1885 Trade Dollar, PR66
1885 T$1 PR66 NGC. The 1885 Trade dollar is one of the
rarest and most enigmatic issues in all of American coinage. The
coins were almost certainly struck in the first half of 1885, but
they only began appearing publicly early in the 20th century, 25
years after they were minted. Only five examples are known, making
them just as rare as the celebrated 1913 Liberty nickel (five
specimens accounted for), and much more elusive than their more
famous 1804 dollar cousins (15 examples known). The coins are
exhibited infrequently, since there are no examples in the great
institutional collections at the Smithsonian, ANS, or ANA, and the
last auction appearance of any specimen of the 1885 Trade dollar
was in 2004, almost 15 years ago. Heritage Auctions is privileged
to present the finest-known 1885 Trade dollar, from the fabulous
Eliasberg Collection, in just its third auction appearance.
Finest of Five Examples Known
Origins of the 1885 Trade Dollar
Unlike their closely related 1884 counterparts, Mint records reveal nothing about the striking of the 1885 Trade dollars. They are not mentioned in the Annual Report of the Director of the Mint for that year and the dies are not listed in the Straub Die Record Book, a telling omission. However, we can narrow down the striking period for the 1885 Trade dollars by noting that R.W. Julian found records indicating the reverse die used on the 1884 Trade dollar was destroyed on January 2, 1885. The 1885 Trade dollar features a new reverse die that must have been produced after the 1884 reverse was destroyed. We can also reasonably assume the 1885 Trade dollars were struck before Philadelphia Mint Superintendent Archibald Loudon Snowden resigned at the end of June in 1885. Snowden's replacement as Superintendent was Daniel Fox, a straight-arrow appointee who adhered strictly to the new rules about not selling patterns or restrikes to collectors for any reason. Therefore, it seems certain the 1885 Trade dollars were struck between January 2, 1885 and June of the same year.
All indications are the coins were struck in the Philadelphia Mint in the year of their date. The lack of documentation indicates they may have been struck clandestinely, but the Trade dollar was not officially discontinued until 1887, so it is still possible that the coins were produced for some legitimate purpose, such as inclusion in the proof sets of that year. The Mint had been producing Trade dollars in proof-only mintages since 1878 to satisfy collector demand and the order to not include Trade dollars in the 1884 proof sets only arrived after 264 proofs had already been struck the previous year. It is possible that the five 1885 Trade dollars we know about today are survivors of an aborted, but legitimate, proof mintage that was cancelled at the last minute, like the 1884 issue. Then, the coins could have been purchased legally by Snowden and preserved for posterity. In any case, the 1885 Trade dollars were struck on Mint equipment, in the year of their date, in the style of normal proofs of previous years, and on correct planchets, unlike the clandestine Class III 1804 dollars, 1827 Restrike quarters, and proof dollars of 1801, 1802, and 1803.
Original Owners and First Appearances of the 1885 Trade Dollar
Colonel Archibald Loudon Snowden had a long, if somewhat disjointed, career at the Mint, first serving as a Register under his uncle, Mint Director James Ross Snowden, in 1857. His career was interrupted by the Civil War, but he served as Chief Coiner from 1866-1877, and as Superintendent from 1879-1885. Snowden's career spanned the era of clandestine strikings (and restrikings) of many Mint-made delicacies, which were produced for sale to collectors and for profit of the various Mint personnel involved. These abuses reached a height during the tenure of Mint Director Henry Linderman (1873-1878), which coincided with Snowden's service as Chief Coiner. Snowden acquired a large collection of patterns and "special" issues in his career at the Mint. He later sold many of these coins through coin dealer John W. Haseltine and his son-in-law, Stephen Nagy, in the early 1900s. Most famously, Snowden sold the two 1877 half union fifty dollar gold patterns, through Haseltine, to William Woodin in 1909, around the same time the 1884 and 1885 Trade dollars began to appear. The sale of the half unions aroused widespread public outcry, as it was felt they should never have been sold to private parties and rightfully belonged in the Mint Cabinet. Legal proceedings were begun to force Woodin to return the two coins, for which he had paid $20,000, to the government, but a last-minute deal was worked out in which Woodin returned the coins to the Mint in exchange for a hoard of patterns and other coins from Snowden's holdings. A June 7, 1910-dated letter from Woodin's attorney to U.S. Attorney Henry W. Wise establishes that Snowden was the original owner of the half unions, which were long mistakenly believed to be the property of Haseltine's father-in-law, coin dealer William Idler (thanks to Saul Teichman for publishing this letter on USPatterns.com):
