US Coins

The shifting nature of rarity

The 1903-O Morgan dollar was once a key to the series, but its relative rarity and prices shifted downward after the release of thousands of Mint State examples 50 years ago.

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Some collectors got an early holiday present in 1962 as the Philadelphia Mint released thousands of Mint State dollars. The result completely shifted the understanding of rarity in the Morgan dollar series.

The release of thousands of Mint State 1898-O, 1902-O, 1903-O and 1904-O Morgan dollars sent prices of the coins plummeting to a fraction of their catalog values.

For example, the 1903-O Morgan dollar, which had been listed at $1,500 in Mint State prior to the release and was considered a key to the series, quickly dropped to a range of $13 to $15.

As a front page article in the Dec. 14, 1962, issue of Coin World noted, “Coin dealers across the nation who hastily adjusted their prices in relation to the new supply expressed little surprise at the break in the silver dollar market, and felt that release of the rare date dollars was inevitable.”

According to the article, Mint Director Eva Adams said that it was a Christmas supply of silver dollars. A Mint spokesman explained, “We release silver dollars without regard to dates.” He added, “Although we spot-check the bags, there is no pre-occupation with numismatic valuation ... in fact, this is against Mint regulations.”

Today prices for the once rare 1903-O Morgan dollar have leveled out and supplies are sufficient to meet collector demand in nearly all Mint State grades. Choice Mint State examples are seemingly as readily located as circulated survivors.

For example, while a Good 4 example sold for $235 in an Oct. 23 auction, a pleasant, bright MS-64 dollar realized a reasonable $411.25 at a Heritage auction just two days prior.

The great silver dollar release of the early 1960s provides a useful lesson on the sometimes shifting nature of rarity. When this coin was at the $1,500 level, it was rare and very hard to find because no supplies existed in the market. Today the issue sits in the middle of the pack in terms of rarity for Mint State Morgan dollars.

Those holding on to high-end Morgan dollars in the 1960s must not have been comforted by this statement that appeared at the end of the Coin World article: “We have over $100,000,000 on hand — we are not likely to run out in the future!’ the Mint spokesman smiled.” When one considers that a Mint State 1903-O Morgan was a $1,500 coin 50 years ago, is it a bargain today? ¦

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