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: A few bags of 1897-O dollars came on the market in the East, in the greater area comprising New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, and southern New York, in the late 1940s and again in the early 1950s. These were from storage in the Treasury Building in Washington, D.C. There was little investor interest at the time.
It has been said that a few bags of 1897-O dollars were part of the Treasury release of 1962-1964, from storage in a sealed vault at the Philadelphia Mint, but I have found no specific record of them. Harry J. Forman, who never handled a bag of 1897-O dollars, reported that New York dealer Joel Coen is said to have had 10 rolls, perhaps from the 1962-1964 distribution. Other 1897-O dollars turned up in quantity through the branch of the Federal Reserve Bank in Helena, Montana, but these were lightly circulated coins mixed in with "slider" 1894-O, 1895-O, and 1896-O pieces. A bag of 1897-O dollars was reportedly stolen from LaVere Redfield in 1963 (Miller, p. 6).
The 1897-O issue is not one to have attracted much attention, for the typical piece is lightly struck and unattractive. Once again, the New Orleans Mint workers were just doing their job: turning out massive quantities of dollars, without regard to quality.
Circulated grades: The 1897-O is readily available in worn grades up through and including AU-58, although it is not among the most common in the series.
Mint State grades: Mint State coins are somewhat scarce in comparison to later New Orleans Mint dollars. While roll quantities were on the market in the 1960s, by 15 to 20 years later these were mostly if not entirely dispersed. Today, Mint State 1897-O dollars are apt to be seen one at a time, and in lower levels such as MS-60 to 62, in which category an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 exist. At the MS-63 level 1897-o is rare; 400 to 800 survive. In MS-64 only 80 to 150 exist, and in MS-65 about 50 to 100.
Most 1897-O Morgan dollars are poorly struck with unsatisfactory lustre. Sharply struck pieces do survive, however, and are worth a premium when found. Once again, cherrypicking is advised. In sharply struck MS-65 grade the 1897-O is among the rarest Morgan issues.
Prooflike coins: PL and DMPL coins exist and arc rare. Most such pieces are sharply struck. Most are in lower Mint State grades and have a generous quotient of bag marks. As of September 1992, NGC and PCGS graded five PL and seven DMPL pieces.
Normal date: Breen-5651. Probably not all 22 pairs of dies were used. Varieties are mostly positional.
Dies prepared: Obverse: 22; Reverse: 22
Circulation strike mintage: 4,004,000; Delivery figures by month: January: 240,000; February: 540,000;
March: 600,000; April: 600,000; May: 600,000; June: 400,000; July: none; August: none; September: none; October: 220,000; November: 450,000; December: 354,000.
Estimated quantity melted: Over a million, probably mainly under the provisions of the 1918 Pittman Act ..
Availability of prooflike coins: Prooflike and DMPL coins are rare. When seen, they are often sharply struck (in contrast to the usual Mint State coins).
Characteristics of striking: Usually weak at centers, with unsatisfactory lustre.
Known hoards of Mint State coins: A few bags were released by the Treasury in the late 1940s and early 1950s and by now are mostly if not completely dispersed.
The 1897-O is common in worn grades but is very rare in sharply struck MS-65 preservation.
Distribution of Dollars
The Report of the Director of the Mint for the fiscal year endingJune 30, 1897 told of dollar distribution in New Orleans:
New Orleans: In mint July 1, 1896, 11,610,000; coinage, fiscal year, 5,930,000; total, 17,540,000; in mint July 1, 1897, 16,686,000; distributed from mint, 854,000.