The coin's whereabouts have been a mystery since 1973, when it made history as an error sold by the Mint.
I was too young to participate in the first General Services Administration (GSA) sales when they began in 1972. Most of the sales consisted of Carson City Silver Dollars (over 1.5 million dating 1882, 1883 and 1884). They were sold through seven public mail bid auctions to the highest bidder (beginning in 1972 through 1980), with an initial minimum bid of $30 per coin.
These coins had been stored for years at the US Treasury Building in Washington, DC in canvas bags, each containing 1,000 coins. The coins were moved in 1972 to the West Point US Silver Depository. (Opened in 1938 and located in West Point, New York, it would not become an official US Mint branch until 1988.) All of the bags were then opened, inventoried and evaluated.
During the evaluation process, a handful of "oddities" (as mint errors were often called back then) were discovered. But one was "eye-catching" — an 1882-CC that was struck off-center! It was referred to as the "Grand Snake" by Mint technicians. The terminology used internally by the Mint does not always correspond directly to what is used in the numismatic/collecting community. Thus, a "snake" coin is referred to as an off-center by collectors.nt to carry around.
Normally, these coins would be destroyed as they did not meet the Mint's technical requirements. Additionally, never had the US Mint ever sold a mis-strike (and for a profit)! The dilemma: what should be done with these error coins. After all, these were now historic artifacts over 90 years old.
The decision was made to sell the majority of these "oddities" along with all of the rest of the coins, but without any description or mention of the error except for the off-center. This coin would include a message informing the purchaser that the coin was different, a mint error and worth more than the other coins. The final step was to sonically seal each coin in a plastic case that was enclosed in a blue cardboard display box with official paperwork describing the coin.
The sale commenced on January 31, 1973, the coin was sold and, for one lucky random bidder, they were about to win the lottery!
Shortly after the sale, the new owner did come forward. It was Tom Reneke of Astoria, Oregon. He had indeed paid $30 for the 1882-CC Off-Center GSA Morgan Dollar. Initially, he was offered $2,000 for the coin by Fred Weinberg of Numismatics, Ltd. The offer from Fred was not acted upon, and it is not known what offer he accepted or when he sold the coin. However, from this point in time until earlier this year, the coin simply vanished from public sight.
What we can then loosely piece together is the following history of the coin. It subsequently sold, presumably, to a local dealer in the Oregon area. It was then resold to a private collector of GSA material and held in this collection for the past 20 to 30 years. Jack Kelly of the famed "The Toneddollars Collection" then acquired the coin, where it remained until being sold this year to the current owner, who wishes to remain anonymous.
When I was writing the "100 Greatest U.S. Error Coins" book, along with Fred Weinberg and Nick Brown, we searched exhaustively for this coin. We wanted to include it, but one of our criteria for inclusion was a high-definition photo of the coin, which we could not obtain. In fact, we could not find anyone who had any information on the current whereabouts of the coin. It was truly lost to history for almost 50 years... until now. Mystery solved!
The coin was recently submitted to NGC for authentication and grading. To date, this coin is unique in two ways: It is the farthest-known-off-center Carson City Morgan Dollar and the only one in a GSA holder. Personally, the chance to finally see and hold the coin was especially thrilling!
I recently called Fred Weinberg to update him on the coin and to get his thoughts on it. Here is what he had to say: "When we were shown this Off-Center Carson City Dollar at the West Point Depository in early 1973, I couldn't take my eyes off it. It was simply a magnificent example of an Off-Center Morgan Dollar, but the first I had ever seen or heard of from the Carson City Mint. (I was not even 23 years old!) Over the past 50 years, I always hoped that it would surface, and I could buy it, but it never came up on the market."
The new owner, upon receiving the coin back, had this to say: "The first time I became aware of the coin, I knew it was something remarkable and unique that I needed to make every effort to add to my collection. With all of the history and mystique of the Carson City Mint, the legacy of the GSA sale and the magic of coins left untouched in their original government holders, the unique provenance of being included in the GSA sale as a significant error coin (and being used to help promote the first wave of sales to the public in 1973), and then just the dramatic eye-appeal of the coin itself; it just checked so many boxes that I had to have it."
NGC Chairman Mark Salzberg was also captivated by the coin and commented: "The NGC team was thrilled to have the opportunity to see this coin! Carson City Mint Silver Dollars have become increasingly popular over the years, and this particular coin is an incredible example."
What a treat it was to see this coin, even if it was just for a short time. But who knows? Maybe I can convince the new owner to display it at an upcoming show. Fingers crossed.