US Coins

Market Analysis: Even expensive coins can require compromises

Collectors often have to make some concessions when it comes to quality when collecting within a budget. Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ Nov. 14 Rarities Night auction at the Whitman Baltimore Expo presented two Proof 1895 Morgan dollars that sold for close amounts and that raise the question: which one would you pick for your collection? 

The Proof 1895 Morgan dollar is a famed rarity in the series with just 880 Proof pieces struck representing the entire collectible silver dollar output from the Philadelphia Mint in 1895. Examples are always expensive, and one in any grade is a prize. 

For $31,200 a collector could buy one that Numismatic Guaranty Corp. graded Proof Details, Harshly Cleaned. The once deeply reflective fields are heavily hairlined as a result of an ill-fated attempt to improve the appearance, explaining the “Harshly Cleaned” assessment. Still, as the cataloger notes, “every collector seeking to assemble a complete date and mint set of Morgan dollars must acquire a Proof for the 1895, and the present specimen would do nicely in many cabinets.” Of course, no collector “must” do anything, but many collectors of circulation strike Morgan dollars include the Proof-only 1895 dollar in their sets. 

At $33,600, another example presents a different visual experience. It was graded Proof 45 by Professional Coin Grading Service and bears a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker indicating quality within the grade. It has 15 points of wear and likely spent some time in day-to-day circulation, so the reflective fields are gone. It looks like a typical lightly circulated Morgan dollar, and beyond the date and absence of a Mint mark, little is left that identifies it as a Proof strike. 

The cataloger observed, “A handsome and fully original example of this perennially popular Morgan dollar issue. Both sides are warmly toned in sandy-gray patina that deepens a bit toward the borders,” and perhaps optimistically noted, “direct lighting also calling faint remnants of the original reflective finish from the fields.” 

So you have two coins. The less expensive one retains the characteristics of a Proof with full details and mirrored fields, but also shows evidence of an aggressive cleaning campaign. Still, it’s flashy and looks like a Proof. The second costs a bit more, and is problem-free, but spent some time in circulation and the sharp strike and mirrored fields are gone. Which one would you rather buy?

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