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: The Treasury Department released numerous bags of 1898-S dollars in the mid-1920s and again in the 1940s and 1950s, primarily from storage in the San Francisco Mint. They had little value as collectors' items in the 1920s, and very little in the1940s and early 1950s either, and were widely dispersed, including to visitors to Nevada casinos. By the time of the 1962-1964 Treasury dispersal, most 1898-S dollars were gone.
Circulated grades: In worn grades 1898-S dollars are common. Many deceptive "sliders" exist and closely resemble low-end Mint State coins.
Mint State grades: In Mint State the 1898-S dollar is readily available, although in higher numerical categories it is somewhat elusive. I estimate that 20,000 to 40,000 survive in MS-60 through MS-62 preservation, 6,000 to 10,000 MS-63, 4,500 to 7,000 MS-64, and only 1,000 to 1,800 MS-65.
Striking varies. Many examples are weak, especially at the center of the obverse. Others are sharp. It will pay you to be picky when buying one of this date.
Prooflike coins: Semi-prooflike coins are plentiful, prooflikes are scarcer, and true DMPLs are about twice as elusive as PLs. Most are in lower Mint State levels and have numerous surface abrasions. As of September 1992, NGC and PGCS certified 53 DMPL coins, of which only one was better than MS-64. The Redfield estate contained several hundred bagmarked prooflikes, from a total quantity estimated to have been less than a thousand Mint State pieces.
1. Normal date: Breen-5655. Probably most of the 20 obverses and 15 reverses were used; most varieties are positional; repunchings are not dramatic enough to attract much attention, although the VAM text singles out VAM-6, which has the final S mintmark above an earlier, lower letter, as the most interesting variety of the issue.
Dies prepared: Obverse: 20; Reverse: 15
Circulation strike mintage: 4,102,000; Delivery figures by month: January: 600,000; February: 450,000; March: 500,000; April: 500,000; May: 276,000; June: 44,000; July: none; August: none; September: none; October: 552,000; November: 380,000; December: 800,000.
Estimated quantity melted: Many, probably mostly as worn coins used in various melts.
Availability of prooflike coins: Prooflike coins are fairly plentiful. DMPL coins are somewhat less so and are exceedingly rare if MS-65 or higher. Most have low contrast and are not cameos.
Characteristics of striking: Striking varies. Most are average or better, but some are weak.
Known hoards of Mint State coins: Bags were released over a long period of time, particularly the 1940s and 1950s.
The 1898-S, while one of the more common dates, is readily available in lower Mint State levels.
Distribution of Dollars
The Annual Report of the Director of the Mint, 1898, told of dollar distribution during the fiscal year:
San Francisco: In mint July 1, 1897,45,458,000; coinage fiscal year 1898, 3,720,000; total, 49,178,000; in mint July 1, 1898, 48,324,220; total, 48,324,220; distributed from mint, 853,780.