Legendary 1870-S Seated Dollar, XF40
1870-S $1 XF40 PCGS. The rarest regular issue silver dollar
ever coined at any United States Mint. From the Alfred and Jackie
Ostheimer Collections. Light silvery-gray with luster in the
protected areas and well struck. The small "S" mintmark is placed
just below the end of the stem, in the correct location which
matches the other known examples. Examination will note several
faint pin scratches in the left and right obverse field, a few also
cross the lower drapery of Liberty and a small nick resides between
stars 3 and 4. On the edge past star 7 there is a shallow planchet
flaw. These will serve to identify this rarity in the future. On
balance the coin has a pleasant appearance and the surface marks
are minimally distracting. An incredible rarity in any grade, and
one of the rarest American coins struck for circulation.
Curiously, there are no mint records attesting to this coin being struck, but this fact is mitigated by the mere presence of nearly a dozen of these 1870-S Seated dollars today. In "The Saga of the 1870-S Silver Dollar" published in the May 2005 Numismatist, Nancy Oliver and Richard Kelly suggest a plausible theory for the origin of this mysterious issue.
"The explanation of the circumstances surrounding the creation of the 1870-S Seated dollar is found in the construction of the San Francisco Mint and the laying of its cornerstone on May 25, 1870. For some months it had been known that a time capsule would be emplaced in the cornerstone of the new Mint building. Among the items scheduled to be included in the capsule was 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--but a few important omissions were discovered. The gold dollar and three dollar dies lacked an S mintmark. A request was sent to the Philadelphia Mint for reverse dies with the S mintmark included, but the wording of the request was confusing. Because there were no plans to coin silver dollars at San Francisco that year, the superintendent did not think it necessary to specify whether gold dollar or silver dollar reverses were needed. Without seeking clarification, the Philadelphia Mint obligingly sent both. 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 on hand for the Seated dollar. Oliver and Kelly discovered documentary 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 his colleague for an unused obverse die from the Carson City facility, and Curry obliged by sending him one. Unfortunately, vast amounts of Mint data that could have confirmed this ingenious theory were destroyed some 30 years ago as a cost-cutting measure--the answer will never be known for certain. One surviving telegram from Curry to LaGrange supports the theory, and demonstrates the facility with which the Western Mints interacted. 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.' "
Oliver and Kelly also speculate that an S-mint silver dollar would serve as an excellent memento for the groundbreaking ceremonies of the new Mint building. A study of the roster of the known 1870-S dollar specimens supports the idea that the coins were intended as mementos. Most appear to have been carried as pocket pieces, and show evidence of many years' ownership by non-numismatists. Only two of the nine known examples have been carefully preserved in Mint State condition. Some pieces are scratched, one features a test mark, another is pitted, and still another tooled.
The figure most often quoted for the mintage of 1870-S dollars is 12. With Mint records silent or destroyed, and no other credible contemporary testimony, we fall back on the empirical evidence of the coins themselves. With nine known examples; another reported, but unverified specimen circa 1990; and an 11th piece that is presumably still entombed in the cornerstone of the San Francisco Mint building, we are extremely close to the target figure of one dozen pieces. If we accept that one example is lost, our total would come to the accepted figure of 12 specimens. Whatever the original mintage might be, in absolute terms, the 1870-S Seated dollar is one of the rarest of all United States coins struck for circulation, and remains one of the truly great classics of the ages.
The following is a Census of the known specimens of the 1870-S Seated Liberty silver dollar which is expanded from the census first published in the Eliasberg Sale by Bowers and Merena Galleries in 1997.
1). Granberg Specimen MS62. Henry O. Granberg; illustrated in the 1914 ANS Exhibition; Waldo C. Newcomer; exhibited at the 1916 ANA Convention;William H. Woodin; Colonel E. H. R. Green; Burdette G. Johnson around 1944; Anderson DuPont Sale (Stack's, 11/1954), lot 2551; Art Kagin; Ambassador and Mrs. R. Henry Norweb; Norweb Collection (Bowers and Merena, 11/1988), lot 3825; Jim Jessen Collection; Offered as part of a silver dollar set in Coin World, January 1996..