"Col. Snowden, who had originally purchased these coins from the Director of the Mint in Philadelphia by depositing the bullion value and the charge for pattern pieces to save them from being melted down, in the course of negotiations between himself and Dr, Andrew, Director of the Mints, came to an agreement with the latter over all matters in dispute between them, and proposed to Mr. Woodin to repay him the $20,000 he had paid for these pieces, in order that he might carry out his arrangement with Dr. Andrew. Mr. Woodin after numerous visits to Philadelphia and Washington and conference with Dr. Andrew, both there and in this city, decided to accept this offer, returned the 50's to Col. Snowden, and thereupon notified Mr. Pratt, as did Mr. Woodin, that the incident was closed, and we requested a letter from your office confirming the same. In view of the trouble and expense to which Mr. Woodin was put to facilitate Dr. Andrew in the adjustment of a very difficult situation, your letter seems a little unfair, in that it would tend to create the appearance of a record some time in the future that Mr. Woodin had been compelled to give up something of which he was improperly in possession."
Snowden could not afford to refund Woodin's money in cash. Instead, he exchanged "several trunks" of patterns and other coins that he had acquired over the years for the return of the half unions, which he then returned to the Mint. The pattern hoard Woodin acquired became the basis for the popular pattern reference he wrote with Edgar Adams in 1913.
The 1884 Trade dollars were initially marketed by Haseltine and Nagy, beginning around 1907. Haseltine specifically mentioned them in his address at the ANA Convention in 1908, but made no mention of the 1885 issue:
"One of the oldtime dealers, and also a collector, was the late Mr. William Idler of this city at the time when Mr. Cogan was also a dealer in Philadelphia. Mr. Idler was my father-in-law and he was very reticent about his collection. He would seldom show his coins, even for sale. This was partly caused by the fear that the many pattern and experimental coins he possessed might be seized. Hence the many remarkable pieces that have been found in his collection. Some were not known prior to his death, to be in existence, including the 1884 Trade dollar and some unique United States gold pieces."
Although Haseltine and Nagy were the first dealers to offer the 1884 Trade dollars, their role in marketing the 1885s is less clear. Contemporary numismatists naturally assumed the 1885s had been found in Idler's estate, along with the 1884s, even though Haseltine made no such claim. In view of the half union transaction, involving Snowden and Woodin, with Haseltine as the go-between, it seems much more likely that Snowden was the real owner of the 1885 Trade dollars. He was in the perfect position to have the coins struck in 1885, and to acquire them in the same manner as he did the half union patterns. It seems unlikely he would sell all 10 specimens of the 1884 and all five examples of the 1885 to Idler at their time of issue, when he so carefully preserved the large number of patterns and other issues he acquired until many years later. It seems equally unlikely that Idler (who was in his mid-70s in 1885) would have held so many coins for so many years, if he bought them in 1885, since he was primarily a buyer and seller of "special" Mint products, not a hoarder. Finally, it strains credulity to think that an established dealer in clandestine Mint strikings, like Haseltine, would not sell some 1885 Trade dollars to Virgil Brand in the 1907-1908 time frame (along with the 1884s) if he had acquired them in 1901. Altogether, it seems much more credible that the 1885 Trade dollars (and some of the 1884s) were the property of Snowden, from the time they were struck until he began selling off his holdings in the early 1900s.
