The typical 1923-S Peace Dollar is characterizerd by a poor strike, lackluster appearance, and excessive bagmarks. This is pretty typical of any S-Mint Peace Dollar, but especially so on the 1923-S. The PCGS Population Report reflects the poor quality of the 1923-S Peace Dollar, with the majority of those certified falling into the MS-63 grade level. A fair amount of MS-64 1923-S peace Dollars have been certified, but Gems are rare. Even in MS-65, this date approaches valkuations of five figures. As of this writing (11/8/2010), PCGS has certified only two 1923-S Peace Dollars in MS-66 and only a single example in MS-67. The value of these Gems is highly speculative, as none of them has appeared at auction since PCGS began keeping track of such things in 1994; one can only imagine the records that any one of these coins would set.
According to a notice in the June 1934 issue of The Numismatist (p. 416), collectors could still purchase Uncirculated 1923-S Peace Dollars for "the face value of the coins and an amount sufficient to cover the mail charrges by first-class mail."
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).
Large mintage: The mintage of 19,020,000 constitutes a record for any San Francisco Mint Peace dollar. Many were placed into circulation at or near the time of striking, but millions remained in storage and were paid out in the 1940s and 1950s.
Hoard coins: The 1923-S dollar was available inexpensively throughout the 1930s. In the spring and summer of 1942, many 1,000-coin bags were paid out by the San Francisco Mint, and the price dropped to the point at which George B. Rogers, in The Numismatist, September 1942, was offering Uncirculated coins for $1.25 each. The numismatic demand was not great, and Rogers and his contemporaries probably sold no more than a few bags, mostly a coin or two at a time, although there was also a limited call for rolls of 20 pieces.
In 1949 and 1950, many more bags of 1923-S dollars came on the market and were readily available through banks in the San Francisco and Oakland area. The market for them was very limited however, as coins of all kinds were experiencing a price slump. By 1953-54 there were still quantities of bags available for anyone desiring them. Many went to casinos in Las Vegas and Reno, and a few to silver dollar hoarders. Many more bags came out in 1955-56, and it is said that more came to light during the Treasury release of 1962-64. This may be where LaVere Redfield obtained his. The Redfield estate, auctioned in January 1976, is said to have had quite a few bags; these graded MS-60 to 63 and were weakly struck, noted John Highfill in his Comprehensive U.S. Silver Dollar Encyclopedia.
John Kamin, publisher of The Forecaster newsletter, recalled the following;
“One day in 1967, a good client of the Forecaster called me up, said he had a couple of bags of 1923 Peace dollars he wished to have me sell for him for a small commission, and that he would drop them off at lunchtime. When he did, I started to look them over, and was soon astonished to find that they all had the S mintmark. But on the Teletype, I was unable to get much more than the price of the more common 1923 Philadelphia coins, and I finally sold the bags for around $1,300 each to Joe Flynn, Sr. of Kansas City. 1923-S bags were very common during the 1960s on the West Coast, and apparently the client had obtained these from a bank at face value.”
Striking quality: In contrast to the 1923 Philadelphia Peace dollar earning accolades for usually being well struck and very attractive, the 1923-S gets a Bronx cheer for its poor striking and appearance.
The dies were spaced too far apart for most of the production run, and coins are often seen with light striking on both the obverse and reverse.
John Highfill said it all in the 1992 Encyclopedia:
"Terrible strike! Uncirculateds are the most poorly struck in the Peace design."
A decade earlier in his masterful Morgan and Peace Dollar Textbook, Wayne Miller commented as follows:
“The typical piece is poorly struck with heavy surface abrasions. Many specimens have a rusty discoloration. Lustre is usually adequate, but they have flat strikes and excessive bagmarks giving them a drab overall appearance. Nearly always poorly struck especially On the reverse. The infrequent specimens have good lustre and minimum bagmarks and are usually considered to be gems unless the strike is poor. 1923-S is the rarest of all Peace dollars in strictly gem condition, much more so than the highly touted 1934-S.
Average Mint State specimens are so unappealing they are often wholesaled among dealers as if they were AU coins…”
The lack of quality of the 1923-S being established, we can move on to other considerations. I am assuming that rather than "avoiding" a 1923-S you will want to have one. You will have to make the best of a bad situation.
Circulated grades: Circulated coins are very common up .through and including AU grade. Most probably, a million or more survive in VF-20 through AU-58 levels.
Mint State grades: I believe that tens of thousands of 1923-S dollars exist in grades from MS-60 through MS-62; perhaps 10,000, give or take a few thousand, in MS-63; only two or three thousand in MS-64; and probably fewer than 400 or 500 in MS-65.
Uncirculated coins are plentiful for an S-Mint issue, particularly in lower grade levels, but nearly all are aesthetically unappealing. A fully struck gem in a high grade such as MS-65 is a distinct rarity.
There are plenty of certified 1923-S dollars on the market, with MS-64 coins being two or three times rarer than MS-63, and MS-65 coins representing just a tiny slice of the population.
Likely as not the average specimen you encounter will be weak and dull on the center of the reverse. The lustre on a Mint State coin usually ranges from dull and/or poor to average. Bagmarks on some coins are light; on others, heavy. Cherrypicking can help avoid these.
Best bet: Cherrypick an MS-63 or 64 with nice lustre, few bagmarks, and an above average reverse; above average still means somewhat weakly struck.
1. Breen-5718. Hub combinational-Bz. VAM-I.
Micro S mintmark. Regular issue. Minor positional mintmark varieties are usually not collected.
VAM-2 has the micro S mintmark doubled on the left side. Considerably scarcer than preceding.
Dies prepared: Obverse: Unknown; Reverse: Unknown.
Circulation strike mintage: 19,020,000
Estimated quantity melted: Unknown.
Characteristics of striking: Usually poorly struck. Known hoards of Mint State coins: Many bags were released in the 1940s and 1950s.
This issue is very common in low Mint State levels and is nearly always poorly struck. In well-struck MS-65 or better grade it is a great rarity.