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Morgan Dollars

Written by Q. David Bowers, Chairman Emeritus

Author: Q. David Bowers / Thursday, January 10, 2013 / Categories: From the Desk of Q. David Bowers
This week’s commentary has to do with Morgan silver dollars, one of my favorite specialties. Of all series of United States coins from half cents to double eagles, Morgan silver dollars are the widest collected among late 19th and early 20th century coins. And, well they should be!

Minted from 1878 to 1904, then again briefly in 1921, this series of silver dollars comprises nearly 100 different dates, mintmarks, and major varieties as enumerated in A Guide Book of United States Coins. Of these, more than 50% can be obtained in Mint State for just a few hundred dollars or even less, with some being priced below $50! Considering the entire series, the major rarity is the 1895 Proof, of which just 880 were struck and perhaps 600 to 700 existing today, plus the elusive 1889-CC and the key 1893-S. Beyond these three, all are quite affordable, if not in Mint State, then at some high circulated level.

On February 28, 1878, Congress passed the Bland-Allison Act. At the time the price of silver metal on the international market was in a deep slump. Large production from the Comstock Lode (centered about Virginia City, Nevada) plus new discoveries in Colorado and elsewhere brought to market a record supply, augmented by bullion in Europe from denominations that were earlier made mostly in silver, but which in the 1870s were changed to a lesser-content alloy. Western mining interests influenced legislators to persuade Uncle Sam to buy millions of ounces of silver each month and coin them into dollars. These were not needed for commerce, as except for the Rocky Mountain states, dollar bills took care of the denomination easily enough. Accordingly, hundreds of millions of pieces piled up in Treasury and bank vaults. In the 20th century these came to light, some of them slowly but in a great rush with the Treasury release of 1962 and 1963. Today as you read these words in 2013, even low-mintage coins such as Carson City dollars of 1882 to 1884 exist in Choice Mint State or even Gem Mint State by the hundreds of thousands! This furnishes a wonderful opportunity to build a fine collection. Also, although collecting silver three-cent pieces and half dimes can be fascinating, size does matter, and a large silver dollar is impressive to view. If you are presently involved in another specialty, no doubt you are experiencing great enthusiasm and pleasure. If not, perhaps Morgan dollars are worthy of your attention.