US Coins

Home Hobbyist: Designating ‘dimples’ through reflectivity

This image of an 1878 Morgan dollar, an example of poor photography in auctions, makes it difficult to ascertain whether it is “Deep Mirror Prooflike.”

Images courtesy of the author.

Morgan silver dollars designated as “Deep Mirror Prooflike,” or DMPL (pronounced “dimple”), are coveted coins with high value.

For instance, an 1878 Morgan, 7 Tail Feathers, Reverse of 1878 dollar grading Mint State 64 is worth about $373; if MS-64 DMPL, it could spike to more than $2,000.

I’m using that year because I won such a coin (depicted here) in an online auction where photos are less than ideal.

When I received the coin, I was impressed by its reflective fields. For a Morgan dollar to be DMPL, Professional Coin Grading Service requires clear, undistorted reflections on both sides of the coin from at least 6 inches away.

This coin came close to that. More good news: It also wasn’t an 1878 7 Tail Feathers coin but a rarer 1878 7/8 Tail Feathers variety, or “strongly doubled” tail feathers.

I purchased the coin that at first glance appeared to grade MS-64, for $130. But it had a deep contact mark on the cheek that didn’t come through in the online photo. That was apt to bring down the value considerably.

Why don’t grading services designate similar coins that may be unworthy of a grade as “1878 7/8 TF Genuine Unc. DMPL”?

I decided to pose that question to David Hall, PCGS founder; Scott Schechter, vice president of Numismatic Guaranty Corp.; and Paul DeFelice, ANACS vice president.

Hall replied, “No DMPL on Genuine’s” and DeFelice agreed. The DMPL designation is reserved for Uncirculated coins with original surfaces, he said.

“Problem coins have the most significant imperfections and are for the most part either damaged or altered. These coins meet the lowest standards for uncirculated grades,” DeFelice said.

NGC, which uses the abbreviation DPL rather than DMPL, would not logically apply that descriptor to all surface conditions.

“Coins that are polished, cleaned, artificially toned or lacquered may appear deeply prooflike when in fact they are not or have been altered to appear so,” Schechter said. He added if NGC were to assign such a characteristic, “we could only do it in a constrained way — akin to making special exceptions for a very small number of coins.”

Michael Bugeja, a coin collector since childhood, is a professor at Iowa State University and also a member of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee. He is a nationally known author, journalist and educator.

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