We have found no sale record of any 1885 Trade dollar traced to Haseltine or Nagy. The first sale of an 1885 Trade dollar we have any record of took place on 4/26/1911, when Edgar Adams sold an example to super-collector Virgil Brand for $750. By January 1912, Judson Brenner reported owning examples of both the 1884 and 1885 in an article in The Numismatist. The first auction appearance of an 1885 Trade dollar was in lot 392 of the H.O. Granberg Collection (B. Max Mehl, 7/1913). There was also an 1884 Trade dollar in that sale. Granberg also exhibited a complete set of Trade dollars at the ANS Exhibition in 1914, including another 1884 and 1885. The fifth example of the 1885 Trade dollar surfaced in March of 1915, when Edgar Adams offered an 1884 and an 1885 in an ad in The Numismatist. Judson Brenner, H.O. Granberg, and Edgar Adams were all numismatic associates of William Woodin. Brenner and Granberg purchased many of Woodin's duplicate patterns when he began thinning out his holdings after the deal with Snowden. Edgar Adams was perhaps his closest associate and Woodin sold many coins through him over the years. The fact that the first five appearances of the 1885 Trade dollar took place within this tight circle after the Snowden-Woodin exchange in 1910 is very suggestive. While nothing can be proven, it seems most likely that William Woodin received the 1885 Trade dollars (and possibly some of the 1884s) as part of his compensation for the returned 1877 half union gold patterns in 1910. He then marketed the coins to his close associates and they were all dispersed by 1915. Haseltine and Nagy were associated with these coins because of their reputation as "fences" for Mint-made delicacies and because they handled some of the 1884 Trade dollars earlier, but they probably played no part in the distribution of the 1885 issue.
The 1885 Trade Dollar 1915- Circa 1940
Soon after their initial distribution, the 1885 Trade dollars were absorbed into a few long-term private collections and virtually vanished from numismatic view for a quarter of a century. One coin went to Virgil Brand, through Edgar Adams in 1911 and remained in that collection until the late 1930s. Another specimen may have gone to Brand in 1919, when Judson Brenner sold a number of coins and other numismatic items, including the dies for the Confederate cent, to him privately. Two more coins passed through the collection of "Colonel" E.H.R. Green and only surfaced in the 1940s, when his estate began selling his collection through dealers like B.G. Johnson and Stack's. The present coin was acquired by prominent collector William Cutler Atwater. The circumstances of his acquisition are unknown, but Atwater stopped collecting in the early 1920s and the latest date of any coin in his collection was 1923, so the transaction must have occurred at an early date. Atwater's collection was sold posthumously through B. Max Mehl in 1946. No specimen of the 1885 Trade dollar was offered at auction in the years between the Granberg sale in 1913 and Mehl's Olsen sale in 1944, a period of 31 years. The 1884 and 1885 Trade dollars were listed together, with no prices given, in the 1936 edition of the Standard Catalogue of United States Coins & Currency, "These two dates are exceedingly rare and were not known until recent years when several of them were discovered in a collection of proof sets."
The 1885 Trade Dollar, 1940s-Present
The 1885 Trade dollar has followed a boom or bust pattern of activity ever since the 1940s. After its long hibernation, the 1885 Trade dollar saw a flurry of activity in the 1940s, when three specimens appeared in B. Max Mehl auctions during the decade and another was offered for sale in The Numismatist. The pace continued unabated in the following decade, which saw four auction appearances, through Mehl, Kosoff, Sotheby's, and Stack's.
As might be expected, the pace of auction appearances slowed considerably after that, as three of the coins were impounded in the strongly held collections of Amon Carter, Louis Eliasberg, and the Norwebs. Only one coin was offered at auction in the 1960s, and there were no auction sales in the 1970s.
Fortunately for collectors, the drought ended after that and the 1980s was the most active decade in the history of the 1885 Trade dollar. The issue racked up seven auction appearances during that period, as the Carter and Norweb collections came on the market and three of the five known specimens made multiple auction appearances.
Apparently, the coins have largely been moving through private channels ever since. Only two auction appearances are recorded for the 1990s and this offering is only the third appearance of the issue since the millennium.
The Present Coin
As stated above, this coin was acquired by William Cutler Atwater sometime before 1923. Atwater compiled one of the most important collections of the first half of the 20th century. His holdings included two 1804 dollars and both the 1884 and 1885 Trade dollars. The 1885 was described in lot 378:
"1885 United States Trade Dollar. Perfect brilliant gem proof. Only five specimens said to have been struck. Only available when great collections like this come on the market. This specimen has been in one collection for more than a quarter of a century. I know of no U.S. Silver Dollar more rare than this great coin, not even excepting the 1804 Dollar. Latest record $1,275.00. It is strange and rather interesting how these great rarities are offered or rather how they come on the market. While in the past three years I have handled three of these great rarities, but this number represents those I have handled in more than twenty five years. As in the case of the 1884 Trade Dollar, this is only available when great collections are dispersed."
