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Editor's note: This article is a part of a series reviewing Utah and U.S. history for KSL.com's Historic section.
SALT LAKE CITY — For years until his death in 2009, Larry H. Miller wasn’t just a Utah business magnate and NBA owner, he was also secretly an avid coin collector.
Miller left behind a wide array of rare coins worth millions that only a select few people in the coin collecting industry knew about. With the help of a couple of representatives working on his behalf, Miller amassed one of the largest and top-quality rare coin collections ever known.
It features "a checklist" of some of the most famous coins ever struck with an example of every U.S. coin design ever minted within it, said Brian Kendrella, president of Stack’s Bowers Galleries, which is one of the most well-known auctioneering businesses in the coin collecting world.
Up until now, the "Larry H. Miller Collection" — a collection of nearly 1,600 coins valued at about $25 million — was essentially unknown to the general public.
"Mr. Miller put this collection together on a very confidential basis," Kendrella said. "It was definitely done quietly. I would say within the rare coin industry, there was a handful of people that might have been aware that this was being built."
Soon, it will be on the market — and for a good cause. Stack’s Bowers Galleries plans to sell the collection of coins at auctions later this year, with the proceeds of those sales going toward the construction of a new children’s hospital in Lehi.
The sale, Kendrella said, is one that may go down as something talked about in the coin collection world "for decades."
In all, Miller’s collection included four coins now valued at at least $1 million — and two more valued at $500,000 or more. The most prized of all the coins is an 1804 Draped Bust Silver Dollar, which was evaluated as at least $3 million alone.
The coin features an 1804 stamp, but it’s actually three decades younger than that, struck in 1834. The 186-year-old coin wasn't a part of official U.S. currency; rather, it was created during Andrew Jackson’s presidency as a gift to foreign leaders.
At that time, the country would gather a coin from every year to be sent over. The problem, Kendrella explained, is that the U.S. didn’t strike any coins in 1804. So the 1804 coin was created as a "filler" to complete a set.
All these years later, it’s become arguably the most-coveted ever minted.
"It’s known as the 'king of coins' within America’s numismatics," Kendrella said. "It’s the most highly-desired and most-highly valuable coin of all silver dollars. There are only eight known Class I originals, which the coin we’ll be offering from the Larry Miller collection is a Class I."
Other rare coins up for auction include an 1894-S Barber Dime, which was valued at $1.25 million and up, as well as a 1794 Flowing Hair Silver Dollar and an 1884-S Morgan Silver Dollar, each valued at $1 million and over.
If an 1894-S Barber Dime might sound familiar, it might be because Utah businessman Dell Loy Hansen purchased an 1894 S-Barber dime for $1.32 million last year, which inched him closer to collecting every coin ever minted in the U.S. at the time.
Miller’s collection also includes an 1886-O Morgan Silver Dollar valued at $750,000 and up, as well as an 1849 Mormon $10 coin, valued at $500,000 and up.
The latter of the two were minted by early Mormon pioneer settlers before the U.S. territory of Utah was even established, and made from gold discovered by Mormon Battalion members in California that was brought back to the Salt Lake Valley. Brigham Young helped design the first coins, which were minted in December of 1848.
A set of seven 1849 Mormon coins fetched over $1.8 million at a 2014 auction.
There’s a reason coin values and purchases change frequently, Kendrella explained. For example, the 1894 S-Barber Dime was valued at $1.25 million or more, but it may end up receiving more than what Hansen paid for in 2019 because it’s graded as being in better condition — perhaps the best condition of the nine of the coins known in existence.
In addition to its condition, there are also very few buyers able to absorb the cost of a million-dollar coin.
"You’ve got eye appeal — what does the coin look like? Does it have beautiful rainbow toing? Is it original? And then you’ve got the factors of who is competing that particular day at auction," he said.
The auctions are set to be held on Nov. 12 and Dec. 17 at the Stack’s Bowers Galleries November and December showcase auctions.
The announcement of the coin auctions comes months after Gail Miller, Larry’s widow, and current chair of Larry H. Miller Group of Companies, and the Miller family pledged $50 million toward the hospital’s construction when Intermountain Healthcare announced it. Their pledge happened when the plans for the hospital and a children's health care system were released in January.
I think the collection is incredible (and) obviously what they’re using the proceeds for is — I’m not even sure I can find the right words. It’s very admirable and honorable.
–Brian Kendrella, president of Stack’s Bowers Galleries
The donation was reportedly the largest in the family’s history that includes many philanthropic efforts. The hospital, which is a part of Intermountain Healthcare's $500 million plan for a national model health system for children, is expected to open in 2023.
Larry H. Miller Group of Companies declined a request for comment from KSL.com for this story. Kendrella said it’s believed all the proceeds from the sale will go toward the $50 million pledge made in January and not an additional donation.
It’s rare but not heard of for rare coins and coin collections to go solely toward charity. In 2015, and on the heels of the viral "ice bucket challenge," the Stack’s Bowers Galleries facilitated a coin collection auction for ALS research from a collector who had been diagnosed with the disease, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
Sometimes it’s not known where the proceeds go toward, but many clients are also involved in philanthropic efforts, Kendrella said.
"I think this one’s unique in terms of the size, the value and notoriety of Mr. Miller in general," he said. "I think the collection is incredible (and) obviously what they’re using the proceeds for is — I’m not even sure I can find the right words. It’s very admirable and honorable."
It’s not the only community commitment announced by the Miller family and the company this year. In August, the company announced it would turn Vivint Arena and a few of its Megaplex theaters in Salt Lake County into polling centers for the November election. It was announced Aug. 28, along with other NBA teams as a joint agreement from the league and the NBA Players Association to address social reform.
Contributing: Ryan Miller, KSL.com