Hundreds of rare Mormon coins and bills sold privately in downtown Salt Lake City

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Approximately 600 pieces of rare US and Mormon currency were set to be auctioned off in a private auction at Rust Rare Coin in Salt Lake City, Thursday November 2, 2017.

Josh Rust has seen exciting collections before, but nothing quite like this: 500 to 600 pieces of historical currency, including early Mormon bills and coins, worth an estimated $1.5 million.

“There’s just a wide variety of things,” Rust said. “Money was issued by Mormons before they made it to Salt Lake, and then things that were issued once they were in Salt Lake.”

The collection will be displayed and sold at the Rust Rare Coin showroom in downtown Salt Lake City starting Friday after an invitation-only event Thursday night for private collectors and customers.

The collection came from a father and son based in Utah who have built it up over 40 years. It’s being sold by Rust Rare Coin on an outright sale and consignment basis.

Because of the scarcity of U.S. money in the West in the 1840s through the 1890s, Rust explained, Mormon pioneers and settlers often created their own bills and notes to exchange for goods and services.

Rust said early Mormon currency was often not uniform with value backed by livestock and was accepted only in certain regional areas, but was a “known commodity.”

Among the collection is a Kirtland Note worth an estimated $32,000. Before the Mormons arrived in Salt Lake City, some pioneer leaders set up the Kirtland Safety Society Anti-Banking Co. in the 1830s in Ohio to issue their own currency.

“A lot of those notes that were issued are now collectible and sought after,” Rust said. “They were a part of that Mormon history and carry signatures from Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon and other prominent Mormon pioneer members.”

Also included in the collection are a 1907 $20 Saint-Gaudens gold piece worth more than $20,000, and a misprinted bill from 1934 with a $5 denomination on one side and $10 on the other — worth $23,000.

“There’s not anything that’s a six-figure coin in the deal,” Rust said, “but there’s plenty of heavy material.”

The collection includes dozens of examples of rare currency that Rust usually sees only “one or two” of per year.

He said the collection has extra value in Salt Lake City because of local and out-of-state buyer connections to the LDS Church.

“There’s oftentimes that we have exciting material in, but to have as much and as much variety is what sets it apart,” he said. “It’s the neatest one that we’ve had in the last few years, anyway.”

Rust said because of the sheer size of the collection, it was always likely that it would need to be broken up eventually. There’s some sadness in seeing the coins and bills dispersed, he said, but “it’ll be fun” to have it in the showroom and shared among a number of people as its sold off piece by piece.

“We’re always looking at coins, but a lot of it is kind of the same thing over and over,” Rust said. “So when you have something that’s unique like this, it’s really exciting to go through it.”