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Bank Error in Your Favor!

27 Apr

bank_error

If you love U.S. coins and enjoy a good story, check out lots 267-282 in our upcoming auction. They are all quarter dollars, NGC encapsulated with “New Orleans Bank Find” stated inside the slab. Auction estimates range from $500-750 to $4,000-$6,000. All the coins are dated 1840 or 1841, and all but one have an O mintmark for the New Orleans mint.

The innocuous label “New Orleans Bank Find” belies the interesting story behind these coins. We don’t know where the coins originally came from, although we believe they were from an old bank in New Orleans that sat vacant for many years before being torn down to make way for a hotel. We don’t know how many coins were found because of the way in which they came to light. What we do know is that greed and the promise of easy money are always near and dear to the human heart.

backhoe digging in a city

On October 28, 1982, a backhoe operator clearing a lot in downtown New Orleans on Canal Street to make way for the new Meridien Hotel uncovered two boxes measuring 10” x 12” x 8”. The boxes broke open at the site, spilling out their contents of silver coins, and passersby eagerly jumped into the mud and muck to grab whatever they could. A construction worker at the site commented that people were “down in the ground in coats and suits and ties like hogs.” The onsite superintendent corroborated what happened in less colorful words: “It [the boxes] broke open and 200 hands got in it.” Before long, what was estimated to be a trove of 1,000 French, Spanish, Mexican and U.S. coins vanished, with the backhoe operator reportedly taking the lion’s share. It was Mardi Gras in October!

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No one wanted to report what he or she had found for fear of government confiscation of their colorful prospecting, but lawyers determined that the state could not lay claim to treasure found on private land. The owners of the then-incomplete hotel quickly posted guards at the site and the construction company accelerated its schedule by pouring concrete into the treasure hole. Now we’ll never know whether there were more boxes of coins yet to be found.

Mr. James H. Cohen, a coin and antiquities dealer who owns James H. Cohen & Sons, Inc. on Royal Street in New Orleans, saw many of the coins when people who got down and dirty to grab them wanted some idea of value or even to sell them. Mr. Cohen said the earliest piece he saw was a high-grade pillar 2 reales from Mexico City dated 1754 and the latest coin was a U.S. 1843 quarter dollar in AU condition, indicating that the hoard was probably buried shortly after that date. The rest of the coins ran the gamut from low grade to virtually uncirculated. Most of the Mexican 2 reales were well circulated and the foreign coins far exceeded the U.S. in quantity.

Finding a hoard like this is like taking a photo for posterity of what was being circulated at that time. Clearly Spanish colonial and Mexican coins were circulated along with U.S. coins. This went on until 1857 when banks were no longer required to exchange foreign coins for U.S. coins.

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Lot 267, Treasure Auction #19

The coins we have for auction are all U.S. quarter dollars minted in 1840 and 1841. According to Paul M. Green, a writer for Numismatic News, “the 1841-O as well as the 1840-O were relatively tough New Orleans Seated Liberty quarters. Each mintage was between 400,000 and 500,000 with the 1841-O at 452,000. It’s not by definition an easy date, and it has a premium price of $750 in MS-60 and $10,000 in MS-65.”

So, we hope you will appreciate the story behind these coins and want to have one for your very own. At least you won’t have to jump into a muddy pit to take possession!

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