Bowers on collecting: Collecting Morgan silver dollars part two

By Q. David Bowers

Continuing from my last column, I told about the release at the Philadelphia Mint in November 1962 of quantities of 1903-O dollars, hundreds of thousands of them. At the time the 1903-O cataloged in Mint State for $1,500 in the Guide Book of United States Coins, with no others priced higher. As I mentioned before, by that time I had been a dealer for nearly 10 years and had never seen an Uncirculated coin. Now, all of a sudden, they were readily available. To many, this was like finding gold in the streets!

As might be expected, the $1,500 catalog price did not hold for very long, and prices dropped, the lowest being $15 per coin for a 1,000-coin bag. Other silver dollars were released in quantity as well from that long-sealed vault, in particular, the 1898-O and 1904-O, both of which had been considered rare. Now they were available for not much more than face value.

If you were not there when this happened and you were predicting the outcome, you might expect that the market crashed. Coins that were once rare now became common. In actuality, this did not happen. First of all, as only a handful of Mint State 1903-O dollars were known and none had sold recently if anyone took a loss, I never heard about it. Within a year or two, the number of people collecting Morgan dollars increased from perhaps a few thousand to hundreds of thousands nationwide. The result is that prices rose and with the solitary exception of the 1903-O, each and every Morgan silver dollar in the 1962 Guide Book is worth much more today!

Collecting silver dollars is a very pleasant pastime, and if you are looking for a series to add you might consider them. From 1878 to 1921 there are slightly less than 100 different dates and mint marks. 70 to 80 percent of them can be collected in Mint State for under a few hundred dollars, and quite a few for under $100. If you invested in Microsoft when it first went public, or found oil on your property, by all means, strive for MS-65 coins, for which the rarest coin today — an 1893-S — would cost several hundred thousand dollars. Most of us are not so lucky, but we still like Morgan dollars. As part of your collecting experience, you might like to acquire a copy of my Whitman book A Guide Book of Morgan Silver Dollars, available from the Whitman website or any rare coin or book dealer. This contains a lot of history and narrative plus detailed information on each date and mint mark.

Among silver dollars, those of Carson City are very popular. A number of them, such as the 1882-CC shown here, are very affordable in Mint State.

A good way to go about collecting Morgan dollars is to use this formula, which I have recommended before. As a suggestion, pick Mint State 65 as a goal and buy coins certified by PCGS or NGC. However, eye appeal and quality can vary. Grade is one thing and overall desirability is another. Using certified coins is a start, cherrypick one for quality. Strive for brilliance, coins without spots or stains, and ones that are sharply struck. For some coin issues such as 1881-S, most are found this way in the marketplace. For others, 1891-O being an example, some are weak. With MS-65 as a goal, and depending on your budget (you can change my guidelines to fit your situation), buy every one you can find priced under $500. Go slowly, and in time you will have a very nice collection of dozens of different coins. As you receive them from dealers or by bidding at auction, study each with a magnifying glass, look at the design, and otherwise appreciate them. Then put them in a safe place. Once this is done, there will be other dollars that you still need. The next step is to take your list of these coins and buy every one in MS-64 that costs $500 or less. After you do that, your list will be smaller, and then buy every one that can be bought in MS-63 for $500 or less.

As mentioned, I used $500 as a guideline. If your budget is greater, you can use $1,000 or some other higher figure as the cutoff point. If your budget is more modest, you can use, say, $300. Whatever amount you choose, by being selective you’ll wind up with some nice coins.

After you finish in MS-63, you will have a very short want list. On it will be such items as 1879-CC, 1889-CC, 1892-S, 1893-S and a few others. Contemplate the values of these, and then individually purchase pieces you can afford. For example, an 1892-S is quite affordable in VF-20 or so grade. There is nothing wrong with circulated coins and the rationale for buying such, to give you a high comfort level, is that these coins were there and did that — were in circulation, passed hand to hand, and were part of the American scene.

