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Collecting Morgan Silver Dollars
Introduction to Morgan Silver Dollars
The Morgan Dollar is often called the "King" of American Silver Dollars. Virtually every collector I know has at least one of these magnificent coins in their collection. This lens goes over the basics of the Morgan Dollar series. The coin's engraver was George T. Morgan, hence the name given to the series of coins "Morgan" dollar. The Morgan dollar was minted from 1878 until 1921 when the silver dollar design was changed to the Peace Dollar.
How Many and Where they are on the Coin
The Morgan silver dollar was stuck at five different mints: Philadelphia, New Orleans, San Francisco, Carson City, NV, and Denver. If the coin has a mint mark, it will be found below the eagle on the reverse (back) of the coin. See the figure for the "CC" below the eagle. Coins struck at the Philadelphia mint don’t have a mint mark. The mint mark for New Orleans is an “O” and Denver is a “D”. In general, the coins with the CC and S mint marks are the scarcest and the dollars with no mint marks (minted in Philadelpia) are the most common.
Highlights of the Morgan Silver Dollar Series
Some of the more Interesting Coins in the Series
The series started in 1878 and that year’s Philadelphia’s minted dollar had several different die varieties. The first major variety had the eagle’s tail on the reverse with eight tail feathers. This wasn’t correct; eagles only have seven tail feathers so the die was changed to have seven tail feathers. There are some varieties that have seven over eight tail feathers. The seven tail feathers variety also comes with two other variations: one has a slanted top arrow feather and a convex eagle’s breast; a second variety has parallel top arrow feather. There are actually other minor variations to this first year of issue.
If you are looking for a really nice Morgan dollar for your collection you need to consider the 1881-S. The 1881-S is the most available Morgan dollar in mint state for the years 1878 to 1904. Many have proof-like surface and they are typically well struck. Expect to pay $150.00 to $200.00 for MS-65 (Gem BU) dollar. The mintage on the coin was 12,760,000 and it is estimated that approximately half are still in mint state.
The San Francisco mint produced the great rarity of the series, the 1893-S. These have a very low mintage of only 100,000. Most of the coins issued by the San Francisco minted circulated in the Western states. These coins were used for day-to-day transactions and saw considerable usage. The 1893-S is routinely found in circulated condition with few mint state coins surviving. Since this coin is so rare, it is always best to purchase a coin that has been authenticated and graded by one of the reputable grading services. Expect to pay around $5,000.00 for a circulated 1893-S dollar. A mint state coin will set you back around $100,000.00. Too rich for my pocket book!
By 1904 the supply of bullion silver purchased under the Sherman Acts of July 14, 1890 had been exhausted and the minting of Morgan Silver Dollars came to an end. In 1910 the original hubs for the Morgan dollar were destroyed and the Treasury had million of Morgan dollars in their vaults. By 1921 there was renewed interest in minting the Morgan dollar. New hubs had to be designed to mint the new coins. These coins would be used as backing for the paper Silver Certificate Notes. These new dies had a shallower relief and the resulting coins were slightly different than the issues of 1878 to 1904. In 1921 the Philadelphia mint went all out and produced 44,690,000 coins that year. This was by far the highest mintage of the series. 1921 Morgan dollars are the most plentiful coins in mint state. Unlike the 1881-S dollars, the 1921 Morgan’s aren’t typically found with bright luster and surface can often be grainy or dull. The Denver and San Francisco mints also produced large numbers of dollars that year. The D and S mint marks are very small and you have to look closely on the reverse of the coin to see them. The 1921-D dollar was the only year the Denver mint struck a Morgan Dollar.
If you would like to own one of these lovely coins the good news is that most of the Morgan dollars are more common and you can pick up one at a coin shop, coin show, or on the internet for around $30.00 in circulated condition. A common date uncirculated coin can be purchased for around $50.00. When purchasing uncircualted coins you want to be aware that some of coins in almost uncircualted condition (AU) have been cleaned to make them appear fully uncirculated. My advice is to buy from a reputable dealer and ask if the coin has been cleaned.
The U.S. Treasury Releases Large Quantities of Morgan Dollars
Time to clean out the Treasury Valuts
In the early 1960’s the Treasury Department started to release large quantities of Morgan dollars into the coin collector market. The mint’s vaults were full of extra Morgan dollars and it was time to clean out the vaults. One consequence of the release of hundreds of thousands of dollars onto the market was an immediate drop in prices of the some of the rarer date coins. For example, the 1903-O dollar was considered rare and cost well over $1000 for an uncirculated coin. After the release of all the dollars onto the market, the price of a 1903-O had dropped to under $20.00. Now on eBay, you can buy an uncircualted 1903-O Morgan dollar for around $400.00.
GSA Silver Dollar Release of the 1970s
The Government markets their hoard of Morgan Dollars
By the early 1970’s nearly all of the silver dollars held in the U.S. Treasury’s vaults had been distributed. Remaining was around three million dollars, most of which were from the Carson City Mint. The dollars began to be distributed to the public though a series of mail bid sales organized by the General Services Administration (GSA). It was not until the early 1980’s that all of the silver dollars had been sold to the public. The coins were packaged in a hard plastic container and came in a black box with mint paperwork explaining the coin.
1884-CC Silver Dollar in a GSA Holder
Carson City Dollars
Collecting Dollars from the Old West
No collection of Morgan dollars would be complete without at least one dollar from the Carson City, Nevada Mint. They are easy to spot with the “CC” mint mark below the eagle on the reverse. The first Morgan dollar issued by Carson City Mint was the 1878-CC with a mintage of 2,212,000. This was a lower mintage than either the issues of the Philadelphia or San Francisco mints of the same year but turned out to be the second highest mintage of any of the CC Morgan dollars. A nice circulated example of this year’s CC dollar can be purchased for less than $200.00.