The lot realized a record price of $1,450, as collectors recognized the outstanding quality and absolute rarity of this specimen. The buyer was Baltimore financier Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. Eliasberg was a true connoisseur of coins and he formed the only complete collection of U.S. federal coins in numismatic history. After he died, his collection was divided between his heirs and sold in a series of blockbuster auctions in the 1980s and '90s. This 1885 Trade dollar was described in lot 2354 of the Eliasberg Collection, Part II (Stack's/Bowers and Merena, 4/1997) in a four-page lot description titled "Incredible Gem 1885 Trade Dollar/Finest by Far of Just Five Known/Landmark American Rarity/A Highlight of the Eliasberg Collection." The lot realized $907,500, a remarkable price at the time, when only two coins, the Eliasberg 1913 Liberty nickel and the 1804 dollar from the same collection had sold for more than $1 million. This remarkable coin has changed hands a few times privately since the Eliasberg sale, the last time selling for $3.3 million in 2006, but it has never been publicly offered since.
The present coin is a delightful Premium Gem, the finest-certified specimen by three grading points. The design elements are sharply detailed in most areas but, like all examples of the 1885 issue, stars 5 through 9 show a touch of flatness on the centers. There is a tiny surface irregularity in the upper reverse field, between the final S in STATES and the O in OF and a tiny depression is evident between the M and E in AMERICA. The impeccably preserved surfaces include deeply mirrored fields that exhibit noticeable, if undesignated, cameo contrast with the frosty devices. Highlights of champagne-gold toning enhance the terrific eye appeal of this spectacular piece.
Few coins can match the combination of extreme rarity, highest available technical quality, and tremendous visual appeal this coin possesses. As the finest of just five known examples, with an illustrious pedigree to some of the most famous collections of all time, this lot is one of the most important offerings in this, or any other sale. The cataloger of the Eliasberg description noted, "The present coin, a highlight of the Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. Collection, is one of the most important offerings of our generation. Its next owner will have a fantastic treasure." Off the market for more than 20 years, this coin may not become available again in the collecting life of most numismatists reading this catalog. The discerning collector will bid accordingly.
Roster of 1885 Trade Dollars
This roster was compiled with the assistance of Wayne Burt, John Dannreuther, Ron Guth, and Saul Teichman. Grades are per the last auction appearance, unless a subsequent certification event is known.
1. Eliasberg Specimen, PR66 NGC. Superintendent of the Philadelphia Mint Archibald Loudon Snowden in 1885; possibly William Woodin in 1910; William Cutler Atwater; Atwater Collection (B. Max Mehl, 6/1946), lot 378; Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr.; Eliasberg Collection, Part II (Bowers and Merena, 4/1997), lot 2354, realized $907,500; Jay Parrino; Bruce Morelan via Legend for $1.5 million in 1999; Bruce Morelan traded this coin and the Eliasberg 1884 Trade dollar in 2006-2007 to John Albanese; both the 1884 and 1885 Trade dollars were then sold to Heritage by John Albanese; the 1885 was sold privately by Heritage Auctions for $3.3 million in January 2006. The present coin.
2. Simpson Specimen, PR63+ Cameo PCGS. Superintendent of the Philadelphia Mint Archibald Loudon Snowden in 1885; possibly William Woodin in 1910; Waldo Newcomer (per Carl Carlson), displayed at the 1916 ANA Convention; "Colonel" E.H.R. Green; B.G. Johnson; Jack Roe; Ryan, Roe, and Waltman Collections (B. Max Mehl, 6/1945), lot 628; Jerome Kern; Kern Collection (B. Max Mehl, 5/1950), lot 897; Amon Carter, Sr.; Amon Carter, Jr.; Carter Family Collection (Stack's, 1/1984), lot 441; Kevin Lipton; Auction '84 (Superior, 7/1984), lot 192; Fred Fredericks; Hoffecker Collection (Superior, 2/1987), lot 1446B; Eugene Worrell Collection (Superior, 9/1993), lot 1325; Rudolph Collection (Stack's, 5/2003), lot 2175; Legend Numismatics; Simpson Collection.
