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: On the win market in 1935 and 1936, a 1927-S dollar in Uncirculated grade was just another common issue. However, for a time in 1938 they were scarce in numismatic hands and sold in the $5 to $9 range, falling back to about $3, or even less, when a few bags were released from the San Francisco Mint. However, by 1941 and early 1942 these had been dispersed, and the value of a Mint State 1927-S went up again, to the $5 to $7 range. Then, in the summer of 1942, more bags came out, and the price slipped, but just slightly. Probably not more than a couple thousand additional specimens emerged from storage at that time.
The 1927-S Peace dollar remained basically scarce on the numismatic market, but hundreds of thousands were in storage at the San Francisco Mint, and would remain so until the 1950s. Whenever a group of bags came on the market, the price would fall. In a phrase, the low-mintage 1927-S dollars were scarce in Uncirculated preservation, but specialists in Peace dollars were even scarcer.
In 1949 and 1950, many bags of 1927-S dollars came on the market through the San Francisco Mint, which paid them out to banks in the area. There was relatively little numismatic interest in them at the time, however. In 1953 and 1954 another group of bags came out in the San Francisco area, and this time dealers took the opportunity to stock up on them. By 1954, the 1927-S had fallen in price to the common date category, not quite as low as the very common 1922 and 1923, but not much higher either. Bags were available wholesale for $1,100 to $1,150 each, with few takers. Before any-one was truly aware of it, the supply had become dispersed-into circulation, over the California border to the casinos in Nevada, and to other places.
By 1960, the 1927-D dollar was somewhat scarce and any number of dealers would have given an eye-tooth to turn the calendar back to the days when bags were going begging. Soon, bags of these and other S-Mint Peace dollars became the stuff of which legends are made.
After the Treasury release of 1962-64, many new dealers and investment analysts came into the dollar market. Few of them ever knew about the "good old days" of the 1940s and early 1950s when virtually every S-Mint Morgan and Peace dollar variety ever made could be obtained at face value from San Francisco Mint storage.
By the early 1970s, the 1927-S dollar was decidedly elusive, and few dealers had a decent supply. Then came the distribution of the Redfield coins beginning in 1976, and for a time the 1927-S was plentiful once again. Several or more bags are said to have been in the Redfield Hoard. Wayne Miller said that the Redfield coins were of generally high quality, while John Highfill took a different stance and stated that many were in lower grades such as MS-60 to 63 and were damaged by the mechanical counting machine used in the appraisal process. Apparently, many coins were somewhat prooflike on the obverse, due to minute striae from die polishing. I didn't see the Redfield 1927-S dollars, thus I have no further comment on them.
Circulated grades: Worn 1927-S dollars are readily available. Many of these are in lower levels such as VG and Fine, with VF through AU coins being on the scarce side. This seems to indicate that many coins were released in and around the year of striking, 1927. Because of its low mintage, the 1927-S is in demand in circulated grades.
Mint State grades: Mint State coins are readily available, but most are in lower grades such as MS-60, MS-61, or MS-62. MS-63 coins are scarce on today's market, and MS-64 pieces are scarcer yet. At the MS-65 level the 1927-S is one of the top several rarest varieties in the Peace dollar series.
Grading is somewhat of a problem, for even higher level pieces are nearly always weakly struck. The eagle on the reverse is often dull, with poor detail on the feathers and with marks and nicks on the weak area (marks from the original planchet; the metal movement was not sufficient enough to smooth out the nicks, etc.). Rims are sometimes weak. Bagmarks are usually not a problem with 1927-S dollars, and most are light.
The lustre on 1927-S dollars ranges from irregular to satiny. Cherrypicking for quality is advised. Compared to 1926-S dollars, which are usually at-tractive, the 1927-S dollars are unsatisfactory.
1. Breen-5728. Hub combination II-B2. VAM-1, mintmark in normal position. VAM-2, with mintmark high.
Dies prepared: Obverse: Unknown; Reverse: Unknown.
Circulation strike mintages: 866,000
Estimated quantity melted: Unknown.
Characteristics of striking: Usually seen poorly struck.
Known hoards of Mint State coins: Many bags were distributed from storage at the San Francisco Mini' through the 1950s. The Redfield Hoard (1976) had several bags.
The 1927-S is readily available in lower Mint State grades, but is very rare in sharply struck MS-65 preservation.
According to a notice in the June 1934 issue of The Numismatist (p. 416), collectors could still purchase Uncirculated 1927-S Peace Dollars for "the face value of the coins and an amount sufficient to cover the mail charrges by first-class mail."