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Redfield Dollars

LaVere Redfield was born into poverty in Ogden, Utah on October 29, 1897.

It’s ironic – Ogden, is the western headquarters for the IRS, the agency Redfield loathed.

When he died in Reno shortly before his 77th birthday in 1974, the estate he left to be probated was valued at $70 million.

Redfield had a reputation for knowing what things were worth.

In his early twenties he made a living digging potatoes in Idaho.

By the time he turned twenty-four he was managing a department store in Idaho Falls.

There he met a co-worker, named Nell, who would become his wife for the rest of his life. But there was some marital unrest.

They moved to Los Angeles in 1929 where Redfield dabbled in stocks and then became a stockbroker.

During this period that certain people started referring to him as a genius, as well as a bold wheeler-dealer.

He made a lot of money in oil stocks, mining stocks and real estate by the time he and Nell moved to a farm in Reno in 1935.

He increased his fortune doing big real estate deals, at one time owning 80 square miles of land in Washoe County (where Reno is located) and 51,000 acres of beautiful forests outside of town.

Still, his name lives on in brighter lights for a different aspect of his financial pursuits: numismatics.

He wasn’t a collector. The one thing he did that assures his name will forever be associated with silver dollars, was to buy bags of various issues of those romantic pieces of real money and drop them down a coal chute to the basement in his house.

Mostly, he developed sources at a number of banks in the Reno area and opportunistically (compulsively, perhaps) bought bags or bunches of dollars at face value when he received word that some were available.

During this period he was described as eccentric and became the topic of much conversation concerning his unpretentious dress, his old truck, his distrust of banks, his reputation as a notoriously poor tipper in the casinos, and his attending three hours of movies at the library because they were free.

He also was not averse to spending some time in jail if it meant he could hang on to some cash.

Cheapskate to some, anti-government activist to others, Redfield was indicted in 1960 for failure to pay $335,000 in income taxes. Not willing to hire an attorney, he defended himself, was found guilty and served eighteen months of his five-year sentence. He rationalized that the time he spent in jail earned him a free gall bladder operation at the state’s expense.

He once paid for a parcel of land being sold at a tax auction with $65,000 in cash he carried in a shopping bag.

1948 Mugging story

Upon his death and the discovery (by IRS agents) of the silver dollars, the executors of the estate had to confront the challenge of liquidating these assets.

This is when the real excitement began.

Redfield did not hire a lawyer to handle his estate. His will was hand written (his hand). Also there was another will that Redfield allegedly wrote, four months before his death.

There two estate attorneys and three executors of the will:

  1. His Wife, Nell

  2. His mistress, the wife of his physician

  3. His California banker

It was a mess to say the least.

Aside from the things at home, Redfield had more than a dozen of safety deposit boxes around town containing:

  • Diamonds he held as collateral for money loaned

  • $1000 bills

  • old socks stuffed with of rare coins,

  • rare coins

  • account ledgers detailing Swiss bank accounts

  • And yes found in various locations – over 407,000 dollars – found behind a false wall in the basement, in a 1922 Lincoln, in the deposit boxes etc.

It took a long time to straighten this mess out!

Re the silver dollars, the opportunists, dealers, and auction houses from coast to coast, started jockeying for the winning position.

Without allowing any party to conduct anything more than a sampling of the various issues, bids were taken from Bowers and Ruddy (backed by General Mills), Stack’s, and A-Mark Coin Company.

In a series of escalating sealed bids in which no one knew the true value of the prize, much less the strategy of the competition, A-Mark emerged with the contract.

Their bid of $7.3 million (about $18 per coin) got the job done.

A-Mark then contracted with Paramount International to turn the hoard into cash without flooding the market and, in the process, depressing the value of any of the dates. (Fair value of the hoard thirty years later in 2009 is north of one hundred million dollars.)

At the time of his death, the hoard bearing his name totaled over 400 bags (1,000 silver dollars per bag) plus “shovelfuls” of loose cartwheels.

Of the 407,596 Morgan and Peace dollars, 351,259 were later graded “Unc.” 86%+ were uncirculated

It would have been fifty percent larger had he not been burglarized in 1952 and again in 1963.

Surviving specimens of Redfield dollars are easy to spot. They range in appearance from even, burgundy patina around the borders to very splotchy toning to no toning at all. These different toning patterns are the result of the high sulfur content of the cardboard inserts and where they were stored.

Eye appeal ranges from spectacular to terrible.

Today, when you hear of someone who is offering a “Redfield coin,” you are going to encounter an Uncirculated dollar in the slab in which Paramount International Coin Corp. encapsulated it in conjunction with its marketing of the hoard beginning in the late 1970s.

GSA holders had already made their public debut at the time, but PCGS and NGC holders had not.

So the holder are somewhat similar in nature – before the two major third-party grading services introduced

Redfield dollars were sold with three colors of inserts: blue-black, marked as MS-60; maroon, marked MS-65; and green (very rare) marked MS-70.

• In a blue-black holder, graded 60

• In a maroon holder, graded 65.

• In a green holder, graded generally better than 65.

Purchasers even today would be advised to learn how to grade Morgan and Peace dollars on their own. Many coins are housed in maroon holders – but grade 62-63.

Reference is often made in the trade to “Redfield dates.”

The best estimated inventory count from 1976 (Paramount never disclosed the exact totals) indicates that there are forty-three different date and mintmark combinations making up Redfield dates.

Morgan dollars are mostly “S” Mints, some “CCs” and a few “Ps”; Peace dollars are all “S” Mints.

Quantities for any one date/mintmark combination range from a few hundred pieces, to dozens of bags. Following are the estimates for the Carson City issues:

Year Quantity Comments

1879-CC Half a bag all capped die, none above 62

1885-CC One bag

1890-CC Two bags, several hundred fully struck DPLs

1891-CC Three to five bags, most were heavily bag marked

1892-CC Two to four bags MS-60-63; many damaged by counting

1893-CC 1,500 to 3,000 coins, many damaged; practically all full strikes extant are traceable to the Redfield hoard.

Caveat: Paramount has encapsulated other coins in holders having red-maroon inserts that are not Redfield coins. Look for “The Redfield Collection” imprinted on the insert to make sure you are getting the real thing.

PCGS, NGC and ANACS have graded a number of Redfield coins that have been broken out of their Paramount holders and identified them by printing “Redfield Hoard” on the certificates.

These coins, like the GSA dollars that have been cracked out of their government holders and labeled “GSA Hoard,” are not as sought after as coins in their original holders.

Prices for examples of each date are invariably higher than those listed in the Greysheet, in some cases by multiples.

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