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: Although the San Francisco Mint served as a storage depot for its own coins, many bags of Uncirculated 1904-S dollars were shipped to the Treasury Building in Washington, D.C., and from time to time in the 1930s and 1940s an occasional bag would be paid out from there. In 1941-1942 there was a particularly large release, which would serve to augment dealers' stocks for a long time.
Although in later times the 1904-S would be recognized as one of the rarer issues, a perusal of advertisements of the 1950s will reveal that most dealers had a supply of Mint State 1904-S dollars. However, John Skubis, who was one of the most active dealers in bulk S-Mint dollars in the 1950s, recalled that the only S-Mint Morgan dollars he did not handle by the bagful were 1892-S, 1893-S, and 1904-S.
One or more bags of 1904-S dollars came out through Los Angeles banks in the early 1950s. Bebee's, then located in Omaha (having recently moved from Chicago), bought some from this hoard. I have found no accounts of any being in the 1962-1964 Treasury release. None was in the Redfield estate (1976).
Circulated grades: In worn grades the 1904-S is plentiful in lower grades through Fine or so. EF and AU pieces are few and far between.
Mint State grades: In the years before 1940, the 1904-S dollar was a great rarity in Uncirculated condition. Even the largest collections were apt to lack a specimen. After the early 1940s, the situation changed, and, as noted above, specimens were readily available on the market.
The 1904-S is moderately scarce now in the 1990s. Most specimens seen today are in lower grade ranges from MS-60 to 63. MS-64 coins are scarce, and MS-65 coins are rare. I suggest that just 5,000 to 10,000 MS-60 to 62 coins survive, 4,000 to 8,000 MS-63s, 1,500 to 3,000 MS-64s, and only 200 to 400 MS-65 or better.
Most 1904-S dollars are lightly struck, especially at the center of the obverse. Lustre ranges from "greasy" to lightly frosty. Some have extensive abrasions, especially on the obverse.
Prooflike coins: While semi-prooflike coins are relatively easy to find, pieces with full prooflike surface are rare. Probably only a very few hundred exist. Most have extensive bagmarks and unsatisfactory contrast. DMPL coins are exceedingly rare. The Barbara Goldfreed DMPL sold in Auction '87, Lot 1301, may be the finest known.
NEW OVER OLD HUB: DOUBLE OLIVE AT CLAW
VAM C-4 OVER C-3 REVERSE
1. C-4 reverse hub over C-3. Large S: Breen-5703, VAM-3, 4. Believed to be scarcer than the following.
NEW REVERSE HUB: WIDE NECK/WING SPACE, LARGE STARS
VAM C-4 REVERSE
Circulation strikes: Large S. Breen-5702, VAM 1, 2, 5, 6. The usually seen variety.
Dies prepared: Obverse: Unknown; Reverse: Unknown.
Circulation strike mintage: 2,304,000; Delivery figures by month: January: 1,252,000; February: 216,000; March: none; April: 576,000; May: 260,000;June-December: none.
Estimated quantity melted: Totally, 2,000,000 or so, but probably most in later (after 1918 Pittman Act) melts.
Availability of prooflike coins: Very rare, but often with low contrast. Serni-prooflike coins are common. DMPL coins are exceedingly rare.
Characteristics of striking: Average strike and lustre.
Known hoards of Mint State coins: Bags were paid out of the San Francisco Mint over a period of years, possibly ending in the early 1950s. In the early 1950s one or more bags were distributed through banks in Los Angeles.
The 1904-S in Mint State is an excellent example of a coin that was readily available on the market in the 1950s, but which was not represented in the Treasury releases of 1962-1964, and is now considered rare.