In the mid-1960s, collectors eagerly awaited the appearance of circulation-strike 1895 Morgan dollars. Mint records suggest 12,000 such pieces were produced, but only Proof pieces are known to exist. (Photo: Heritage Auctions)
By Gerald Tebben
Coin collecting is filled with might-have-beens and what-ifs, but for me, one of the most fascinating parts of the hobby is pieces that existed at one time but are no longer known to collectors.
Here are three numismatic mysteries spanning 2,500 years.
1728 New Jersey bills
On Feb. 10, 1727-1728 (the new year turned on March 25 before 1752), the New Jersey Assembly authorized the issuance of nearly £29,000 in new paper currency.
Samuel Keimer from Philadelphia got the contract, but the work was done by his employee, Benjamin Franklin.
The issue was printed in six denominations and was valid until Nov. 1, 1736. None is known to exist today.
The general layout is known because a drawing of the proposed issue was included in the enabling legislation.
1895 Morgan $1, Uncirculated
When the U.S. Treasury Department released thousands of bags of silver dollars in the 1950s and 1960s, rare dates became common overnight. Every collector was waiting for the 1895 dollar to appear. U.S. Mint records show 12,000 circulation strikes and 880 Proof examples.
Proof examples are readily available, for a goodly sum—more than $30,000 for even impaired pieces. No circulation strikes are known.
The American Numismatic Association’s journal, “The Numismatist,” reported in 1898 that the issue was “proofs only,” leaving some to believe that the Mint report of 12,000 pieces actually was noting the delivery of 1894-dated dollars. Others think the entire issue was melted.
Me, I think they are out there somewhere—maybe in a reclusive millionaire’s basement.
In surviving fragments of the dialog “Callias,” ancient Greek philosopher Aeschines Socraticus (circa 425 to 350 B.C.) wrote about a curious form of money in circulation in Carthage about 450 B.C.
Because Carthage lacked sufficient silver to meet its monetary needs, Aeschines wrote, the government placed lumps of metal about the size of a tetradrachm in leather pouches and stamped a seal on them, presumably stating the value of the metal inside.
The populace had to trust the pouches contained true value. Opening a pouch, of course, invalidated the seal, giving merchants strong reason to trust but not verify.
The dialog, like much of classical learning, has been lost to the ages. No examples of the leather pouches are known to exist, either.
Value: Priceless now, but maybe not so in antiquity.
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