The Most Valuable U.S. Coin?

The following is from a brochure on the 1885 trade dollar issued by New England Rare Coin Galleries circa autumn 1974:


One of the great controversial topics in numismatics has always been: "What is the most important and potentially the most valuable U.S. coin?"

Certainly, if it were ever offered for sale, the unique 1849 double eagle would bring more than any other U.S. coin. However, it is permanently impounded in the Smithsonian collection and will probably never be sold.

The extremely high relief double eagle [MCMVII], recently sold for $200,000, has been called the most desirable of all U.S. coins. However, a total of 16 were struck and at least 10-12 specimens are collectable. Hence, the coin, although rare, is not really rare enough to be the most valuable.

The 1913 Liberty nickel is another possibility. However, its credentials are somewhat unimpressive since all five known specimens have an unattractive appearance. Also, at least three specimens are collectable in that they are either for sale, or are likely to be offered for sale in the foreseeable future. One specimen is currently being offered for sale and was last quoted to us at $275,000.

So much publicity has been attached to the 1804 dollar that it has been made into a tremendously valuable coin. However, its availability (13 known) keeps it out of the price class of a number of other U.S. rarities.

The unique Wilkison-Paramount 1907 Indian Double Eagle pattern has had a value of $1 million placed on it. We cannot dispute this, since there is no way to prove or disprove such a value until the coin is sold. However, it seems unlikely that the coin will ever be sold individually, since it can only be part of a meaningful collection containing other extremely rare U.S. gold patterns. We feel almost certain that most of the [John E.] Wilkison collection will be sold as one unit, and the coin is most likely destined to be permanently impounded in a museum or into a collection which will not be sold in the foreseeable future.

We at N.E.R.C.G. have always considered the 1885 trade dollar to be among the most important and valuable of all U.S. coins. We feel that, in time, this 1885 trade dollar will prove to be THE MOST VALUABLE U.S. COIN! Here are some of the reasons:

1) The 1885 trade dollar is an immensely important coin. It is the undisputed key to a popular set. It is needed and desired by more serious collectors than the number of available pieces, since there are at least five collections that include an 1884 trade dollar but lack the 1885.

2) The 1885 trade dollar is excessively rare. Only 5 were struck, and of these, 3 are permanently impounded in famous major collections which are unlikely to ever be offered for sale. Thus, only two specimens remain to be considered collectable.

3) The 1885 trade dollar offered here is in the finest condition possible. It is equal or superior to all known specimens. The only other collectable specimen (Ex: Ewalt Collection, 1965) was abrasively cleaned and has severe hairlines. Our specimen is a choice, beautifully toned Proof—absolutely an unimprovable coin! Many of the dealers we showed it to considered it to be the finest known.

4) The 1885 trade dollar is one of the most infrequently offered of all U.S. coins. No 1885 trade dollar has been offered for sale since 1965 (Ewalt). No choice specimen has been offered since this one was last sold (Baldenhofer, 1955). Meanwhile, four extremely high relief double eagles have been sold in the past five years. 1804 silver dollars are offered for sale virtually every year. At least three 1913 Liberty nickels have traded hands within the past decade. Yet to our knowledge, only two 1885 trade dollars have been sold since 1942!

5) The 1885 trade dollar is one of the most famous and romantic of all U.S. coin rarities. It is an established U.S. rarity, not a recently promoted pattern or a coin whose value is based more on condition than rarity. It is indisputably the rarest collectable regular issue [sic] silver coin.

6) This 1885 trade dollar combines more of the attributes upon which value is based than any other United States coin (except possibly the unique and uncollectable 1849 double eagle). We feel certain that it will one day be recognized as the most valuable collectable U.S. coin!

We, at New England Rare Coin Galleries, are proud (and fortunate) to be able to offer this beautifully toned, absolutely choice Proof example of the 1885 Trade Dollar for sale.

N.E.R.C.G. acquired this coin along with a matching Choice Proof 1884 trade dollar at the 1974 Bal Harbour American Numismatic Association convention. The purchase was later acclaimed to be the bargain of the show. In fact, in the course of the show, we were offered substantial profits by five or six dealers, including a cash offer of $250,000 by a leading New York rare coin auction company. Note: (This is NOT a fictitious offer, and the name of the company will gladly be supplied on request.)

After careful deliberation, we decided to refuse the offer, since we would have been willing to pay that price (or perhaps even slightly more) for them ourselves had that been the asking price of the two coins when they were originally offered to us.

It is difficult to determine a fair market value for this coin, since no choice Proof has been offered for sale since this identical specimen was last sold in 1955. However, a comparable situation exists in the 1875 and 1876 $3 gold pieces which Stack’s auctioned in May. At that time, the 1876 realized $21,000. An 1875 which is not even twice as rare as the 1876 (the cataloger stated of the 1876: "This coin has a frequency appearance record almost comparable to the 1875.") realized $150,000—over seven times the price of the 1876!

In February, a choice 1884 trade dollar sold for $30,000. The same coin traded hands again in April for $42,500. A badly cleaned specimen with virtually no proof surface remaining traded hands at the A.N.A. for a reported $37,000. We feel that a choice specimen is now worth a minimum of $50,000.

Furthermore, there are 7 collectable 1884 trade dollars, and only 2 collectable 1885s. Thus the 1885 is much rarer in relation to the 1884 than the 1875 is in relation to the 1876.

We honestly feel that this coin could possibly realize as much as $500,000 if offered today at public auction. It is the only choice Proof example that is ever likely to be sold in the foreseeable future. It is probably the finest known example.

It is almost impossible to say what this fabulous coin will bring in the future, but it is a virtual certainty that its new owner will realize a substantial profit should he ever decide to sell the coin. Great numismatic rarities are currently among the best available investments one can make. And to further enhance the value, there is the tremendous satisfaction (and often fame) that comes from ownership of a classic rarity.

What’s more, we are offering the coin at what is surely a bargain price: $300,000.