Q. David Bowers
Philadelphia Mint Dollars
Morgan dollars were struck at the Philadelphia Mint continuously from 1878 through 1904, and again in 1921. In addition to many millions of business strikes, Proofs were produced each year 1878 through 1904, typically in the range of about 800 to 1,000 pieces annually. Today these are all rare. A few Proofs were made in 1921 as well.
As Morgan dollars were made over a long period of years and to the extent of millions of coins, the die work and striking quality is apt to vary from issue to issue. Some years are normally seen well struck, and others with lightly detailed features. Some are deeply frosty, and others have a satiny or "greasy" appearance.
Among Philadelphia Mint dates, the rarest is 1895. 12,000 business strikes were produced plus 880 Proofs. Apparently, all of the business strikes were melted under the Pittman Act of 1918, for none is known today. Of the 880 Proofs, perhaps 500 to 600 survive, representing the entire population of this date. As such, there are fewer 1895 Philadelphia Mint Morgan dollars around than any other major variety.
The 1901 Morgan dollar is readily available in well-worn grades but emerges as a major rarity in Mint State, especially in higher Mint State levels. In MS-64 or MS-65 grade the piece is a virtual impossibility to obtain. However, enough Proofs remain that these satisfy much of the demand. Another scarce Philadelphia Mint date is 1894. However, most other issues are relatively easily available. The commonest of all Morgan dollars is the 1921 Philadelphia coin.
Carson City Mint Dollars
The Carson City Mint struck Morgan dollars from 1878 through 1885, and again from 1889 through 1893. Each Carson City coin bears a CC mintmark below the tail of the eagle on the reverse. Most often seen today are the 1882-CC, 1883-CC and 1884-CC, due to their availability from the Treasury hoard which came to light in the early 1960s. Other dates are also more or less available, although the 1889-CC is considered rare. Next in order of rarity is the 1879-CC, followed by the 1893-CC. Nearly all 1893-CC dollars in existence today are very heavily bagmarked. They must have been moved around a lot while they were being stored.
The formation of a complete set of Carson City dollars has been a popular specialty within the Morgan series. Certainly, they are among the most romantic of all issues.
San Francisco Mint Dollars
The San Francisco Mint struck silver dollars continuously from 1878 through 1904 and again in 1921. Each San Francisco Morgan dollar bears an S mintmark below the tail of the eagle on the reverse.
As far as worn coins go, there are no great rarities, although the 1893-S is considered scarce. In VG preservation the price of such a piece would be in the high hundreds of dollars. Most other worn San Francisco dollar dates are very inexpensive, many selling in the $10 range today.
In Mint State, particularly high levels of Mint State such as MS-64 and MS-65, there are a number of notable rarities, among which will be found the 1884-S, 1892-S, and, in particular, the important 1893-S. Other dates such as 1883-S, 1894-S, 1895-S, 1896-S, 1903-S and 1904-S are also considered to be key issues.
Contrasting these is the 1881-S Morgan dollar, which in Mint State is probably the most available of the early dates. Several hundred thousand, perhaps over one million exist. In addition, nearly all 1881-S dollars are sharply struck. As such, the 1881-S has afforded the possibility for many collectors to obtain a sparkling, sharp, and very beautiful early coin for a very low price.
New Orleans Mint Dollars
The New Orleans Mint struck Morgan silver dollars from 1879 continuously through 1904. Many of these were bagged and put away, with the result that by the early 1960s the issues of 1898-O, 1903-O, and 1904-O were considered to be great rarities. The Treasury release of 1962-1964 brought many of these out, furnishing a veritable treasure hunt for numismatists and the general public!
Today, all New Orleans Mint Morgan dollars are readily available in worn grades. In the higher Mint State levels, several of them range from scarce to rare, including 1886-O, 1888-O, 1893-O, 1894-O, 1895-O, and 1896-O. One of the most curious coins in the Morgan series from a numismatic viewpoint is the 1895-O. As far as I know, this is the only issue of Morgan dollars, struck at the New Orleans Mint, which has never been represented in a Treasury hoard. No original bag of 1895-O dollars came on the market at a later date, and I am not aware of even a group of 10 or 20 pieces. If someone were to try to put together a set of MS-64 and MS-65 Morgan dollars, without doubt the chief stumbling block would be the 1895-O, although the 1893-S catalogues for more.
Many, if not most, New Orleans dollars are fairly lightly struck at-the center of the obverse and reverse. This "light striking," so-called, was due to the dies being spaced slightly farther apart than they should have been. This was economical, as coins could be struck with less die breakage. However, this wide spacing did not permit the silver metal to flow into the deepest recesses of the die, with the result that hair strands around Miss Liberty's ear on the obverse and the eagle's breast feathers on the reverse are often flat. The same situation occurs among certain Philadelphia, Carson City, and San Francisco issues, but not nearly to the extent of New Orleans.
Denver Mint Dollars
The Denver Mint was a latecomer in the Morgan dollar series. In fact, it was not operating by the time that the main series of Morgan dollars, 1878-1904, had run its course. However, when additional Morgan dollars were minted in 1921, the Denver Mint was tapped, along with the Philadelphia and San Francisco facilities, to strike them. Thus, the only Denver Mint Morgan dollar is the 1921-O. Interestingly, the mintmark on the 1921-O as well as the 1921-S is almost microscopic.
In summary, most Morgan dollars were struck at four mints: Philadelphia, Carson City, New Orleans, and San Francisco. In addition, in 1921 examples were produced at Denver. Thus, a representative set of Morgan dollars showing one from each mint would contain five different coins.