3. Farouk Specimen, PR62 NGC. Superintendent of the Philadelphia Mint Archibald Loudon Snowden in 1885; possibly William Woodin in 1910; H.O. Granberg; Granberg Collection (B. Max Mehl, 7/1913), lot 392 (plated); Ruth Green advertisement in the December 1941 issue of The Numismatist, page 976 (plated); King Farouk; Palace Collections of Egypt (Sotheby's, 2/1954), lot 1680; Ambassador and Mrs. R. Henry Norweb; Norweb Collection, Part II (Bowers and Merena, 3/1988), lot 1848; Dan Drykerman; private New York collection; sold privately by Bowers and Merena in 1992; New York private collection; Richmond Collection (David Lawrence, 11/2004), lot 1569.
4. Adolphe Menjou Specimen, Brilliant Proof. Superintendent of the Philadelphia Mint Archibald Loudon Snowden in 1885; possibly William Woodin in 1910; Edgar Adams; sold to Virgil Brand on 4/26/1911 for $750; Armin Brand; consigned to B.G. Johnson on 11/2/1936, reportedly sold 11/1937; Clinton Hester; Adolphe Menjou Collection (Numismatic Gallery, 6/1950), lot 2041; Benjamin Stack, advertised in the Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine in March of 1955; Farish Baldenhofer Collection (Stack's, 11/1955), lot 1040; private collection; Julian Leidman, Mike Brownlee, and Hugh Sconyers; Jim Halperin/New England Rare Coin Galleries, circa 1974; John Kamin/ The Forecaster Moneyletter; private collection.
5. Olsen Specimen, Brilliant Proof. Superintendent of the Philadelphia Mint Archibald Loudon Snowden in 1885; possibly William Woodin in 1910; unknown intermediaries; Fred Olsen Collection (B. Max Mehl, 11/1944), lot 1767; George Ewalt; Ewalt Collection (Stack's, 11/1965), lot 43; Leo Young; Auction '80 (RARCOA, 8/1980), lot 1626; Julian Leidman; Mike Follett; private collection; Auction '84 (RARCOA, 7/1984), lot 1810; John Rowe III; L.R. French Collection (Stack's, 1/1989), lot 202; Charles Barasch/International Coins & Currency, circa 1992; Northeast collection.
A. Proof. Judson Brenner owned an example of both the 1884 and 1885 Trade dollars, as reported in the January 1912 issue of The Numismatist on page 23. These coins may have gone to Virgil Brand along with other coins and the dies for the Confederate cent, which were purchased as a group from Brenner in 1919, but the Brand journals are not clear on this.
B. Proof. H.O. Granberg exhibited a complete set of Trade dollars, including the 1884 and 1885, in the 1914 ANS Exhibition (in addition to the 1884 and 1885 he sold with his collection in 1913, see number 3 above).
C. Proof. Edgar Adams offered both an 1884 and an 1885 Trade dollar in an advertisement in The Numismatist in March of 1915.
D. Proof. "Colonel" Green owned at least one more 1885 Trade dollar (in addition to the coin in number 2 above) according to the inventory of his collection. In the Eliasberg catalog, it is mentioned that B.G. Johnson sold this coin to the Celina Company (Carl and Ted Brandt) and they advertised it in the June 1944 issue of The Numismatist on page 546.
E. Proof. St. Louis coin dealer B.G. Johnson offered an example of the 1885 Trade dollar to Stack's on 8/23/1943 for $800.
F. Proof. B.G. Johnson offered another example of the 1885 Trade dollar to B. Max Mehl on 4/3/1944 for $775. This might be the coin in the Waltman/Roe Collection in number 2 above.
From The Greensboro Collection, Part VII.(Registry values: N1) (NGC ID# 27YX, PCGS# 7065)
Weight: 27.22 grams
Metal: 90% Silver, 10% Copper
Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.
View all of [The Greensboro Collection, Part VII ]
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