It is harder to learn how to determine the value of a Morgan silver $1 than it is for a Lincoln, Wheat cent

Home Hobbyist column from the June 16, 2014, issue of Coin World
By , Coin World
Published : 05/29/14
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Lincoln, Wheat cents and Morgan dollars rank among the most popular series for home hobbyists, but the two couldn’t be more different — not only in size and metal content, but also in how one learns their respective values.

With Wheat cents (1909 to 1958), learning values was easy, apart from a few varieties. Just three Mints struck the Wheat cents: Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco. Key dates are few: 1909-S V.D.B., 1909-S, 1914-D and 1931-S. 

Semi-key date values are typically based on mintages: 1910-S, 1913-S (6 million); 1911-S, 1912-S, 1914-S, 1915-S, 1926-S (4 to 4.8 million); and 1924-D (2.5 million). Of the two major die varieties, 1922-D No D and 1955 Doubled Die, only the former presents some numismatic challenge to discern the more valuable “No D, Strong Reverse.”

Grading Morgan dollars (1878 to 1904, 1921) is a complex affair because of strike, which can vary annually at each mint. Moreover, Morgan dollars were struck at more Mints than Wheat cents: In addition to being struck at the Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco Mints, they were also struck at the New Orleans and Carson City Mints.

Complicating matters are dozens of must-have varieties in the Morgan dollar series. In the first two years of the coin, a dozen issues are significant: 1878 8 Tail Feathers, 7/8 Tail Feathers (strong and weak), 1878 7 Tail Feathers, 1878-CC, 1878-S, 1879, 1879-CC, 1879-CC/CC, 1879-O, and 1879-S (Reverse of 1878 and 1879). Other pieces from the first two years are also desirable “must-haves,” like the overdate 1880/79-S Morgan dollar.

Compare that to the first two years of Lincoln cents: 1909 (and V.D.B.), 1909-S (and V.D.B.), 1910, and 1910-S.

More Morgan dollar key dates exist than Wheat cent ones, too: 1881-CC, 1885-CC, 1889-CC, 1893-CC, 1893-S, Proof 1895, and 1895-S. Some would add the 1879-CC and 1894 dollars, though some maintain those are semi-key dates.

In any case, collectors will find awaiting them a veritable parade of Morgan dollars that are considered semi-keys based on such factors as die variety and condition. In addition, semi-key status derives from such factors as the number of coins melted under the Pittman Act of 1918; the release of 1,000-coin bags from bank and Treasury vaults; and the appearance of various hoards of the 20th century.

Through the first half of the 20th century, the “King of the Morgan dollars” was not the 1893-S dollar, but the 1903-O dollar. According to Q. David Bowers, prior to the discovery of dozens of bags between 1962 and 1964, most collectors had never seen a 1903-O dollar.

Which leads me to the best book to use to learn Morgan values: A Buyer’s Guide to Silver Dollars & Trade Dollars, by Q. David Bowers, edited by John Dannreuther. The book succinctly tells the story of each Morgan dollar (and other dollars), describing rarities and how to spot them.

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