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)
Low mintage: The 1899 Morgan dollar was produced to the extent of just 330,000 circulation strikes, one of the lowest figures in the series. From time to time, it has been stated that this figure is a typographical error and it should be higher, but I see no reason to dispute the Mint numbers. Leroy C. Van Allen and A. George Mallis concur.
Once a rarity: From the time of mintage through the early decades of the twentieth century, the 1899 was a major rarity. Very few had been released into circulation.
Because of its low mintage figure, the 1899 has always been an appealing coin for collectors and investors. In numismatics, few things are more enticing than a low production number.
Hoard coins: From the early 1950s through the very early 1960s, numerous bags came to light. Harry J. Forman reported handling about 10 bags, mostly obtained from Las Vegas (an unusual source for Philadelphia dollars; most coins surfacing there were from the San Francisco or, less often, Carson City Mint). Probably, somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 Mint State coins were released at the time.
The Treasury dispersal of 1962-1964 saw more 1899 dollars brought out into the open from long term storage. Bags were released in Montana early in 1963 and in California and Nevada shortly thereafter.
Years ago, the 1899 was a favorite coin for investment commentary. I recall a client telling me years ago that he was considering buying a bag of these from Harry J. Forman, but was hesitating because an "investment expert" told him that the mintage was really several million coins, not just 330,000. I suggested that if the expert had some coins for sale cheaper than Harry did, my client should buy them from the expert. As expected, the expert didn't have any.
Circulated grades: The 1899 is scarce in worn grades, due to its low mintage. In fact, it is among the top dozen most elusive pieces in the series. Probably, about 6,000 to 12,000 survive. In 1925, numismatist E.S. Thresher reported that despite searching since 1919, he had not been able to find an example in circulation; one of just eight coins absent from his Morgan dollar collection (the others were 1884-CC, 1885-CC, 1889-S, 1892, 1893-S, 1894, and 1897).
Mint State grades: In Mint State the 1899 dollar is readily available. Most of the known pieces are in lower ranges. I estimate that 50,000 to 100,000 remain from MS-60 through 62; 25,000 to 50,000 at the next step, MS-63; 7,000 to 14,000 at the MS-64 stage; and only 2,500 to 5,000 MS-65 or better.
Striking and lustre vary widely. Some 1899 silver dollars are sharp and lustrous, others are weak and insipid. Again, cherrypick when you buy.
Prooflike coins: Prooflike coins are scarce, but at least a few thousand exist. Most have low contrast and are not particularly attractive. DMPL cameo coins are slightly scarcer than PLs. About 20% of DMPLs cross the MS-64 grade barrier. As is the case with all Philadelphia Mint DMPL coins, prospective purchasers should consider the availability of regular Proofs; these place a damper on the potential of DMPLs, even in higher grades.
1. Normal date: Open 99, Breen-5656, VAM-1, 2; Closed 99, Breen-5657, VAM-3. VAM-6 offers the best of both worlds: one 9 is open and one is closed! The date differences are not dramatic, and most numismatists are satisfied to have just one coin to illustrate the year.
Dies prepared: Obverse: 3; Reverse: 3
Circulation strike mintage: 330,000; Delivery figures by month: January: none; February: 76,000; March: none; April: none; May: 214,000; June November: none; December: 40,000
Estimated quantity melted: Possibly 150,000 or so in the early days.
Availability of prooflike coins: True prooflike coins are somewhat scarce; DMPL coins are slightly more so. About 20% of extant DMPL coins are MS-65 or better.
Characteristics of striking: The striking varies widely, from weak and dull to sharp and frosty.
Known hoards of Mint State coins: Bags were released by the Treasury in the 1950s, and additional bags were part of the 1962-1964 distribution, however this date never fell into the "common" category.
The 1899, a semi-scarce date, has always been popular because of its low mintage figure.
The Annual Report of the Director of the Mint; 1899, told of coining activity:
"The mints at Philadelphia and New Orleans have been hard pressed throughout the year to meet the demands upon them. The mint at New Orleans has been employed chiefly upon the coinage of silver dollars, but has turned out subsidiary silver coins to the amount of $1,659,000. The mint at Philadelphia, besides turning out the usual supply of minor coin, has borne the brunt of an exceptionally heavy demand for subsidiary silver, given some assistance to fill the required quota of silver dollars, and applied the rest of its capacity to the coinage of gold. Both of these institutions have been obliged to run more or less overtime, the New Orleans Mint doing so for the greater part of the year.