The 1879-CC and 1880-CC dollars are less common than the 1878-CC and are more costly. Similar to the 1878 Philadelphia dollar, the 1880-CC has many die varieties, some of the varieties of the 1880-CC are: 80 over 79, 8 over 7, 8 over high 7, 8 over low 7 and there are also reverse differences within this group also. Thanks to the Government Service Administration release of hundreds of thousands of CC dollars in the 1970’s the 1882, 1883, and 1884 Carson City dollars are available to collectors in unciruclated condition. Coins for these years can be purchased in the original GSA holder for around $200.00 to $250.00.
The 1885-CC was the last dollar issued before the mint was closed for four years. The mintage was on 228,000. This low mintage results in a much higher price for the 1885-CC dollar in any grade. Expect to pay around $500.00 for a circulated example. Minting of coins was halted in the years between 1886 and 1888 and no coins were issued during that time. The mint came back into operation in 1889 and produced the rarity of the Carson City dollar series.
The 1889-CC dollars is the rarest of the Carson City minted coins. The mintage for this coin is only 350,000. These coins saw general circulation and were not hoarded like other dates in the series which leaves very uncirculated examples available for collectors. For a problem free circulated coin in VF condition, expect to pay well over a thousand dollars. Uncirculated coins will cost more that $20,000.00. For rare coins like this it is best to have them professionally graded and encapsulated by one of the main services, such as, PCGS, NGC, ANACS, or IGC.
In 1890, 1891, and 1892 the Carson City mint was able to produce more than a million dollars each of these years and the dollars from these years can be purchased in the $200.00 to $300.00 range in circulated condition.
1893 was the final year of coin minting for the Carson City mint and the mintage figure for the 1893-CC was low with only 677,000 minted. Very few of the mint state coins from this year were saved and uncircualted dollars are very expensive. For a fully uncircualted example from 1893 expect to pay in the neighborhood of $5000.00 for a coin.
A Brief History of the Carson City Mint
The Old West gets it's own mint
The Carson City Mint opened its doors in 1870 to fill the need to process silver from the silver mines in that region of the current state of Nevada. A silver rush had started in 1859 in Nevada of prospectors trying to get rich off the abundant silver in Comstock Lode. The San Francisco mint which had gone into operation in 1854 was the closest mint to the silver and gold ore found in Nevada, the problem was the cost of transportation of the ore to the San Francisco Mint. The congress in the 1863 established the legal requirement for a branch mint in Carson City and the mint finally was completed in 1870. The mint only produced silver and gold coins; many of which are now rare and highly sought after by collectors.
The cost was underestimated to run the new branch mint and coin output had been small from the mint. Political pressure mounted and by 1885 the mint was closed and the workers were fired. The mint sat idle until 1889 when production was resumed. The presidential election of 1888 resulted in the Republican Benjamin Harrison as the new president. By early 1889 the Carson City mint was back in business. Production was slow to resume and coins weren’t actually produced until September of 1889. The partial production year resulted in the low mintage of the 1889-CC Morgan dollar which is now a great rarity of the entire series of dollars. The mint continued to mint coinage until 1893. By this time the production of the silver mines in the region was dwindling and the need for the mint had waned. The price of silver had also dropped and this further reduced mine production and hence a lesser need for the mint. In 1893 the role of the mint had was limited to that of an assay office. The Carson City facility was used to refine gold and silver ore from the mines in the region until 1933. The facility remained closed until 1941 when it became the home of the Nevada State Museum.
Carson City, Nevada Mint
Price Guide for Morgan Silver Dollars
How much should you pay for your new Morgan Dollar?
If you want to start collecting Morgan dollars or just add a few more to your collection you will need to know the current pricing for the coins. No one wants to pay too much for a coin and feel like they were cheated. On the other hand, what if you bought a Morgan dollar way to cheap – did you just buy a cleaned, damaged, or counterfiet coin? No one is giving the old treasures away so it is very important to know current market prices. The price below (updated July 2014) were taken from actual eBay sales, sales at coin shows, and sales in our coin shop. These are real prices people have paid for these coins.
The prices in the table below are broken down by date group, that is, pre-1921 and 1921. The price are the for the most common dates, that is, the rare dates cost many multiples of the prices below. The 1921 is the most common date and that effects the price. Notice also that the prices are dependent on the grade of the coin, for example, VG-VF. The Lens just isn’t long enough for me to go into how to grade coins so I’ll refer you to some of the books I have listed in the Amazon section on coin grading. Learning how to grade coins is very important and I strongly recommend you learn how to do this. On uncirculated coins, expect to pay more for coins with nice original luster and problem free surfaces. Collectors like nice coins that look like they just left the Mint.
Pre-1921 AG-G condition $25 to $27
Pre-1921 VG-VF $29 to $31
Pre-1921 XF $32 to $34
Pre-1921 AU $38 to $42
Pre-1921 BU $48 to $55
1921 XF-AU $26 to $28
1921 BU $37 to $40
Video on Counterfeit Morgan Dollar Detection
Reference Material for this Lens
Bower, Q. David. A Guide Book Morgan Silver Dollars – A Complete History and Price Guide. 2nd ed. Whitman Publishing, LLC. 2005.
Yeoman, R.S. 2015 A Guide Book of United States Coins. Kenneth Bressett Editor. 68th ed. Whitman Publishing, LLC. 2014.
Breen, Walter. Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins. F.C.I. Press, Inc. Doubleday. 1988.
All coin pictures are by the author. Carson City Mint photo courtesy of U.S. Department of the Treasury.