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
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.