Q. David Bowers:
The following narrative, with minor editing, is from my "Silver Dollars & Trade Dollars of the United States: A Complete Encyclopedia" (Wolfeboro, NH: Bowers and Merena Galleries, Inc., 1993)
Hoard coins: A few bags of Uncirculated 1894-O dollars came on the market in the East during the early 1950s. Whether these were paid out from storage in the Philadelphia Mint, or whether they came from the Treasury Building in Washington, D.C., is not known. In The Numismatist, September 1953, Philip Maul advertised roll quantities of this issue for sale. Quite probably, other dealers had modest quantities as well. At the time there was virtually no demand for silver dollars in quantity, and even dealers like Maul were likely to receive more single coin than roll orders. Among dollars released in quantity, 1894-O was not one of the more plentiful dates.
In 1962-1964, other 1894-Os came out during the dispersal of O-Mint dollars from storage in a sealed vault at the Philadelphia Mint. By this time, there were many dealers interested. As little is mentioned in the literature about 1894-O dollars, it is probable that not more than a few thousand additional coins were found during that hectic time. Steve Ruddel, a Washington, D.C. area dealer active in handling quantities of coins during the early 1960s, told Wayne Miller that he declined to buy a bag of Uncirculated 1894-O dollars (and also a bag of 1896-O dollars) for $3 per coin, for "at that time no one knew what was going to be available next." Harry J. Forman handled one bag of this date. In the 1970s, groups of 20 to 100 coins (one to five rolls) were common, Wayne Miller wrote.
Market note: Around the year 1900 there was a flurry of interest in 1894-O, 1894-S, 1895-O, and 1895-Ssilver dollars, and a few specimens were sold for several dollars each. The interest soon faded, and soon thereafter Uncirculated pieces could be obtained for less than $2 apiece.
Mint State grades: In Mint State, the 1894-O is rare. In MS-65 grade only a few exist, and the issue is one of the prime landmarks in the Morgan series. In 1982, Wayne Miller wrote that he had never seen a fully struck gem specimen. The PCGS tour of silver dollars, which took place in 1990 and 1991 and which featured some of the finest certified coins, from various sources, assembled to make up an exhibit collection, had an 1894-0 in just MS-64 grade. This was the only date and mintmark in the exhibit to be less than MS-65 condition. The only other two issues in the exhibit less than MS-65 were 1882-O/S and 1887/6-O.
The majority of Mint State 1894-O dollars are in MS-60 to 62 grades, about 2,000 to 4,000 coins in all. At the MS-63 level there are 1,000 to 2,000 estimated
to exist. MS-64 pieces are rare, with a population of only about 250 to 500. MS-65 coins are exceedingly rare; only about 10 to 20 are known.
Most 1894-O dollars are very flatly struck at the centers and are unsatisfactory from an aesthetic viewpoint. While cherrypicking is advisable, still there is the possibility that extensive looking will not produce a sharply struck coin. Compromise is then the order of the day. Pick out an average strike with nice lustre. Forget about needle-sharp details.
Prooflike coins: PL and DMPL 1894-O dollars are rarities
Die rotation: VAM-6 is known with the reverse die misaligned 25° counterclockwise. The highest grade reported to Van Allen and Mallis is Fine.
1. Normal date: Breen-5635. Five obverses are known, two with partly repunched date, mated with three reverses-per VAM. Most likely nearly all the 10 obverses and seven reverses were used; the dies described by VAM would hardly have been enough.
Dies prepared: Obverse: 10; Reverse: 7
Circulation strike mintage: 1,723,000; Delivery figures by month: January: June: none; July: 263,000; August: 400,000; September: 360,000; October: 300,000; November: 250,000; December: 150,000.
Estimated quantity melted: Probably very few Mint State coins; worn pieces as part of various melts.
Availability of prooflike coins: True PL and DMPL coins are exceedingly rare.
Characteristics of striking: The 1894-O is chronically weakly struck.
Known hoards of Mint State coins: Several bags were released by the Treasury 1962-1964.
The 1894-O is fairly scarce in Mint State. When encountered, specimens are nearly always poorly struck.
A Problem at the New Orleans Mint
The Annual Report of the Director of the Mint, 1893, disclosed the following:
"The annual settlement of the mint at New Orleans, June 30, 1893, was superintended by Mr. H. Clay Stier, of the office of the First Auditor, and Mr. Leonard Magruder, of New Orleans, who witnessed and took account of the bullion and coin delivered by the melter and refiner, and coiner to the superintendent in settlement of their accounts, after which they weighed the bullion and counted the coin and other moneys with which the superintendent was charged, and for which he is responsible.
"In counting the currency (Treasury notes) in the cashier's vaults deficiency of $25,000 was found, which the cashier claimed were destroyed by a fire that occurred in his vault between the closing of the same Saturday afternoon, June 24, and the opening thereof on Monday morning, June 26, 1893.
"On June 26, 1893, the superintendent of the mint advised this Bureau by telegraph of the fire, and requested that some competent person who was accustomed to the handling of charred money be sent from the department to count the money charred by the fire in the cashier's vault. Through the courtesy of the Treasurer of the United States, Mrs. L.E. Rosenberg, of the redemption division, was sent to New Orleans, who, after much patient labor, found among the charred paper $1,182 in currency which had not been destroyed beyond identification, leaving a deficiency of $23,818 to be accounted for. The circumstances of the fire were such as to lead to the belief that it was not accidental, but of incendiary origin, for the purpose of concealing a shortage in the cashier's accounts, he being the only person having access to the vault. Taking this view of the case, a thorough investigation as to the origin of the fire was made by Mr. A.R. Barrett, of the Secret Service. The evidence collected by him was deemed sufficient to justify the arrest of the cashier, who was taken before the United States commissioner, and gave bail for his future appearance."
The Annual Report of the Director of the Mint, 1894, brought readers up to date on the situation:
"The annual settlement of the mint at New Orleans, June 30, 1894, was superintended by Messrs. John T. Kent, of the United States assay office at New York, and W.F. Bowen, of the Bureau of the Mint, who reported in writing that they found on hand all the money and bullion with which the superintendent was charged.
"The former cashier of the mint at New Orleans, who was arrested for the embezzlement of $25,000 in June 1893, was tried before the United States court at New Orleans in December last, and was acquitted of the charge.
"Suit has been instituted against the former superintendent, Dr. Andrew W. Smyth, and is now pending for the recovery of the amount.
"The president having removed the superintendent, assayer, melter and refiner, and coiner of the mint at New Orleans, Overton Cade was appointed superintendent; R.L. Schroeder, assayer; Lewis Guion, melter and refiner; and H. Gibbs Morgan, coiner; all of whom entered upon duty July 22, 1893."