Morgan Dollars

This week I return to one of my favorite subjects, Morgan silver dollars. If you are an old-timer you know all about them. If you are relatively new to numismatics, say in the past year, and haven’t explored this fascinating series, you might want to consider it.

First minted in 1878, pieces of the design by George T. Morgan were struck continuously through 1904. Production occurred at the Philadelphia, Carson City, New Orleans and San Francisco mints. Today, the issues from Carson City, generally made in small quantities are especially popular. There is good news concerning them. But first, I continue:

After the authorized amount of silver bullion ran out in 1904, no new dollars were made for a long time. Then, in 1921, the Treasury Department decided to make more to furnish backing for Silver Certificates. The old Morgan dollar master dies were no longer available, so new dies were made up, differing somewhat in relief and minor details from those used earlier. In 1921 large mintages occurred at Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco, the Denver Mint examples being the only Morgan dollars struck at that mint. The mintmarks were very tiny on the D and S coins, perhaps intended for dimes. In December 1921, the Morgan motif was dropped in favor of the new Peace silver dollars. These were made intermittently from 1921 through 1935.

The Guide Book of United States Coins, a good basic source, lists nearly 100 different dates and mintmarks of Morgan dollars from 1878 through 1921. Some other sub-varieties are listed as well, but if you stick to just basic dates and mintmarks you are looking at fewer than 100.

A wonderful thing about Morgan dollars is the fact that when they were made pursuant to congressional demands, there was very little need for them in circulation. Accordingly, they piled up in Mint and Treasury vaults, even in the Philadelphia post office at one point. There was not much interest in collecting them at the time. Years later Morgan dollars became popular, and by the 1950s there were many people collecting them.

Then in 1962 there was a great surprise: a long-sealed vault in the Philadelphia Mint was opened and revealed 1,000-coin bags of 1903-O dollars, each sparkling Mint State. Years earlier when the New Orleans Mint had closed, these had been sent to Philadelphia for storage, and then forgotten! The 1903-O dollar was rated as the rarest variety in the set, with just a handful of Uncirculated pieces known. The Guide Book priced them at $1,500. All of a sudden there was a bonanza. They were everywhere and anywhere, and the price dropped to as low as $14 each. A great rush ensued, and by March 1964 the great “silver rush” had emptied the Treasury vaults, stocks held by banks, and dollars stored everywhere else. Part of the bonanza included hundreds of thousands of low-mintage Carson City issues! Finally, in March 1964 the Treasury took stock of remaining pieces, about three million Carson City coins, set them aside, and later offered them for public sale.

The result is that today in 2013 it is possible to acquire more than half the dates and mintmarks for less than a few hundred dollars per coin. This is really amazing. A good way to start is to set a budget of, say, $300 per coin (or whatever you wish). Buy whatever you can in the way of MS-65 coins at that price. Then when done buy what you can in MS-64, and so on, going down to say, MS-62 or MS-63. Be sure to cherrypick for quality along the way. Before long you will have the majority of the set. Then you can investigate the other dates and mints on a one-by-one basis and determine what grades you want.

Morgan dollars are wonderful to collect. You will be well rewarded if you investigate.

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