Bowers on collecting: Collecting silver Morgan dollars

By Q. David Bowers

Welcome to my new series of columns. Over a period of time, I will touch on various subjects — from the popular, as here, to the obscure. I hope that you enjoy them. If you have any feedback, comments, or suggestions for future columns, just use my email address at the bottom.

Years ago, the most popular American series to collect was Lincoln cents from 1909 onward. This was a lot of fun, as with just a few exceptions, all dates and mint marks could be found easily in circulation. In 2018, that is not so. In fact, even finding a common date in the 1940s or 1930s isn’t easy to do and finding something rare such as a 1914-D is all but impossible.

In the Guide Book of United States Coins in 1962, the 1903-O dollar cataloged at $1,500. There was not a single Morgan dollar listed higher. This was the rarity of rarities!

Enter Morgan silver dollars. These were made in large quantities from 1878 to 1921 in response to a Congressional boondoggle to please western mining and other interests. The price of silver was depressed on the market, and under the Bland-Allison Act of February 28, 1878, Uncle Sam was directed to purchase millions of ounces of silver bullion each month. Starting soon after the legislation was passed, silver dollars of a new design by George Morgan went into production at the Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Carson City mints — joined by the New Orleans Mint in 1879. The production of dollars was far greater than the demand for them. At the time, silver dollars were used in circulation in certain areas of the West, particularly the Rocky Mountain states, but were hardly seen in the Midwest, Northeast, and other sections of the country.

As a result, tens of millions of coins, then hundreds of millions of coins piled up in Treasury vaults. The mints ran out of room, and in one instance the Philadelphia post office was used as a storage space. Into the 20th century, silver dollars were popular gifts, particularly at holiday times. These were available from banks and from the Treasury, and thousands were paid out. Still, most remained in storage.


In the meantime, collecting Morgan silver dollars from 1878 to 1921 became a popular pastime. The Guide Book of United States Coins, the first edition of which was dated 1947, listed nearly 100 different dates and mint marks, nearly all of them priced in Uncirculated grade for low amounts — many for not much more than face value. Fast forward to 1962. The number of numismatists in America had increased dramatically, with millions of people interested, and tens of thousands of people subscribing to Coin World, Numismatic News, The Numismatist and other publications. Morgan silver dollars were a hot topic. In particular, demand was high for those struck at the Carson City Mint — romantic pieces from the Wild West. These were minted from 1878-CC to 1885-CC and again from 1889-CC to 1893-CC. All were quite collectible, although the 1879-CC and 1889-CC were rarer than the others. The two key issues in the entire series were the 1893-S Morgan dollar, priced at $1,500, and the 1903-O at the same price. The 1903-O was a particular mystery. Although 4,450,000 had been minted, and although worn pieces were available readily enough, Uncirculated coins were exceedingly rare. In fact, I had never seen or owned one! It was estimated that only a half dozen or so existed.

In November of 1962, the usual demand for silver dollars at holiday time took place. People calling at the Philadelphia Mint and asking for dollars were rewarded when the on-hand supply ran low and a vault that had been sealed in 1929 was opened to reveal bags of coins. These included thousands of 1903-O dollars. The treasure hunt was on!

More in my next column.

Dave can be contacted via email at qdbarchive@metrocast.net

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Comments

  1. Numismatrix says

    I have put together a small collection of GSA-CC Morgans excluding
    the 1879 and 1889. Also have a nice set of Morgans in the old rattler
    holders. I hope the US Mint does and anniversary reissue of both the
    Morgans and the Peace dollars in 2021. Looking forward to it with glee!

  2. John Q. Coinage says

    The Mint has announced the 1921-2021 anniversary dollars, to be struck in 2024 or 2025….. or never

  3. Tinto says

    I once had a date set of Morgans in UNC …. nice to behold but had to sell ’em a long time ago.
    I only wish I had owned an 1893-S, even in G condition … but needed the $$ for more pressing stuff, like paying the rent.

  4. cagcrisp says

    2017 W $5 Boys Town Centennial Gold MS/BURNISH X 2 MINT SEALED 1ST.STRIKE ELIGBL

    Sold Today for $1,200.00 …

  5. ips_stuff says

    @John Q. Coinage

    “The Mint has announced the 1921-2021 anniversary dollars, to be struck in 2024 or 2025….. or never”
    …. Is the ordering window from Feb 30th to Feb 31st of 2024 with delivery dates sometime in 2025
    I think I get where you are going with this… okay maybe I am reading to much into it, but with the Mint to demand model…

  6. John Q. Coinage says

    cag..makes them $6oo…..so like 50% over issue; ? is will they have leg$, I buy them all, except this BU did not blow my skirt up, & last year NPS Unc sold till almost the last day, they must have only made 3k- with a 5ok limit, say WHAT!