See you in the next issue!

Dave can be reached via email at

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  1. Numismatrix says

    Thanks – Great guidelines on making Morgan purchases.
    When I purchase Morgans I generally look for the older
    slabs when grading was tighter than today. I also looked
    for nice eye appeal for the grade – I own a few 65’s,
    several 64’s and mostly 63’s. All are nice clean coins,
    some with rainbow toning. The GSAs tend to have bag marks
    in abundance for their MS grades.

    On a side topic it would be great to hear about the defunct
    branch mints : Dahlonega, Charlotte, New Orleans, and
    Carson City, and the rationale for closing them. The O mint
    mark was in abundance till the early 1900’s. What happened?
    When asked I often suggest that the Mint reopen these branch
    mints and strike coins to stir up interest in US Numismatics.
    They could do it since the economy is booming!

  2. SmallPotatos says

    “On a side topic it would be great to hear about the defunct
    branch mints : Dahlonega, Charlotte, New Orleans, and
    Carson City, and the rationale for closing them.”

    That would be a nice segue for “Mint News Blog”; news/history about extinct mints, and their coins, as well as the four mints of today (P, D,S, W).

  3. Throckmorton says

    If you can find any, look for the old Bowers and Merena Coin Reviews. I loved those magazines. Of course, they took the time to market their inventory and their company but who could blame them. Aside from all the coins and wonderful descriptions, the issues were loaded with articles on mints, coin series, historical items, etc.

    Mr Bowers can write about what ever he chooses but I would like for him to expand/update his thoughts from his prior writings about Seated Dollars, Standing Liberty Quarters, Liberty Half Eagles and maybe foreign coins such as British Sovereigns and Mexican 50 Peso gold.

    Maybe he could also invite Doug Winter in for a guest spot on the Charlotte and Dahlonega issues.

  4. Peter says

    Reading comments here piqued my interest in the whole bitcoin fad. Put a bitcoin index site on watch and have witnessed about a $1,000 per day fluctuation in its price. Not for those who have weak stomachs. Rose to above $17,000 over this last weekend, then down to about $13,000 now. Still don’t know why anyone would invest in something where the rug could be pulled out at any moment without notice. I know governments can be shaky at times, but there is a reasonable expectation that they will at least be there in some form in the future?

  5. KCSO says

    2018 American Platinum Eagle –

    Mintage: 20,000

    HHL: 1

    Likely to be a $1,350 offering upon release; likely $1,300 in short order

    From the original line art, it appears they gave Liberty a hippo snout – increased the proportion of her line art slender nose to a honker, and closed her eyes, where previously she was gazing upon the child.

    Perhaps her eyes are shut from the sun glare radiating from flaring nose?

  6. KCSO says

    Cag –

    Recall you saying something about the Pt and Au offerings being the profitable one for the USM – I presume that’s why we have a 20,000 mintage limit for the APE.

    I bet dollars to donuts, the 1/10 Liberty Gold coin mintage will be UNLIMITED or knocking on 200,000.

  7. cagcrisp says

    @KCSO, “I bet dollars to donuts, the 1/10 Liberty Gold coin mintage will be UNLIMITED or knocking on 200,000.”

    I would Guess that the Mint will treat the 1/10 Liberty Gold as unlimited, however, they May want to Create Demand and Limit.

    That HHL of 1 on the Platinum makes no sense to me

    (A HHL of 1 makes no sense to me…period)…

  8. datadave says

    Looking at the final Presidential Dollar sales figures, from 2012-2016 the Mint minted 186M dollars and sold 123M dollars (roughly 2/3rds). That means they have 63 million dollars sitting in inventory. I would vote to let them release those into circulation in order to stimulate collector demand for the series.

  9. CasualCollector says

    Regarding the 225 Anniversary EU Sets – I was on early yesterday morning and noticed they had them for sale again. But when I checked around Noon they were unavailable. Does anyone know how many were available in the morning?