"The Carson City Mint was reduced officially at the end of the fiscal year to an assay office authorized by Congress in the act carrying the appropriation of the maintenance of the institution. Thus, the Carson City Mint was a mint until June 30, 1899, although no coins had been struck there since 1893. After that it was an assay office."
Dollars "Unfit for Circulation" The Numismatist, June 1899, printed this news:
"In moving the 60 million in silver dollars from the Mint and the Post Office vaults to the new mint, Superintendent H.K. Boyer has just made the discovery that $2 million of the silver cartwheels are unfit for circulation. They are rusty and moldy, having been wet by water which percolated through the vaults of the Mint years ago, and caused the bags in which they were stowed to rot.
"This might seem a serious matter were it not for the fact that the dollars are not really intended for circulation. They are simply held to give value and security to the silver certificates issued against them, and for this reason they will not be cleaned, not being needed for circulation, but will be allowed to continue to rust and grow tarnished in the splendid big vaults of the new Mint."
Dollars Accumulate at the Mint
The Annual Report of the Director of the Mint, 1899, told of storage and distribution quantities of dollars during the fiscal year: Philadelphia: In mint July 1, 1898, 66,269,954; coinage fiscal year 1899, 3,466,709; total, 69,736,663; in mint July 1, 1899, 69,610,954; total, 69,610,954; distributed from mint, 125,700.
Silver Dollar Coinage Summary
Silver dollar coinage to date under various acts (from the 1899 Annual Report):
"February 28, 1878 (Bland-Allison Act) $378,166,793; from July 14, 1890, to repeal of the purchasing clause of the Sherman Act, $36,087,285; From November 1, 1893 to June 12, 1898, $42,139,872; Coined under the War-Revenue Bill approved June 13,1898 $18,778,809; Total under Act of July 14,1890, $97,005,966; March 3,1891, recoinage of trade dollars) $5,078,472; total $480,251,231."
The Year 1899 in History
In Maya conference was held at The Hague, the Netherlands, and there were, two dozen delegates met to discuss warfare limitations, disarmament, and the arbitration of international disputes. In the Philippine Islands, guerrilla forces engaged American troops at Manila on February 4, 1899. When the smoke cleared, 57 Americans and about 500 Filipinos were killed. The rebellion was against U.S. rule and lasted until March 23, 1901, when guerrilla leader Emilio Aguinaldo was captured. President McKinley signed a peace treaty with Spain on February 10th, ending the Spanish-American War. Under the terms of the treaty, the United States acquired Guam and Puerto Rico, $20 million was paid for certain rights in the Philippines, and Cuba became independent of Spain.
On February 14, Congress authorized the use of voting machines if individual states desired them. On October 14, the Literary Digest stated, "The ordinary horseless carriage is at present a luxury for the wealthy; and although its price will probably fall in the future, it will never, of course, come into as common use as the bicycle." In the summer of 1899 President William McKinley became the first American president to ride in an automobile when he took a spin in a Stanley Steamer at his Canton, Ohio home. On June 9, James J. Jeffries knocked out Bob Fitzsimmons in the world heavyweight boxing championship held at Coney Island. Jeffries retired undefeated in 1905.)
Among popular songs of the time were My Wild Irish Rose and A Bird in a Gilded Cage. Thorstein Veblen's book, The Theory of the Leisure Class, was published, as was Winston Churchill's novel, Richard Carvel. (Churchill, the American author, was a different person from the British politician.) Scott Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag was published by John Stark, of St. Louis, who learned of Joplin, pianist at the Maple Leaf Club in Sedalia, Missouri. The melody was immediately popular and joined a number of ragtime and cakewalk tunes of the 1890s, including At a Georgia Camp Meeting and Smoky Mokes. Elbert Hubbard's article, "A Message to Garcia," was published and was set against a backdrop of the Spanish-American War. In the 1940s it was still being read in schools by children who had no idea who Garcia was; since the 1960s, many instead think of Garcia as Jerry Garcia, lead guitarist of The Grateful Dead.