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)
Commentary: The 1897-S was issued in bag, quantities from the San Francisco Mint in the mid-1920s, 1950s, and early 1960s and was not worth a significant premium at the time, nor was it ever considered to be a scarce date. Many from the distributions of the 1950s and 1960s went to the gaming tables in Reno and Las Vegas. Some found their way to investors and hoarders, including LaVere Redfield, who reportedly had as many as 20 bags. Quantities persisted on the coin market for much of the 1970s, but by now large groups are seldom seen.
Circulated grades: The 1897-S dollar is common in worn grades.
Mint State grades: The 1897-S is readily available in all Mint State grades, although most are at lower levels. An estimated 40,000 to 70,000 exist from MS-60 through 62 grades, followed by 17,000 to 27,000 in MS-63, 14,000 to 20,000 MS-65, and a fairly generous 3,500 to 6,000 MS-65.
Most pieces are sharply struck and have nice lustre. All in all, a Mint State 1897-S coin is a delightful coin.
Prootlike coins: Prooflike coins remain by the thousands. DMPL coins are four or five times scarcer than prooflike coins. The usually seen coin is very attractive, but flatly struck and, if in a lower Mint State grade, with bagmarks. The Redfield holdings contained over a thousand prooflikes. Most prooflike and DMPL specimens are in the MS-60 to MS-63 range. This is the most common prooflike San Francisco Mint Morgan dollar dated after 1882
1. Normal date: Breen-5652. Various positional varieties. Probably not all the 38 pairs of dies were used.
Dies prepared: Obverse: 38; Reverse: 38
Circulation strike mintage: 5,825,000; Delivery figures by month: January: 800,000; February: 800,000; March: 800,000; April: 800,000; May: 800,000; June: 475,000; July: none; August: none; Septem-ber: none; October: 300,000; November: 600,000; December: 450,000.
Estimated quantity melted: Many as part of various melts.
Availability of prooflike coins: Fairly plentiful; the most available San Francisco Mint issue after 1882. DMPL coins are about five times rarer than prooflikes. Most are in lower Mint State grades.
Characteristics of striking: The 1897-S is usually seen sharply struck with excellent lustre.
Known hoards of Mint State coins: Many bags came out from the San Francisco Mint in the 1950s and early 1960s; many were in the Redfield estate (1976).
The 1897-S is readily available in Mint State. The typical coin is well struck and very attractive.
The Annual Report of the Director of the Mint, 1897, told of transfers of dollars for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1897:
San Francisco. In mint July 1, 1896, 37,459,918; coinage, fiscal year, 8,425,000; total, 45,884,918; in mint July 1, 1897, 45,458,000; distributed from mint, 426,918.