Q. David Bowers
Those Who Were There
The minting of Morgan and Peace silver dollars was largely an exercise in futility. Coins would be struck, often by the millions, and then relegated to storage in bags of 1,000 each. Relatively few people wanted silver dollars, and they were coined only in response to political pressure from silver-mining interests.
For many years millions of Morgan dollars remained in storage. Then, under terms of the 1918 Pittman Act, the immense quantity of 270,232,722 silver dollars went to the melting pot. Following the Silver Act of 1942, over 53 million other dollars, of the Morgan and Peace types, met the same fate. Still, hundreds of millions of silver dollars remained in existence, mostly stored in vaults in banks, mints, the Treasury Department, and the Federal Reserve System branches.
In this chapter I reprint commentaries from several numismatists who were on the scene in the 1950s and 1960s and who provided first-hand reports of what happened when quantities of earlier dated dollars, some of which had great numismatic value, were released.
The San Francisco Mint Hoard
The San Francisco Mint served as a storage depot for vast quantities of previously-minted dollars from that institution, and also for dollars shipped from Carson City when the mint in that location ceased operations.
The "secret that wasn't completely secret" was that over a long period of time, beginning at least in the 1920s (see the experience of Melvin Brooks quoted below), the San Francisco Mint was a source for sparkling new dollars of earlier dates. Later, in the 1940s and 1950s, the San Francisco Mint vaults were a rich vein to be tapped by coin dealers and others who knew of the treasures stored there.
Finding Morgan Dollars in 1926
A note in The Numismatist, December 1926, "Those Uncirculated Silver Dollars, 1882-S," brought forth this letter in early 1927, from Melvin Brooks,of Vallejo, California, who worked at the First National Bank there. He told of releases of Uncirculated coins stored in the San Francisco Mint:
On July 7  I was doing relief work here at the First National Bank, in Vallejo. After 3 o'clock I had about 400 unrolled dollars, all stacked in piles of twenty, when I noticed that several were quite brilliant. I did not pay much attention to them, for the reason that the 1921 Liberty head of the school teacher (Miss Williams) has been for over a year a common coin in Vallejo.
I started to roll a stack, when I looked at one of the new ones. It was the 1878, mintmark S. Well, right there I went through all of those 400, and these are the dates and mint marks I found: 1878-S, 1879-S, 1880-S, 1881-S, 1882-S, 1883-S, 1888-S, 1890-S, 1896-S. During the rest of the month I found the following: 1884-S, 1886-S, 1889-CC, 1891-CC, 1892-CC, 1897-S, 1898-S and 1901-S. I have gone through a good number since and as yet have not found any others. I have tried to find out more about them, but as yet have learned very little.
I know we did not get them from the Federal Reserve Bank, and the Vallejo Commercial had not received any, so the Navy Yard at Mare Island must have brought them in to payoff the men. After writing a number of letters, I did learn that the mint in San Francisco had released a number of sacks, so that accounts for the dollars with the mintmark S. To date I have not learned a thing about the Carson City Mint and how the three 1889-CC, 1891-CC, and 1892-CC came into circulation. Lately the 1921 is no longer in Uncirculated condition, and very seldom do I see a bright shiny dollar in our vaults.
The Treasury Building Hoard
The extensive distribution of coins before 1960 from the cache of Carson City Mint and other Morgan dollars stored in the Treasury Building in Washington, D.C. has been completely overlooked by modem writers on the series. It is well known 'that in March 1964, the government stopped paying out silver dollars from various Treasury facilities, but what has not reached print is what happened before the 1960s.
The story begins in 1893, when the Carson City Mint struck silver dollars (and gold coins) for the last time. It was not known whether coinage would resume later. There had been a similar cessation of minting in 1885, and in 1889 coinage resumed. However, events would prove that 1893 production was the the last.
There was little call in the channels of commerce for Carson City Morgan dollars. Production of the coins at various mints was in response to the politically motivated Bland-Allison Act of 1878, and by 1893 silver dollars were piling up in storage at all four mints. In fact, vaults were stuffed to overflowing, and what to do with the excess coins became a major concern.
The Carson City Mint continued to store dollars of its own production for years after coinage ceased. On July 1, 1899, 5,008,552 Carson City Morgan dollars were in the vaults of the facility. However, by July 1, 1900, 5 million had been shipped elsewhere, primarily to the Treasury Building in Washington, D.C., but a few to storage in the San Francisco Mint. Only a few thousand CC-mintmark dollars remained in Carson City, and soon these would he paid out as well.
The vast hoard amounting to millions of Carson City dollars in Washington, probably somewhere between 4 and 4.5 million pieces, was forgotten.
In the meantime, in the quarter century from 1910 to 1935, interest in collecting Morgan dollars by mintmarks increased, and by the end of that period, the various Carson City pieces each had a significant premium value. For some dates-1885-CC is an example-well-worn coins sold for well above face value. For example, in his 1925 sale of the E.E. Wright Collection, B. Max Mehl sold an 1880-CC in just Very Good grade for $2.00; an 1882-CC "Practically Uncirculated, rare" for $9.00; and an 1885-CC "About Fine, rare" for $2.35.
In the early 1930s, the Treasury Department in Washington issued mimeographed lists of backdated Uncirculated coins for sale, including such present-day rarities as the 1927-D $20, for face value plus a small handling charge. No mention was made of Carson City Mint dollars, which the Treasury had in quantity, but which were stored in mint-sealed bags deep in a vault.
In addition, the Treasury Building vaults contained mint-sealed bags of Philadelphia Mint dollars; certain New Orleans Mint issues, including 1879-0, 1881-0, 1883-0, 1884-0, 1885-0, 1887-0, 1888-0, 1889-0, 1890-0, 1891-0, 1892-0, 1894-0 (limited quantities), 1896-0 (limited quantities), 1897-0 (limited quantities), 1899-0, 1900-0, 1901-0, 1902-0, 1903-0, 1904-0, and-possibly a few other dates; and certain San Francisco Mint dollars, among which were bags of 1901-S and 1904-S. These were not offered for sale via lists, but could be obtained by visiting the Cash Room in person, although specific dates varied depending upon which bags were being opened and paid out at the time. It helped if you had a friend in the Treasury Department, as, indeed, several silver dollar dealers did.
In January 1964 in an advertisement in The Numismatist, Washington dealer Steve Ruddeltold of releases of dollars. Although he did not specifically mention the Treasury Building, that was the location referred to:
The releasing of "rare" dollars is nothing new. It began some nine years ago with the release of approximately 50 bags of each date of the CC Mint with exception of the 79-CC, 89- CC, and 93-CC. It is thought that these bags are still to come.