  7. Daveinswfl says

    John Q,
    You must be out west. Here in SW FL, they are everywhere. Very common. If I had your address I’d send you a roll.

  8. earthling says

    I started picking up 2017-P Lincolns off the ground in Michigan back about 3 months ago. That was when I figured they were common as usual. Still, you could find sharpsters selling them by the roll , online.

    Some people !

  9. KEITHSTER says

    I have a 93S but it is well worn if I had to guess a 4 or8 ? A nice lady next door many years ago knew I like coins and asked if I would like to buy some that her and her husband had collected over the years? Why sure so I brought her one of my coin magazines and we went from there. So there’s a 22 plain she said her dealer at the time had the hardest time finding one it was a beaut. the one with the weak reverse I think wanted $200 I recall some Canada silver and old cents . Then up came 2- 37 three legers at buy one get one free and I can’t tell you how much she wanted or I’d be shot the one had a S carved in it and that was why the BOGO. I still regret selling the plain and the 3 legers the dealer wanted me to leave the carved one to see if his buyer wanted it He did and I got a unbelievable price on each! She also sold Me a $10 Canada gold which I believe were the only four coins I’ve sold? The 93S she wanted $600 but it took me awhile because of its worn condition as the other Morgans she had were nice . Still have it though and break it out every once in a while and think about Her Thanks Lady your memory lives on Well Good Luck All “>”><"<"

  10. Sam says

    Great an aged author taking about a aged coins . How about getting with the times dude. Ramp up your knowlege on modern coins not coins the break the bank or are so hard to find. Come on man.

  11. Daveinswfl says

    Joe #2,
    About 30 minutes south ( on 41). Charlie did a number on Sanibel…. and Punta Gorda.

  12. DaveC says

    His opening on pennies from 1909 was interesting but from 1960 and for a couple summers, I could not find any scarce pennies in good condition of the early S mints and not a one of the rareer coins. I lived in a rural Colorado community and at 14 worked in a local grocery story in the summer and clean up and help close in the winter. At lunch, I could walk to our only bank, put down a dollar or two rolls of 1 cent pieces and get 100 coins in two roles to go through. I sat in the bank, and went through the 100 coins and replaced any that I kept and did the same the next day all summer for 2 summers until the local bank shut me down. The head teller told me that I couldn’t exchange rolls and sit in the bank to sort coins any more.

    When my grandparents came to visit when I was 5 years old on the farm through age 9 they would bring a silver dollar for me and ond for my brother. Never got a Morgan but got a lot in very good condition dolars. At that time I didn’t even know that there was a difference and that a Morgan doller existed, too young.

    I have subsiquently filled out my penny set bookI got in the 50s except for 2, you can easily guess which two cents and I have paid to fill out those not so rare missing S coins.

  13. Jerry Diekmann says

    Welcome, Mr. Bowers – I don’t know anyone who knows more about coin collecting than you And you are so willing to share your knowledge with others – thank you!

  14. cagcrisp says

    TODAY at Noon will be the Launch of the 2018 ASE Proof for $55.95 Up $2.00 from last year.

    We will have a Total of 5 ASEs on sale at the same time Today.

    Launch day 2016 ASE Proof with FDOI being sales of 262,816.
    Launch day 2017 ASE Proof with FDOI being sales of 226,173.

    My Guesstimate with the continuation of Lower and Lower mintages that we will Not break 200K for FDOI…

  15. earthling says

    But isn’t it also launching at FUN with a special PCGS Label today ? You know how Dear and Special PCGS Labels are to the Market. I see headlines generated by frenzied demand in Florida.

  16. datadave says

    Premiums keep going up. And the prices of previous issues have not gone up! I will get just one (since I have the other 31) but this is not an item to make money on.

    Anyone figure out a way to play the WWI silver medals that they would like to share? Will the mint release order numbers before the end of the order period? The silver medals are nice and the Mint seems to be moving that way.

  17. datadave says

    @earthling – I think anticipation was so great it created the storm front that is moving up the coast. I want the special label where Trump puts his thumb print right on the obverse.

  18. cagcrisp says

    Wow…

    A bay auction ended this morning for a Proof Lions Club Silver Dollar + a Proof Boys Town Silver Dollar.

