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 1902 Philadelphia Mint dollar was the first issue employing the C-4 reverse on all dies. Interesting varieties are those from a reverse die made by impressing the new C-4 hub over the old C-3, and distinguished by having the "2 Olive Reverse." Of course, these over-hubs exist for other, earlier dates as well, and for certain later issues through 1904. Credit goes to Leroy C. Van Allen and A. George Mallis for coordinating and distilling the research efforts of many enthusiasts in the field. Years ago, no one knew about the over-hub issues.
Hoard coins: Like a number of other Philadelphia Mint Morgan dollars, the 1902 in Mint State was elusive before the 1930s. Demand for high grade specimens of the date was answered by Proofs. Circa 1947-1948, the Treasury paid out bags of 1902 dollars, but still they remained somewhat scarce. In the early 1950s, additional quantities were paid out, and in the closing years of the decade, many bags came to light. Today, probably well over 100,000 Mint State coins exist.
Circulated grades: Low grade 1902 dollars are common. At the higher end of the scale, numerous sliders exist; AU coins that are sometimes sold at bargain prices as "Uncirculated."
Mint State grades: Mint State coins are relatively plentiful from Treasury releases, although this is not one of the more common dates. Most surviving Uncirculated 1902 dollars are in lower ranges such as MS-60 through 62 and 63. MS-65 coins are quite scarce, relatively speaking. Estimated population: MS-60 to 62, 80,000 to 160,000; MS-63, 20,000 to 35,000; MS-64, 15,000 to 30,000; MS-65 or better, 5,000 to 10,000.
Most Uncirculated dollars of this date are satiny rather than deeply frosty. Striking varies from poor to sharp. Once again, cherrypicking will pay dividends. Bagmarks, when seen, are apt to be light and widely scattered.
Prooflike coins: Prooflike coins are elusive, and probably fewer than 1,000 exist. Most have low contrast and are rather unappealing. DMPL coins are rarer yet.
NEW OVER OLD HUB: DOUBLE OLIVE AT CLAW
VAM C-4 OVER C-3 REVERSE
1. C-4 reverse hub over C-3: Breen-5689, VAM 6-11. Publicized only relatively recently, the variety is probably plentiful, but most 1902 dollars have not been inspected for this feature.
NEW REVERSE HUB: WIDE NECK/WING SPACE, LARGE STARS
VAM C-4 REVERSE
1. Breen-5688, V AM 1-5, positional varieties.
V AM-4 has doubled die obverse, with doubling on Liberty's ear, nose, lips, and chin; rare. Not all the 80 obverses, 67 reverses were used. Common.
Dies prepared: Obverse: 80; Reverse: 67
Circulation strike mintage: 7,994,000; Delivery figures by month: January: 800,000; February: 786,000; March: 750,000; April: 1,000,000; May: 500,000; June: 586,000; July: 500,000; August: 778,000; September: 1,054,000; October: none; November:726,000; December: 514,000.
Estimated quantity melted: Many under the Pittman Act and later authorizations, but the minority probably went into circulation.
Availability of prooflike coins: Prooflike coins are very scarce. Most have unsatisfactory surfaces.
Characteristics of striking: Ranges from poor to sharp, but most are average or above average.
Known hoards of Mint State coins: Large quantities were released by the Treasury, especially in the late 1950s.
The 1902 is common in lower Mint State levels but is quite elusive MS-65.
The Numismatist, February 1902, printed this item:
"On January 13th the Philadelphia Mint began the first issue of our coins with the date of 1902. They were the bright and shining silver dollars and were immediately placed in service in the commercial world through the banks."
Distribution of Dollars
The Annual Report of the Director of the Mint, 1902, told of the distribution of silver dollars during the fiscal year: Philadelphia: In mint June 30,1901,86,075,954; transferred from Treasury for storage, 500,000; coinage, fiscal year 1902, 8,196,800; total, 94,772,754; in mint June 30, 1902, 94,352,954; distributed from mint, 419,800.
Storing Silver Dollars
The Annual Report of the Director of the Mint, 1902, gave details of the new Philadelphia Mint facilities, which replaced the old structure that had been in use since the 1830s. The coinage operations at Philadelphia were transferred from the old to the new Mint structure in October 1901. The capacity of the new facility was more than twice that of the old. Further:
"For the storage of bullion, coin, blanks, dies, etc., the Mint is provided with 20 steel-lined vaults, eight of which are located in the basement and are as follows: The silver dollar vault, which is 100 feet long, 52 feet wide, and 10-1/2 feet high, has a capacity for storing $112 million in silver dollars, packed in boxes.
"The cashier's working vault, measuring 80 feet long, 52 feet wide, and 10-1/2 feet high, is used for storing the various denominations of coin prior to shipment. The remaining six vaults in the basement are 122 feet long, 21 feet wide, and 10- 1/2 feet high, and are provided with four entrances, all opening into the main corridor. These are utilized for the storage of gold and silver bullion, bars, etc. These vaults are all of the most approved modern construction. The combined weight of steel used in their construction is approximately 3.25 million pounds.
"The two largest vaults are divided into several compartments, which, after filling, are locked and sealed so as to avoid, as much as possible, the necessity of reweighing and recounting. The foundation of vaults is of concrete, the walls of hard bricks laid in cement 2-1/2 feet thick; the linings are from two to three inches thick, consisting of steel construction which has passed through a special purpose. the doors are six inches thick and there are three for each vault; the front door, weighing about eight tons, is mounted on ball bearings; the other two doors are arranged in one set and are somewhat lighter than the front door. Four combination locks are used, which can be adjusted to independent combination. The remaining vaults throughout the building are of lighter construction are used only for storage of metal in the process of coinage."
Silver Dollar Planchets
Silver dollar blanks, as they were called, were studied at the Philadelphia Mint in fiscal year 1902. A survey was run which showed that on various business days in April the percentage of acceptable dollar blanks ran from business days on April 1st onward as follows: 83.6%, 98%, 92.3%, 83%, 87.3%, etc. The average percentage was 90.3% for the month.
On April 23, a day which happened to have a 90.3% acceptance rate, during a particular test there were 271 dollar blanks fed into the automatic weighing machine. Six were found to be a grain or more less than the required weight and were condemned. Twenty-three were rejected as being a grain or more heavier than the required weight. "All blanks heavier than one grain are called heavies and are filed, while all blanks lighter than one grain are condemned," the report noted.
Coining Press Capacities
The Annual Report of the Director of the Mint, 1902, told that the amount of pressure required for stamping a silver dollar was 160 tons. By comparison 35 tons was needed for quarter eagles, 155 tons for double eagles, 98 tons for half dollar, and 35 tons for a dime, and 40 tons for a cent. A large coining press at the mint was driven by a 7.5-horsepower electric motor running at 950 revolutions per minute and could strike 90 coins per minute.
A small coining press was run by a 3-horsepower motor at 1,050 revolutions per minute and could strike 100 pieces per minute. If a large press was hooked to a 15-horsepower motor belted to a countershaft, 80 pieces per minute could be struck.