Dennis Cassinelli: Lavere Redfield’s hoard of silver dollars
In a previous article. I told of my fascination for silver dollars. This article was picked up by a national coin collecting publication and as a result, my sales of Chronicles of the Comstock have soared. They also reprinted my story about the Carson City coin Press No. 1.
So now, I will tell the amazing story of Lavere Redfield’s hoard of silver dollars. This should be of interest to coin collectors everywhere. In 1974, Reno stock investor and real estate man Lavere Redfield passed away at the age of 77. He had been born in Utah and his father died when Lavere was an infant. Despite inheriting a multi million dollar oil rig tool company, the family struggled during the early Depression years. When Lavere was 24 years old, he married his wife, Nell, and moved to Los Angeles where he started investing in stocks.
Somehow, Redfield had a talent for buying stocks low and selling high at considerable profit. He was able to make more money that way during the Great Depression of the 1930s than in times of prosperity. With profits from his stock investments, Redfield started purchasing real estate at tax sales and oil wells coming out of bankruptcy. In 1935, he heard of the threat of a California State Income Tax, so he decided to relocate to Reno.
Lavere and Nell bought a 15-room fieldstone house and surrounding farm at Mount Rose and Forest Streets in southwest Reno and started converting much of his wealth into silver dollars. His appearance in public was nothing like one would expect of a wealthy person. He drove around in a beat-up Chevy pickup and wore casual flannel shirts and blue jeans wherever he went.
In Reno, Redfield tried potato farming for a while, then started buying large parcels of land in the Mount Rose and Lake Tahoe areas. He also bought up parcels being given up by the Southern Pacific Company from the days when the railroad had been granted every other section of land for development.
Lavere loved to gamble and was often seen in his usual garb at Nevada casinos playing blackjack and roulette. My mother, Phyllis and my Aunt Clare, were blackjack dealers at Harolds Club in those days. They both remembered Redfield when he came into the clubs to gamble. They remarked he was a great tipper and the tips were always in silver dollars. He was known to win or lose up to $250,000 at a session, but if he won, he would always ask to be paid in silver dollars. Casinos in those days used real silver dollars like modern casinos use chips today. If Lavere was on a winning streak, he would sometimes take an attractive dealer to dinner.
Whenever Redfield made money on a real estate transaction, he would ask the bank to pay him with canvas bank bags, each containing 1,000 silver dollars. He routinely took these home in his pickup truck and slid them down a coal chute into the basement of his house. There were times when thieves broke into the house and stole thousands of dollars worth of coins and jewelry.
In 1952, Redfield had to serve 18 months in jail and paid a $60,000 fine for income tax evasion after police investigating the robberies determined income taxes and not been paid on his gambling winnings.
Upon LaVere’s death in 1974, his estate was estimated in the millions. Executors and the IRS found 680 bags of gold and silver dollars hidden away behind a false wall in the basement of the house. There were 407,283 Morgan and Peace dollars; 351,259 of these were uncirculated. This stash of silver coins weighed more than 22,000 pounds or 11 tons! The coins were divided up and sold at auction, a few at a time, so as to not impact coin prices adversely. The price paid by the winning dealer at the auction for the hoard was $7.3 million. The price today for the entire collection would be much higher. Remember, these coins were gathered when each coin was valued at $1. Today, even a common date silver dollar is worth over $22. Disregarding premium prices for rare coin specimens, the silver value alone of the silver dollars in Redfield’s hoard would be over $10 million in today’s market.
Dennis Cassinelli is a Dayton author and historian. You can order his books at a discount on his blog at denniscassinelli.com.