Q. David Bowers:
The following narrative, with minor editing, is from my "Silver Dollars & Trade Dollars of the United States: A Complete Encyclopedia" (Wolfeboro, NH: Bowers and Merena Galleries, Inc., 1993)
Hoard coins: Quantities of 1890-S dollars were placed into circulation at or near the time of mintage. Many others were stored in the San Francisco Mint, from which location several million or more probably were melted under the terms of the 1918 Pittman Act. In addition, over a long period of years, occasional bags were released. As a result, the 1890- S is one of the San Francisco Mint issues that has never been rare in Mint State-quite a contrast to its 1889-S sibling.
In the 1940s and 1950s, many bags were paid out from the San Francisco Mint; so many, in fact, that this date became extremely common. Not having a low mintage figure to bolster their appeal, most coins slipped into circulation, where they quickly became AU and then EF. Still, many thousands remained in the hands of collectors, dealers, investors, and other buyers.
The Redfield hoard (1976) was estimated to contain 20 to 40 bags (mostly MS-60 to 62 in grade), probably obtained from storage at the San Francisco Mint (see John Skubis commentary earlier).
Mint State grades: The 1890-S is one of the more available Morgan dollars in Mint State, although it is not among the most common. Probably, 45,000 to 80,000 exist in the MS-60 to 62 area, although MS-63 specimens, of which an estimated 15,000 to 25,000 survive, are readily available. MS-64 coins are slightly scarce, and number about 10,000 to 18,000. MS-65 examples are scarcer yet and have a population of, perhaps, 2,000 to 3,000.
Most 1890-S Morgan dollars are well struck (with superb definition of the eagle's breast feathers) and have excellent lustre. Many have prooflike surfaces. Some show large numbers of tiny raised lines-die polishing marks-in the fields. Cherrypicking is advised when you buy, but this will be a casual effort at best as most pieces are quite nice.
Prooflike coins: Semi-prooflikes are plentiful. True prooflike coins are somewhat scarce. Some Mint State coins have satiny, somewhat prooflike surfaces and are sometimes sold as fully prooflike. DMPL coins are rare in higher grades. Only about 5% of DMPL coins are MS-65 or finer.
1. Normal date: Breen-5615. Some varieties with one to three date digits doubled, VAM-12 having doubling on 1, 9, and O. At least 29 pairs of dies were shipped to New Orleans: 10 each on March 5, 1890 and July 9, 1890, followed by nine more pairs on October 14, 1890. The large mintage probably required still more dies. R.W. Julian reports that 46 reverses total were shipped; no data on when these arrived. Most likely some of the new reverses were held over for later years.
Dies prepared: Obverse: 29 or more; Reverse: 46.
Circulation strike mintage: 8,230,373 (5,732,373 under the Act of February 28, 1878 and 2,498,000 under the Sherman Silver Purchase Act); Delivery figures by month: January: 500,000; February: 600,000; March: 600,000; April: 600,000; May: 800,000; June: 800,000; July: 800,000; August: 460,000 + 300,000; September: 100,000 + 600,000; October: 7S,000 + 585,000; November: 397,373 + 270,000; December: 743,000.
Estimated quantity melted: Many under the 1918 Pittman Act.
Availability of prooflike coins: Very plentiful. The population is about 3,000-6,000 (URS-13). However, only about 5% of DMPL coins are MS-65 or finer.
Characteristics of striking: Varies, but most are sharply struck and have excellent lustre.
Known hoards of Mint State coins: Many bags of 1,000 coins were released by the Treasury, especially in the 1940s and 1950s.
The 1890-S in Mint State is readily available sharply struck and with nice lustre.
Silver Dollar Distribution
The Annual Report of the Director of the Mint, 1890, gave the following information concerning distribution of silver dollars in the fiscal year ending June 30, 1890 in the San Francisco Mint: July 1, 1889,25,128,000, coined during the fiscal year 108,000, total available for distribution 29,728,000. In the San Francisco Mint June 30,1890,28,987,782, distributed 740,218.
Storing Silver Dollars in San Francisco
The Annual Report of the Director of the Mint, 1890, noted the following:
"Under plans prepared by the Supervising Architect of the Treasury and proposals submitted, a contract was made February 24, 1890, for the construction in the mint building at San Francisco, of two vaults, each 29 feet 4 inches long, 11 feet 10-7/8 inches high, 17 feet 9 inches wide, the cubic contents of each being 6,161 cubic feet.
"One of the vaults is now being placed in the building. The other cannot be placed until the first is completed. The capacity of each of these vaults for the storage of silver dollars is: In boxes ($1,000 each) $17 million. In bags ($1,000 each) $25 million.
"These vaults are to be lined with three layers of 3/8-inch steel, 5-ply welded steel and iron, and Bessemer ductile steel and furnished with outer and inner doors. The outer door is to be single, made of Ij2-inch thick welded steel and iron and Bessemer ductile steel, fitted with bolts made of 7-ply welded chrome steel and iron. The inner door is folding, made of four layers of same material as above, all hardened drill, saw, and me proof. Both inner and outer doors are to be fitted with four-tumbler combination locks. Cost of the two vaults $23,936.00. Cost of inspection $1,260.00. Total $25,196.00."