Exceptional Mint State Trade Dollar
From the final year for Trade Dollar production before the Proof Only issues of 1879 through 1885, total mintage for 1878-S is the fourth highest of the series behind only 1877-S, 1876-S, and 1875-S. However, even though this issue also shows the highest PCGS Population in MS66 and finer, the extreme popularity of the type leaves very few coins available for those collectors waiting for just one.
Bruce Morelan was very thorough as he built his collection of Mint State Trade Dollars, and every ‘finest known’ is included in that set. Fortunately, there are a few ‘extra’ 1878-S Trade Dollars that survive in the upper grades, mostly from a small hoard of 25 discovered in 1989 laying loose in the bottom of a safety deposit box. This group is commonly known as the ‘Seattle’ hoard as thirteen of those coins were later offered at the Heritage Seattle 1990 ANA sale, including seven graded PCGS MS64, five MS65, and one MS66. Additionally, that 1990 sale included a single 1878-S Trade Dollar certified as PCGS MS67 that was not part of the group, the coin that is now certified as PCGS MS68.
The 1878-S Trade Dollar offered here is also obviously not from the ‘Seattle’ group, as it displays the most vivid, natural toning of any of the high grade survivors. Luster is unquestionably original and glowing under clear, natural shades of amber, rose, russet, blue and green. The surfaces are nearly clear of all contact, with only a thin, skipping abrasion down Liberty’s left forearm of note.
Of the eleven Mint State Trade Dollars certified as MS67 and MS68 by PCGS, a remarkable seven coins are included in the incredible Bruce Morelan set of Mint State Trade Dollars now owned by a collector known by the pseudonym ‘Black Cat’. The four coins not included in the Morelan-‘Black Cat’ set are an 1875 MS67 which appears to be a recent addition to the PCGS census, an 1875-S MS67 PCGS #05661128, the 1878-S MS68 PCGS #21817934, and this 1878-S MS67.
Both the 1875-S MS67 and 1878-S MS68 are included in the CAC Census at their respective grades, and both have sold recently, which provides some pricing structure for Mint State Trade Dollars at the highest grade levels. The 1875-S has been sold twice by Heritage Auctions, with sales in January 2012 at $69,000 and then January 2019 at $51,600. Both the PCGS MS67 grade and the CAC approval seem to be a bit of a stretch as the long, skipping scrape in the left obverse field, the hard reed marks near the lower left rim, and the long mark in the upper reverse field should have all combined to push this one out of the MS67 class. The most recent discounted sale reflects the market’s recognition that this MS67 isn’t quite up to par, and that the pricing power of the CAC sticker has now worn off. The 1878-S MS68 was also sold by Heritage Auctions in their January 2019 sale, bringing a very strong $252,000 despite its muddled fingerprint film. While the MS68 is the highest graded by both PCGS and CAC, the finest known 1878-S Trade Dollar is certainly the MS67 in the Morelan – ‘Black Cat’ set.
Heritage Auctions, November 2010, lot 3826 @ $32,200 as NGC MS67 #3422817-003; Heritage Auctions, April 2013, lot 4359 @ $49,938 as PCGS MS67 #25054734; Heritage Auctions, January 2017, lot 5720 @ $47,000 as PCGS MS67 #25054734 to Oliver Jung; ‘The Type Set’ by Oliver and Lish Jung.