2). James A. Stack Coin MS62. Probably Colonel E. H. R. Green; Morton and Joseph Stack; James A. Stack in 1944; Stack Collection (Stack's, 3/1995), lot 212; Rudolph Collection (Stack's, 5/2003), lot 2136, realized $1,092,500.
3). Eliasberg Coin AU50. George C. Hall Sale (Stack's, 5/1945), lot 1576; Will W. Neil Sale (Mehl, 6/1947), lot 202; Stack's; Louis E. Eliasberg; Eliasberg Collection (Bowers and Merena, 4/1997), lot 2243; Stanford Coins and Bullion to Certified Acceptance Corporation (John Albanese, 2/2008).
4). The Present Example PCGS XF40 recently crossed from NGC XF40. Compton Collection; M. H. Bolender; Alfred and Jackie Ostheimer; Ostheimer Sale (Merkin, 9/1968), lot 372 bought in; Gilhousen Sale (Superior, 10/1973), lot 1339; 1975 ANA Sale (Superior 8/1975), lot 1125; Julian M. Leidman; Gary Sturtridge; ANA Sale (Bowers and Ruddy, 8/1978), lot 1160; James E. Pohrer; 1983 ANA Sale (Kagin's, 8/1983), lot 2707; Leon Hendrikson and Sal Fusco; Private collection; Phoenix Rare Coin Galleries July 1992; Richmond Sale (David Lawrence 11/ 2004) lot 1497; Jack Lee III Collection (Heritage, 11/2005), lot 2226; the present consignor.
5). 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 Sale (Steve Ivy 7/1978), lot 1128; Auction '85 (Paramount, 7/1985), lot 1270; Manfra Tordella, and Brooks fixed price list Spring 1987.
6).Stickney Specimen, XF40. Matthew Stickney sold privately, rim spot below 7. Likely Colonel E. H. R. Green; James Kelley; Jack V. Roe; James Kelley; Clint Hester or Charles M. Williams; Adolphe Menjou Sale (Numismatic Gallery, 6/1950) lot 2181; Abe Kosoff inventory 1955; Fairbanks Collection of Ben Koenig (Stack's, 12/1960), lot 617; Samuel Wolfson Sale (Stack's, 5/1963), lot 1431; R. L. Miles, Jr. Sale (Stack's, 4/1969), lot 1612; 1978 Autumn Sale (Stack's, 9/1978), lot 345 ; David Queller; Queller Family Collection (Heritage, 4/2008), lot 2129.
7). Carter Coin, VF. Waldo C. Newcomer; B. Max Mehl; Colonel E. H. R Green; Burdette G. Johnson; Jerome Kern (B. Max Mehl, 5/1950), lot 941; Amon G. Carter; Amon Carter Sale (Stack's, 1/1984), lot 285; L .R. French Sale (January,1989), lot 56, James Stack, Sr. Collection (Stack's, 11/1989), lot 546.
8). Schultz Coin, VF25. Norman Schultz Sale (12/1935), lot 1302; B. Max Mehl; King Farouk; The Palace Collections (Sotheby's, 2/1954), lot 1676; Hans Schulman, per Gaston DiBello's annotated catalog of the Farouk sale;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; Bowers and Merena Sale (2/2008), lot 2035.
9). 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; Charles A. Cass collection; Empire Collection (Stack's, 11/1957), lot 1759; Hollinbeck's Quarter Millennium Sale, Part III (3/1964), lot 519; Hollinbeck Coin Company's 274th Sale (11/1967), lot 1162; Stack's (6/1996), lot 1940.
10). San Francisco coin. Mint State (not verified). San Francisco Mint employee, 1870 to family of preceding. Owned by 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 "Granite Lady" San Francisco Mint, not verified.
From The Joseph C. Thomas Collection.(Registry values: N1) (NGC ID# 24ZF, PCGS# 6965)
View all of [The Joseph C. Thomas Collection, Part Two ]
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