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The Eccentric Millionaire & The Secret Silver Dollar Hoard

A Silver Dollar from the Redfield Collection in a red holder denoting its MS-65 grade.

Learn About LaVere Redfield’s Impact on the U.S. Silver Market

Throughout the years, individuals for one reason or another seek to build coin collections. Many are driven by the joy of the treasure hunt, while others enjoy learning about the history of a coin. However, there are some who distrust banks so much that they view coin collecting as the only way to build and preserve their wealth outside the banking systems. LaVere Redfield was one of those people. This is the story of the Redfield Hoard, the world’s largest Morgan Silver Dollar collection ever found.

Redfield is regarded as an obsessive coin hoarder who compiled a whopping 600,000 (and counting) Silver dollars in his 76 years. Born in 1897 into a poor Utah family (according to him), Redfield died a millionaire. In his early twenties, he moved to Idaho Falls where he worked on a potato farm. Tired of working in the fields, Redfield moved to Burley, Idaho to find work doing anything else. He took up a job as a sales clerk and eventually sales manager at a store. It was there that Redfield met Nell Rae Jones, a widow, and coworker. The two fell in love and married in 1922.

Their honeymoon to Los Angeles introduced him to the alluring stock market, and he began to enthusiastically buy up stocks. This discovery stayed with him, and in 1929 he and Nell moved from Burley, Idaho to Los Angeles, California. Redfield was a successful stock investor and owned many properties and oil land near Los Angeles. His success in the stock market was due to his tendency to buy stocks that were at low prices after they had been hit hard by the 1929 stock market crash. He also bought up real estate at tax sales during the Great Depression and by 1932 he was a certified millionaire.

It is still unknown to this day why the Great Depression never ruined Redfield or hit him hard like it did others in the industries he worked in.

The Great Depression and the stock market crash resulted in many Americans distrusting paper, or “fiat” money, and the banking system for keeping their financial value secure. Adding to the country’s concerns, President Franklin Roosevelt took the United States currency off the Gold standard in 1933 and signed Executive Order 6102. It forbade “the hoarding of gold coin, gold bullion, and gold certificates within the continental United States”.

The rationale behind this executive order was to prevent individuals from hoarding Gold, claiming that it was stalling economic growth and prolonging the Great Depression. The government created monetary incentives for people who surrendered their Gold to them, however, it was widely believed that the government did not offer enough compensation.

LaVere Redfield answering a phone call.

The Rise in Silver Hoarding

FDR did not expect individuals to hoard silver instead of gold, but that is exactly what happened. LaVere Redfield was one such individual. During this time anything from American dimes to half dollars was still 90% Silver, making them an excellent hard asset to have. However, the extent that Redfield went to amass the Silver fortune he did was extreme.

In 1935 Redfield moved to Reno, Nevada. One of his suspected motivations for this move was because Nevada at that time did not have a state income tax, corporation tax, or inheritance tax. After the Executive Order 6102 was issued, Redfield cashed in some of his assets and used the money to buy several bags of Morgan Dollars and Peace Silver Dollars. Initially, he hid his Silver collection in a coal cellar and would toss the bags of coins down a coal chute as he acquired more and more Silver dollars. This was the beginning of what would later become known as the Redfield hoard.

Although Redfield lived a secretive life in Reno, driving an old truck and wearing worn clothes, word has a way of getting out. Rumors began to swirl that poor old Redfield was not quite so poor. Eventually, he was attacked, and more than once. Throughout his time in Nevada, he was subject to both attempted and successful burglaries by those who wanted his wealth for their own.

In 1952 when Redfield was out gambling, burglars broke into his home and took his safe which was reported to have contained $2,500,000 in cash, securities, and jewelry. Newspapers across the country wrote about this break-in because it was believed to have been the richest theft in American history. The incident became so talked about that the FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover, became involved and investigated the burglary. Eight people were arrested by the FBI in connection to the crime, and Redfield was detained by the FBI too. Once the court proceedings started, he refused to show for a subpoena in the trial regarding his stolen wealth. His avoidance led to his arrest. It is believed he did not appear because Redfield was camera-shy and paranoid about having his photo taken. Photos captured of him often showed the man trying to hide his face from the camera.

