Elusive Coins: They’re Out There Somewhere

The supposed circulation-strike 1895 Morgan dollar has been an enigma for more than a century. All known examples are proof strikes, including this impaired Proof 50 example that shows signs of circulation wear.
(Image: HeritageAuctions.com)

By Gerald Tebben

In collecting, the rare but attainable coins, such as the 1916 Standing Liberty quarter dollar (mintage 52,000); ultrarare coins, such as the 1894-S Seated Liberty dime (mintage 24) and unique pieces or those no longer known to exist are the stuff of numismatic legend.

Louis E. Eliasberg Sr., the only person to have ever assembled a complete set of regular-issue United States coins, was dead two years when the first and only known example of the 1870-S Seated Liberty half dime was discovered in 1978, reportedly in a collection of common-date type coins. The only mention in Mint records of the 1870-S Seated Liberty half dime’s production wasn’t discovered by numismatists until 2004.

The 1873-CC Seated Liberty, No Arrows dime was the keystone to the Eliasberg collection. Its purchase on Nov. 7, 1950 for $4,000 completed the famed collection. Mint records show 12,400 were minted, but almost all were melted as obsolete after the amount of silver in the dime was increased in mid-year.

The uncirculated Eliasberg dime, which was part of the U.S. Mint’s own collection until 1909, was believed to be the only surviving example when Eliasberg bought it. Collectors were alerted to a second example in December 2002, when the PCGS Population Report listed a circulated example.

The 1870-S Indian Head gold $3 piece may be unique, but then again, it may not. On May 26, 1870, San Francisco Mint Superintendent O.H. LaGrange wrote to Washington that one coin had been struck and placed inside the new Mint building’s cornerstone.

It is uncertain whether Coiner J.B. Harmstead knocked off a second piece for his own use, possibly as a watch fob, or whether the former Eliasberg coin was the piece intended for the cornerstone but not placed there. Eliasberg paid $11,550 for the $3 coin in 1946.

Still waiting to be found are a handful of other coins mentioned in Mint records, but not known to exist today.

The supposed circulation-strike 1895 Morgan dollar has been an enigma for more than a century. Mint records show 12,000 were struck, but none are known to have survived. When the Treasury Department released bags of silver dollars in the late 1950s and early 1960s, collectors were hopeful that the 12 elusive bags would turn up, but none did. It is possible the coins, if struck, were melted at the end of World War I to provide needed bullion for sale to England.

All known 1895 Morgan silver dollars are proofs, some impaired.

Rumors have circulated for decades about the existence of 1873-S Seated Liberty silver dollars (mintage 700), 1873-S Seated Liberty, No Arrows half dollars (mintage 5,000) and 1841-O Coronet gold $5 half eagles (mintage 50), but no coins have turned up—so far.

Gerald Tebben, a longtime numismatist, is editor of the Central States Numismatic Society’s Centinel and a contributing writer to Coin World.

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