US Coins

Common date toned Morgan dollar yields thousands at auction

An unidentified collector paid nearly $14,000 to acquire in a Sept. 6 online auction a common-date 1879-S Morgan dollar graded PCGS Mint State 65 that carries a published value of $150 to $165.

Why? Ian Russell, president of GreatCollections Coin Auctions in whose auction the coin was sold, cited the coin’s toning.

“We’ve seen a significant increase in bidding activity on toned Morgans over the past 12 to 18 months,” Russell said Sept. 10.

Eight different bidders placed 55 bids for the coin offered in the auction that closed just before 6 a.m. Pacific Time Sept. 6. The top bid was the only one recorded for the winning bidder.

The dollar achieved a closing bid of $12,626; with the 10 percent buyer’s fee added, the total price realized was $13,888.60.

GreatCollections’ auction opened Aug. 26 with an opening bid of $100.

The coin, graded Mint State 65 by Professional Coin Grading Service, is encapsulated in a first-generation PCGS holder.

Its obverse displays shades of gold, pink, lilac and blue toning, predominantly in the fields in front of Liberty’s portrait.

The reverse is predominantly untoned, with light to darker gold toning evidence from the F in OF down past the second A in AMERICA.

Toning is the result of a coin’s reaction to its environment, including how a coins is stored.

Toning is a natural oxidation process than can produce multiple colors on a coin’s surfaces over time. The extent of the toning and the depth of color depends on the metallic composition of the coin and environmental factors under which a coin is stored.

Aesthetically pleasing natural toning can add value to a coin, while distracting natural or artificially created toning can decrease a coin’s value.

Common date, rarer subtype

The 1879-S Morgan dollar has a reported mintage of 9.11 million coins, which makes it common as a date. 

The San Francisco Mint struck two significant subtypes or versions of 1879-S Morgan silver dollars, the result of continued experiments at the Philadelphia Mint to tweak the coin’s designs to improve strikeability in its second year of production. One of those variants of the coin is scarcer than the other major variant, though that scarcity was not a factor in the auction.

Some of the 1879-S coins bear what is identified as the Second Reverse, or Reverse of 1878, while others bear the Third Reverse, referred to as the Reverse of 1879.

Silver Dollars & Trade Dollars of the United States:  A Complete Encyclopedia by Q. David Bowers, with Mark Borckardt describes the Reverse of 1878 as displaying a parallel top arrow feather and concave breast on the eagle. On the Reverse of 1879 version, the top arrow feather is slanting and the eagle’s breast is described as convex.

The authors estimate that 500,000 of the mintage are of the rarer Reverse of 1878 coins, while the remainder of is of the more common Reverse of 1879 subtype.

The more common subtype or variant is listed in Coin World’s Coin Values in Mint State 65 at $150; in the PCGS Price Guide at $165; and in Coin Dealer Newsletter at $138 Bid, $150 Ask. 

The rarer 1879-S Morgan, Reverse of 1878 dollar is listed in MS-65 at $6,000 in Coin Values; at $5,000 in the PCGS Price Guide; and at $4,750 Bid, $5,200 Ask, in Coin Dealer Newsletter.

The toned 1879-S Morgan dollar from the GreatCollections auction bears the more common Reverse of 1879, according to Morgan and Peace dollar specialist John Roberts, who is the variety attributer for ANACS and author of the monthly Coin World column “About VAMs.” 

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