior, 8/1975), lot 1125; Julian M. Leidman; Gary Sturtridge; 1978 ANA Auction (Bowers and Ruddy, 8/1978), lot 1160; James E. Pohrer; 1983 ANA Sale (Kagin's, 8/1983), lot 2707; Leon Hendrickson and Sal Fusco; private collection; Phoenix Rare Coin Galleries, 7/1992; Richmond Collection (David Lawrence, 11/2004), lot 1497, where it brought $414,000; Jack Lee III Collection (Heritage, 11/2005), lot 2226, unsold.
5. The present coin. Stickney Specimen, XF40 NGC. Matthew Stickney, sold privately. Likely Colonel E.H.R. Green; James Kelley; Jack V. Roe; James Kelley; Clint Hestor or Charles M. Williams; Menjou Sale (Numismatic Gallery, 1950) lot 2181; Abe Kosoff FPL 1955; Fairbanks Collection of Ben Koenig (Stack's, 10/1960), lot 617; Samuel Wolfson Collection (Stack's, 5/1963), lot 1431; R.L. Miles, Jr. Sale (4/1969), lot 1612, where it brought $19,000; Autumn Sale (Stack's, 9/1978), lot 345, where it realized $39,000; to David Queller.
6. Carter Coin, VF. Waldo C. Newcomer; B. Max Mehl; Colonel E.H.R. Green; Burdette C. Johnson; Jerome Kern (B. Max Mehl, 1950), lot 941; Amon G. Carter; Amon Carter Sale (Stack's, 1/1984), lot 285; L.R. French Sale (Stack's, 1/1989), lot 546, where it brought $66,000; Stack's auction (11/1989), lot 546, where it realized $77,000.
7. Boyd coin, VF Tooled. William Hesslein Sale (12/1926), lot 900; initials F.H.I. engraved before Liberty; F.C.C. Boyd; World's Greatest Collection (Numismatic Gallery, 5/1945), lot 271; Southern Sale (Hollinbeck, 2/1951), lot 1248; Earl M. Skinner Collection (New Netherlands, 11/1952), lot 162; "Empire Sale" of the Charles A. Cass Collection (1957), lot 1759; Hollinbeck's Quarter Millennium Sale, Part III (6/1963), lot 519; Hollinbeck's 274th Sale (11/1967), lot 1162; Stack's (6/1996), lot 1940.
8. Eureka Coin, F/VF Scratched. Reportedly discovered by an 18-year-old man from Eureka, California, before 1922, who kept it until the 1970s. Numerous scratches and nicks. Donovan II Auction (Steve Ivy, 7/1978), lot 1128; Manfra, Tordella and Brooks; Auction '85 (7/1985), lot 1270.
9. Farouk-Shultz, VF25 PCGS. Norman Shultz Sale (12/1935), lot 1302; B. Max Mehl; King Farouk; The Palace Sale-Farouk, (Sotheby's, 2/1954), lot 1676; 1960 ANA Sale (Conn and Whiteneck, 8/1960), lot 1168; Kreisberg-Schulman Sale (4/1967), lot 1253; Stack's (3/1987), lot 1203; private collection; 72nd Anniversary Sale (Stack's, 10/2007), lot 5294, where it brought $552,000; Bowers and Merena (2/29/2008), lot 2035, where it realized $705,698.
10. San Francisco coin. Mint State (unverified). San Francisco Mint employee, 1870 to family of preceding. Owned by a San Francisco-area military officer, examined by dealer Sam E. Frudakis, who was not able to retain the coin for verification and identification.
11. A specimen rumored to be in the cornerstone of the San Francisco Mint, unverified. Placed there in 1870.
The surfaces of this piece are bright throughout, with a pale layer of golden and lilac toning. The brightness and color is evenly matched on each side. Unlike several other circulated 1870-S dollars on the roster, there are no mentionable or distracting marks or other problems on this piece. Both sides show the normally expected number of small abrasions that a coin would receive from circulation or as a pocket piece; the brightness is also consistent with several years' residence in a pocket. The only larger mark that helps identify this as the Stickney-Miles-Queller piece is located to the left of the O in OF. The strike is soft, as always, on the head of Liberty. The mintmark is also predictably small, and it appears to have been weakly punched into the reverse die.
The 1870-S dollar is a major rarity in the Seated dollar series, and is also one of the premier rarities in 19th century numismatics. It is seldom available in any condition, and usually several years pass between appearances at public auction of one of the nine known pieces.
From The Queller Family Collection of Silver Dollars.(Registry values: N1) (NGC ID# 24ZF, PCGS# 6965)
Weight: 26.73 grams
Metal: 90% Silver, 10% Copper
Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.
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