There were some surprising revelations and allegations from that trial. There was uncertainty in the dollar amount stolen since Redfield could not stick to a number (it ranged from $1.5 million to $2.5 million). It was also alleged that Redfield’s girlfriend had planned the burglary in the first place.

Most surprising of all was that during a police investigation of Redfield’s home, a secret room was found behind a wall in his basement and in it contained over 270,000 Silver dollars and a hoard of postage stamps. He was forced to store those assets in a bank upon its discovery.

Fast forward to 1961 and another burglary occurred when thieves were smart enough to feed Redfield’s guard dogs steak to keep them distracted. They took two safes; however, the contents were never disclosed, and Redfield claimed to be uncertain what was in those safes. He guessed that they could have contained $1,000 and $100 bills, potentially $250,000 in securities, and $10,000 in Silver.

Redfield’s Later Years & Legacy

The slippery man who was anti-government and anti-banks was, unsurprisingly, charged with tax evasion in his lifetime.

Redfield failed to report $1,178,964 in income between 1953 and 1956 and was indicted by a federal grand jury in 1960. When his trial started, he claimed he could not afford an attorney, so he represented himself in court. Redfield’s two psychiatrists stated in court that he was so utterly consumed with making money that it skewed his judgment when he refused to hire an attorney. The law frowned on this argument and convicted him anyway. He was convicted of six of the eight counts of tax evasion and sentenced to five years in prison and a fine of $60,000. Redfield only served two years because the prison authorities claimed he had a heart condition. His wife Nell also had two heart attacks while he was in prison, contributing to the plea for his release.

In the end, it was a heart attack that ended Redfield’s life in 1974. The following obituaries gave more detailed descriptions of his odd and paranoid behavior. Redfield would travel the country to accrue more Silver dollars and even went as far as Pennsylvania. The man frequented city hall meetings to try and lower his property taxes and he never wanted his photograph in the newspaper.

At the time of his death his fortune was estimated to be $46 million. Hundreds of bags of Silver dollars were found in the secret room in Redfield’s basement, and instead of selling off the hoard in pieces, the Silver coins were sold as a collection for 7.3 million in 1976. The hoard had 407,000 Silver coins, weighing approximately 12 tons. The coins have since been sold individually and PCGS and NGC include the Redfield name on coin holders that contain coins from that collection.

Owning A Redfield Silver Dollar

The Redfield Collection is one of the world’s most valuable collections of Silver dollars. The coins in the collection are highly sought after by collectors and investors. Many of the coins in the collection have been graded and certified by professional coin grading services such as PCGS and NGC. These coins typically sell for significantly higher prices than non-certified coins.

The story of Lavere Redfield and his Silver dollar hoard is an intriguing one. It is a story of eccentricity, obsessions, gambling, and the extreme lengths a man went to amass great wealth.

As an example, a typical Silver Morgan Dollars sell for around $30 depending on the spot price, however, a Morgan dollar from the Redfield hoard with certification can bring in upwards of $1,000.

The Redfield dollar was sold with three colors of inserts: blue-black (MS-60), maroon (MS-65), and green (exceedingly rare, MS-70). In a blue-black holder, the coin is usually graded 60 to 61. The most common range for a coin in a maroon presentation is 62 to 65. The best grade of the coin is higher than 65 in a green holder. Before buying Morgan or Peace dollars, potential purchasers should learn how to grade them themselves (or work with a qualified dealer), as there is no third-party grading service for these coins in holders, like NGC’s GSA dollar service that uses blue wrappers. You can see Morgan Silver dollars from the Redfield/Paramount collection at APMEX that come protected in recognizable red holders that denote a MS-65 grade. APMEX offers several different Morgan dollars from the Redfield/Paramount collection that were minted from 1878 to 1902. APMEX also has a competitive purchasing program and will buy Redfield Morgan Dollars from numismatic collectors seeking liquidity.

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