The Great Silver Dollar Hoards
— Danny Freeman
Perhaps no other United States coin ever made stirs the human imagination more than the silver dollar. Images of the old west, poker tables, saloons, and bank robbers all come to mind when the silver dollar is the subject of discussion. This is part 4 of a series that examines the “Hoards” of dollars that have become famous and are known to the collector.
The Redfield Hoard
LaVere Redfield is the classic “rags to riches” American success story. Born in poverty in 1897 in Ogden, Utah, Redfield would amass a huge fortune from stocks and later real estate. Along the way he also stashed away hundreds of thousands of U.S. silver dollars that would become known as the “Redfield Hoard.”
Living in a fatherless home as a young child, LaVere watched his mother do whatever she could to earn money and put food on the table; he learned the habit of “thrift” from her and it stayed with him all of his life. In his teens, the family moved to Idaho, and he worked after school at all kinds of odd jobs, including digging potatoes. In his early 20’s he got a job as a clerk in a department store where he fell in love with a co-worker and they were married. Hearing that there were lots of opportunities in California, they soon moved to Los Angeles. Within a short period of time, the natural born “go-getter” was a stock broker. When The Depression hit in 1929, he prospered; he had a knack for buying stocks at rock bottom prices and selling at the right time. By the late 1930’s he was worth several million dollars. He never trusted banks and stuffed cash in hiding anywhere he could. As the banks began foreclosing on distressed properties, he began putting his money in real estate; he would show up at bank auctions with large grocery bags full of cash to buy property.
Even as wealthy as he was, he still was very thrifty. Driving an old pickup and even delivering vegetables for a small fee for local farmers. He didn’t drink or smoke, but his one vice was gambling. This would lead him to Las Vegas and Reno. He liked the Reno area very much and purchased a stone house near Mt. Rose in 1935. He would accumulate over 50,000 acres of land around Lake Tahoe and Mt. Rose in the next 20 years. After World War II, he started buying bags of silver dollars from the banks and sliding them down the old coal chute at his home. He also had a large safe full of cash, jewels, and stocks. In 1952 one of his female blackjack dealers from a local casino took several of her male workers to his house and they stole the safe. Local police quickly arrested the thieves and recovered all of the contents except $150,000.00. The safe had contained over 1.5 million in cash and tens of thousands of dollars in jewels. The theft made huge headlines and it attracted the attention of local IRS agents who discovered that LaVere’s tax returns had serious shortcomings. He would eventually be tried for income tax evasion. He acted as his own attorney, telling the judge that he could not afford one. He received a 5 year sentence and a $60,000 fine.
After serving a year and a half LaVere was paroled. He continued to buy land and hoard silver dollars. In late 1963, his home was robbed again. This time they stole over 100,000 silver dollars; this theft was never solved. He continued to work hard at making money even into his seventies. When he died in 1974, his estate was estimated near $200 million. Two different handwritten wills were found, and the legal entanglements began. The second will was determined to be a forgery and the estate went to his wife and a niece. Executors appointed by the courts would find over 400,000 silver dollars hidden in the basement behind fake walls made out of cardboard and cement that LaVere had fashioned himself. Stack’s Rare Coins were called in to do the appraisal. The estate then sold the coins to A-Mark for $5.2 million. Stack’s filed a lawsuit to recover the time and effort of the appraisal. The probate court would cancel the first sale, and scheduled a public sale. A-Mark would be the high bidder at $7.3 million, but other dealers involved also sued and the case would not be closed until 1983. A-Mark would finally take physical possession of the coins, but they could not market such a large hoard themselves.
A-Mark would team up with Paramount International Coin, John Love, Robert Hughes, and other dealers to disperse the vast holding. A plan was devised to spread the silver dollars out over several years so that it would not impact the coin market all at once. Paramount was very aggressive with their marketing; they placed their dollars in red plastic holders showing it was from the Redfield Hoard and placing a grade on it as well. Other dealers sold theirs in a quieter manner, afraid to upset the market.
The exact dates, mintmarks, and quantities have never been released to the public, but it is known from advertising of the coins they were overwhelmingly “S” mint dollars. Over a period of a few years, all the coins were sold, and the legacy of an eccentric millionaire endures to this day.
Do you think there could be another such hoard hidden away in some cold, dark basement? Only time will tell…
Comprehensive U.S. Silver Dollar Encyclopedia
Reno Coin Club