    Final cost of Each coin was $52.95

    …SO… $52.95 x 2 = $105.90 + shipping cost

    The concluded auction for One Low Mintage Wonder and the Lions Club was $78.91

    With bay and pal fees Not exactly a good sign for those that Chased a Low Mintage Wonder…

  19. Mintman says

    Here we go again
    The quest for INSTANT Gratification
    Give the low mintage wonders a short time to be realized by the wider marketplace——short time doesn’t mean a WEEK

  20. John Q. Coinage says

    I just missed a BU BT & Lions LOW MINTAGE wonder$ paid, on the bay, the final price was $74 so well under MINT price….and only 1 competitor who got up @ 7am to buy, I had to much sleep to care……but they’ll be more, as the # of ‘collectors’ falls faster than a drunk Rhino

  21. Mintman says

    There was a fairly decent following of collectors for the $5 golds, much less for the silver dollars—and even less for the halves
    I view the price of $74 as stupid low and someone didn’t protect their auction with a reasonable start price or reserve, but to me it means $60 for the BT and melt for the Lions club

  22. KEITHSTER says

    Wondering why there is no final mintage on the George Rodgers Clark quarters? From what I can tell they should be around the same mintage as the end ones of 2013 and don’t want to post it just yet? Hope they post it soon may have to pick up a few more rolls while I still can from the bank? Any guess how many or why ? Well Good Luck All “>”>”>”>”>”>”>”>”>”>

  23. earthling says

    It seems like no one wants US Mint product. Hmmmmmmm…..

    What up?

    No one wants them from the Mint except would be flippers. The flippers attempt to flip and ……………. nothing. No flip ….. just a flop.

    Guess we need to call Mint Buyers – Floppers, not Flippers ?

    ROFLMAO. 😅 😟

    sorry its not at all funny…

    At what point does the Mint cease operations ? We could farm out Circulating Coin production to Canada. I’m sure they’re still our friends.

  24. Daveinswfl says

    Plastic is the new cupronickel! Cash is no longer king – it’s crypto and plastic.

    The consumer will rue the day when coins and paper money are withdrawn as accepted methods of payment. The banks win yet again as there will be auto-taxation for the gvt and auto-transaction fees for the bankers☹️

    All because it’s too “inconvenient “ to carry cash – or you’re a drug dealer suspect😲

    And pray there’s no electronic disruption.

    Cashless – coming to a nation near you…..and all too soon.

  25. DBR says

    @ Daveinsefl

    “The consumer will rue the day when coins and paper money are withdrawn as accepted methods of payment. The banks win yet again as there will be auto-taxation for the gvt and auto-transaction fees for the bankers☹️“

    I think your misgivings and concerns about a cashless society are well-founded.

    The potential for abuse and corruption in a cashless society is enormous.

    It’s no mystery, the cause, it’s greed and the love of money.

    What safeguards will be put in place? There is already “creative accounting” and those who would hack and game the system. Who will do the auditing to ensure balances of both debits and credits are actually what the banks say they are?

    Let’s face it, the unvirtuous among us always want something for nothing. The concepts of money, value and wealth are beautifully simple in their universality, but the rush to supplant traditional currencies with new forms makes me very suspicious over who will profiit and benefit most. Call me crazy!

    History is full of examples of these shifts but they went more slowly and they almost always benefit the powerful and the already ridiculously wealthy.

    I hope we the people always have recourse to non-governmental and non-commercial stores of value.

    After all, no one wants to be a just a number or defined solely by electronic bank balances.

    I’d like to know more about the motives that promote cashless economy. I’m skeptical and will likely want a both/and outcome. Promote e-currency but keep hard money too.

    It’ll keep some of us honest.

  26. earthling says

    Wonder how many there are of the Crazy Clark Boy ATB’s ? Looks to be over 100 , but how many over a 100 ?

  27. Rob says

    Clever ploy to spark sales? Put it at currently unavailable when it is below the all-time mintage low to sucker buyers in. Clever ploy, but I am skeptical . . .

  28. datadave says

    @Rob – I think you are assuming too much intelligence on their part. I think they load in an initial number and then when it hits the bottom they review returns and such and then update the number. But I also think they make mistakes that then get corrected. Not sure what they have done here as typically they make about the same number of P pucks throughout one year. Maybe they had some of the boxes on backorder and have to assemble a few more, or maybe they really made less of the Clarks.

  29. Rob says

    The year end issues are the ones that could get cut back if any. It happened in 2012, so there is a slight possibility of lower mintage on the GRC puck.

    I am actually glad I bought the Acadia and Denali pucks after they pulled Hawaii in 2012. I am not sure this year will see the same results however.

    I actually do not recall the reason for the Mint pulling Hawaii in 2012. Were sales slowing then too? It was not the last puck of the year, so how did Denali end up with a higher mintage than Hawaii? They did not stop at production at 15K for the last issue as they seemed to for Hawaii and Acadia. Not a huge difference, but I never knew how that happened.

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