[The following excerpt is published courtesy of DLRC Press and its author, Bruce Fox. This information was originally published in 1993 in The Complete Guide to Walking Liberty Half Dollars]
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Stories of hoards will be around as long as there are two coin collectors talking. Most are hearsay and probably aren’t true or have been grossly exaggerated. I spent some time during the writing of this book asking questions about hoards and accumulations of this series.
The most recent story that has received some press was the Coin World article in early 1992 regarding a large hoard of coins surfacing in the Midwest. There were no details, but it was suggested the hoard was of great magnitude and could have a substantial impact on the coin market. Rumor at a few coin shows is that the hoard may contain a mint bag of 1919-S Walkers. This, of course, may not be true and, even if it is, the coins may be carefully dispensed over many years to protect the market price structure.
This technique of carefully releasing large amounts of coins on the market is nothing new. Michael Ayers, a long-time coin dealer in the Los Angeles area, witnessed first hand the dispersement of the John A. Beck collection in 1975. Beck accumulated large amounts of coins over the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Included were large quantities of 1856 Flying Eagle cents and three dollar gold pieces. In addition, several original bank rolls of 1916-P Walkers were a part of this holding.
Beck had an obsession for the first year of a series. The auction was not only open to the public, it was also well publicized to encourage mail bidder participation. One lot was simply listed as a 1916 uncirculated half dollar. However, almost every mail bidder that submitted a reasonable bid received a coin. Occasionally, hoards such as these are sold to wealthy collectors at a discount to current market prices if they agree to keep them off the market for an agreed upon number of years. It is difficult to confirm these private transactions.
Let’s take a look at what happens when a significant number of scarce coins comes on the market. Steve Stilgenbauer of “West Coast Coin and Collectibles” tells us that in August of 1991, Butterfield and Butterfield Auctions in San Francisco auctioned a group of 1928-S Walkers believed to be at least a half roll and possibly a full roll. The PCGS population reports for that time frame looked like this:
Even though these coins were listed in the catalog as “AU,” several knowledgeable dealers recognized these coins to be not only mint state, but high grade mint state. The coins were submitted to PCGS for grading. A comparison of the October and December of 1991 populations to the population at the time of the auction does show a significant increase in MS64 and MS65 grades. Although there is no hard evidence these auctioned coins account for the growth (significant increases in a rare date are very unusual), it is an educated assumption. Price did not drastically change during this period because even after the increase the certified populations are quite low in comparison to the number of collectors and investors in this series. However, one can imagine what could happen if a large group would suddenly come on the market. Collectors and investors do pay attention to condition rarities and pay accordingly.
Steve also tells of how quickly good fortune may come your way. He had the opportunity a few years ago to purchase an original roll of 1941-P Walkers. Although a common date, the roll was spectacular. Out of the 20 pieces two pieces were graded MS65 by PCGS, 12 pieces MS66 and 5 pieces MS67 (one piece is unaccounted for). A truly exceptional roll of which there may be more lurking somewhere. Finds like this are exciting and even common dates can have a market impact if superior quality coins are discovered.
Another interesting accumulation came into public knowledge in the mid 1980′s. Mark Striley, a west coast dealer, tells of a local collector who over the years assembled a “roll” set of uncirculated walkers. What a dream collection this was. Mark visually inspected some of these rolls and unsuccessfully pursued the acquisition when the owner passed away. He does not know for certain who finally ended up with this group, but knows It was carefully dispensed to avoid any market impact.
Things in general were different in the fifties and sixties. John Marshek tells of some of his dealings during that time. He was born and raised in Iowa and while going through college worked at the Dean Oaks dealership. Chris Schenkal, as some of you know, built a large collection that was recently auctioned at Superior Galleries in Beverly Hills, California. Mr. Schenkal made many walker purchases at the Dean Oaks dealership. John recalls many transactions with Mr. Schenkal and others, including an original roll of 1916-S walkers that sold for $260! His first mint state 1921-S came on a trade for an original roll of 1916-D’s.
John remembers Ray and Roy Laurence sorting through a mint state “bag” of 1937-D’s cherrypicking the best. It was during this time that John was selling short sets made from original rolls at around $25 per set. It took salesmanship to sell these even at that price. He says the toughest one in that set to find with a decent strike was the 1942-S. John has built many high quality sets of walkers over the years. In higher grades, MS64 and MS65, he suggests the 1918-D and 1920-D are the real sleepers of the series and the 1920-S is frequently underrated.
Original rolls, and possibly bags of many of the late-dates in this series undoubtedly exist. The current populations of certified mint-state coins of most dates in the so-called “short set” (1941-1947 P-D-S mints) are substantial and the introduction of additional coins should have little dramatic effect on their value. The discovery of a quantity of any of the early dates (before 1934) in mint-state would be a different matter. These coins (except for the 1917-p) are presently quite valuable and, if Morgan dollars are any example, would drop in price in the long run. However, in the short run prices may actually increase! Witness the government sale of hundreds of thousands of Carson City dollars during the Nixon administration. Even today, they still sell for far above the government’s selling price.