  10. Larry says

    Regarding the upcoming WW1 medal sets, if you wanted to come up with a way to make sure you don’t sell a lot of them, the mint sure did that. Who in their right mind would have the idea to add the proof commemorative dollar to every set? It almost makes you think there a folks there sitting in some conference room, and the goal is to come up with ways to NOT sell products. Sigh.
    The reverse of the WW1 commemorative dollar is poppies and barbed wire. I tied to find out what poppies have to do with barbed wire, but all I could find was it is a common war thing. Anyone know where poppies and barbed wire comes from?

  11. KEITHSTER says

    Sure the Flanders Field War Memorial Poem . Don’t think they are worried about selling the medals but look how many dollars they will sell? Got to be the new lady they have on board smart like a fox! Good Luck We’ll Need It”>”>”>”>”><"<"<"<"<"

  12. sharks2th says

    Cag, thanks for the enrollment news. I’m surprised the Mint has not promoted this more in the emails/literature or on the Mint website. That is something I would have picked up on quickly if I had seen it. I guess I need to get my sets set up for enrollment this year for the big savings – haha.

  13. John Q. Coinage says

    Keithster et al., the knowledge about poppies significance is mostly lost on living folks, no one alive today experienced WW1 (except Kirk Douglass as a kid!) THe design is awful on the obv & reverse. The more I loook @ it is like I did the art, not really correct, kind of imprssionistic, left handed one eyed crook nosed infantryman….ZZZZZZZZZzzzz I do like the medal but the mint making them HOSTAGE to the WW1 $ means I pass, I am getting so over the mint, sorry to be a bummer but it’s the way they operate these days. Last those APE proof drawgins appear to be a try to reach out for old Roman looking deigns…where is the gladiator coming home Maximus! AnD the 3rd design the wheat is held like an air guitar it seems…..oh well, always palladium proofs for 2x spot, that might be ok, but o/w forghettaboutit….

  14. Larry says

    Thanks for the info Keithster! The poppies make sense now. Too bad no one from WW1 is around to appreciate the medals.

  15. Tinto says

    @John Q. Coinage

    And I think the “artist” put himself on the coin .. were the other, losing designs in this so called competition so BAD that the US Mint cannot even publish them? Or were they published ?? Yeah the Mint is so desperate to sell this crap design of a “coin” that they had to force it on the medal buyers … probably got that idea from when they shoved the proof ASE into the RR C&C set without even saying why on the folder.

    Well that’s what you get when you have 3 political appointees from the CCAC and the CFA (all political appointees) “judging” this so called competition.

  16. John Q. Coinage says

    Tinto so true, the coin is like a self-portrait of the artist, but the design is not ergometric nor correct from a military point of view, you charge with the rifle pointed back or up? The helmet looks to be WW2 Japanese issue….the hostaging of the Medals is most apparent & they have some great designs, the coin is nothing @ all to desire…..doughboy my eye….

  17. John Q. Coinage says

    ALSO…..Just got my end of the year box from USM of Pres dollars, missing an item, 1st time EVER this is going to be a PIA I bet, been buying since 1968 & never before has an item been omitted, @ least it was only $9.95…..

  18. KEITHSTER says

    The Buddy Poppy is known to a lot of people started in1922 the V.F.W . has kept it alive and helping our veterans all this while. I still know a few that roll them and are help by this program so when you see them pick one up. SAs for the sets you know We are counting on everyone staying away so the fugly is working? Good Luck To Us”>”>”><"<"<"

  19. cagcrisp says

    2018 Congratulations Set went on Sale Today

    Currently Unavailable

    Guess someone is trying to catch lightning in a bottle…Again…

  20. earthling says

    I spent a year in Italy from 1982-1983 while in the US Army (509th Airborne, Vicenza, Italy). Poppies grew in the fields much like Dandelions do here in the USA. I imagine thats how it is all over Europe. Anyway to my American eyes it was a striking sight, the green and red was like a floral arrangement. Something that really sticks in your memory.

  21. earthling says

    Currently Unavailable? Oh darn let me get out the Credit Card. Whatever is CU …. I must have it ! Where can I get it? Price means nothing when its a CU US Mint treasure.

    Ha ha . Yeah. And I also believe 12.5 cent Bitecoin is worth $20,000.00.

  22. MarkInFlorida says

    ever since I was a kid I thought that tables at coin shows covered with Morgan dollars were boring. The same design on every coin, just a couple digits different or the mintmark on the back.

  23. datadave says

    Looks like the 2018 Congrats set is back. Unlimited mintage and W mint mark, how many can I not afford to buy?

  24. cagcrisp says

    Two year Yield just Breached 2.00% (Currently 2.02%) for the First time since September 2008…

  25. datadave says

    @cagcrisp – So we are finally on a path of interest rates that will only end when we see short term higher than long term rates. And by then the next recession will have probably started. All the easy gains are now gone.

  26. cagcrisp says

    @datadave, I don’t see an inverted curve happening, however, IF it does then the percentages of a recession happening goes Up.

    I see the Fed changing their Inflation target and Eventually the Long end of the curve rising to an extent that an inverted curve is avoided.

    That’s just a guess because it Appears that Inflation has not followed the path that it has in my lifetime and the economics that I studied in college is Not working.

    We will see how Fed Chairman designate Powell addresses the problem…

  27. Louis says

    @earthling- My late father was the consul general in Trieste (awesome city with tons of history such as in Churchill’s famous description of the Iron Curtain) during that period, and I spent my college vacations there, including some trips to the base at Vicenza, many to Venice, and an infamous New Year’s on the other side of the Iron Curtain, among other highlights.

  28. earthling says

    Hey Louis, anyone who speaks of being in the NE portion of Italy will always be someone I can relate to. I had my Honda 750F while in Italy and I took a trip up to Trieste once. I didn’t have a fairing on my bike so 65 was about my top speed because the wind blast became too much above that. Anyway way I was on the ” no speed limit” Autostade and I passed a group of teens on Vespas. Those teens were easily going 60 on VESPAS ! Blew my mind !

    Yes Sir, Italy was a special place. I went to Venice whenever I could. Just sitting in St Marks Square was a magical experience. Once I was there and a guy was holding up a lady in his arms and someone was taking their picture. They were so happy and smiling and all and they looked so perfect I took a picture of them also. A couple years after I got out of the Army I was looking at pictures I took during my many trips to Venice. I came across the pic of the man and lady and I recognized them as Catherine Bach ( Daisy Dukes) and Michael Keaton – too cool !

    I’m remembering Italy as such a nice dreamland I really wish I could go back there now. BUT ……… I’m also remembering it was a bit chilly in the Veneto during this time of year and the tides were high in Venice. St Marks was flooded out and not such a nice place. Well, maybe one day, soon I hope. Until then I have my memories. I might even have a few pictures……. somewhere.

  29. earthling says

    PS – I got a Silver Venecian Coin from the 13th Century that I bought in a Coin Shop near St Marks . I’ve always wanted to get it into a slab. Probably NGC would be the best bet. To me the Coin is priceless. As a souvenir I personally bought while in Italy , on one of my many day trips to Venezia, it’s the most valuable of any Coin I have.

  30. Louis says

    @earthing- Thanks for sharing. I’d recommend getting the coin slabbed so you can determine if it is real. I have silver coins bought in Italy back then that are reproductions, but hopefully since you bought it in a legit store and not a flea market, it is real.

    If you recall, Trieste also has a large square not far from the water with cafes where folks hang out. I was there one night in the summer of 1982 and met this nice French gal named “Niege” (Snow) who was a street musician and got her number because I was going to Paris in the fall to study for a year. So I looked her up when I got there and we met one afternoon. I listened while she performed for a couple hours and then we went to the movies with the money she earned!

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