Bruce Morelan is a real coin collector’s coin collector. He began his journey in the hobby at the age of six in 1968 and, still only in his 50s, has become one of the great numismatists of the 21st century. His collection has included some of the most famous United States trophy rarities, including the 1804 Draped Bust Dollar, 1894-S Barber Dime, and 1913 Liberty Nickel. Yet, his eye isn’t just for the million-dollar poster coinage. He would also just as soon pursue the obscure varieties that only the most patient and dedicated of series enthusiasts would ever even know about, let alone collect.
Morelan has also completed more than a dozen top-tier PCGS Set Registry collections, including his famous Bruce Morelan Collection of Early Dollars, listed in the PCGS Set Registry as a 12-coin Early Dollars Basic Set with Circulation Strikes. The 100% complete, top-ranked assemblage has appeared at shows in the United States and overseas, drawing large crowds with its stunning assemblage of Flowing Hair and Draped Bust Dollars dated 1794 through 1803.
Not to be outdone is the Legend Collection of Trade Dollars, a 100% complete 18-coin Trade Dollars with Major Varieties, Circulation Strikes (1873-1878) collection encompassing 16 population 1 finest-known coins and the finest-known specimens from each mint that struck the series: (Philadelphia, San Francisco, Carson City). What’s more, he’s completing the only 100% uncirculated Seated Liberty Dollar collection, housing the finest 1870-S of the nine examples known. Morelan also has an 18th-Century Type Set with Gold (1792-1799) presently under construction, with one of the highlights of the set being a 1796 No Stars Capped Bust to Right $2.50 Gold Quarter Eagle graded PCGS MS65 accompanied by CAC.
Morelan has been building his collection with the assistance of Laura Sperber, founder of Legend Numismatics in Lincroft, New Jersey. “By far Bruce has the greatest passion and determination of any collector I have ever seen,” said Sperber, who has been professionally involved in numismatics since 1978 and established Legend in 1987. “His knowledge of every set he has built is beyond encyclopedic,” she added. And while Morelan’s impeccable sets have helped define him as a collector, Sperber wants her fellow numismatists to realize there is so much more to Morelan’s collecting philosophy than just filling holes in sets.
“He is more than a set builder, and I think that is what makes him so great. He lived his fantasy in coins by owning the most famous rarities.” Among these are an 1838-O PCGS PR64CAM Capped Bust Half Dollar, two different 1870-S Seated Liberty Dollars, an 1876-CC PCGS MS65 20 Cent Piece, four different 1884 and three different 1885 Trade Dollars, an 1894-S PCGS PR64 Barber Dime, and two 1913 Liberty Nickels, including a PR66 – the finest known. Then, of course, there is his Class I Dexter/Pogue specimen 1804 Draped Bust Dollar, graded PCGS PR65.
Morelan was kind enough to take time to answer some questions for PCGS Rare Coin Market Report about his collection, his philosophy on collecting, and his ultimate goal as a numismatist.
Q. There’s a story involving your great-grandmother about how you got your start in the hobby, right?
A. My adoptive grandfather had exposed me to coins and, apparently, I was talking about them in front of my great-grandmother. She overheard my interest and got her teapot down to show me some old coins she had saved for many years. She gave them to me – a Seated Liberty Half Dime, a Three-Cent Nickel, and a Trade Dollar. The latter inspired my area of focus many years later.
Q. Did you ever leave collecting at some point and come back into it, or have you been involved on a fairly consistent basis ever since day one?
A. I did take something of a hiatus when in the Navy and starting a business career. I still remember sitting at my desk in my office shortly after paying off my business and thinking ‘now I can get back into coins.’ First coin I bought was a Trade Dollar.
Q. Your Early Dollars collection is just outstanding and includes one of the coins many numismatists would love to own – the 1794 Flowing Hair Dollar, of course the first silver dollar the U.S. Mint ever struck... What was it like buying that coin and assembling that grand collection that eventually went on tour? What were some of the challenges of building that premier set?
A. I had already done the Trade Dollars, the Seated Dollars, and the classic rarities at that point, so I was interested in a new challenge. The Amon Carter 1794 PCGS SP66 had long been a dream coin, and we had toyed with making an offer when the Knoxville set was broken up but just didn’t understand the price. Thereafter, the coin was graded ‘Specimen,’ and Martin Logies wrote a very convincing book centered on the notion the coin was the very first silver dollar ever struck for the United States. At that point, the coin became priceless. Despite the huge realized price of $10,016,875 (a world-record price held since 2013), the fact is Laura and I were willing to go another 30% higher.
Q. What are a few sets you're most proud of and why?
A. I’m proud of all the sets I’ve completed over the years. The Trade Dollars stand out as my very first set, and it was one of the first PCGS Set Registry sets when it was print only. The set at one time included all the proofs, including the Eliasberg 1884 and 1885. The Seated Liberty Dollar set was so spectacular that I do believe David Hall was speechless when I first showed him the set in its entirety. And, of course, the newest set that I’m working on is filled with spectacular coins – the 18th Century Type Set with Gold (1792-1799).
Q. I've asked about your favorite sets and series, but what about your favorite coins? What are a few highlights in your collection?
A. I’m in love with my 1804 Draped Bust Dollar. I never expected to be able to own one of those, let alone one of the finest. I also love my 1795 $10 Draped Bust Eagle from the type set. And, of course, the 1794 Flowing Hair Dollar – it truly belongs in the Smithsonian.
Q. What are some of the joys and challenges of working on PCGS Set Registry collections?
A. The thrill of the hunt is second to none. I’m pretty passionate when building a set, and I drive Laura crazy sometimes. But she’s a good collaborator and we work well together.
Q. What do you tell a collector who wishes to build his or her own better-level PCGS Registry Set?
A. Buy the best coin for the grade that you can – the grade on the label can serve as a means to get more quality for less money if you do it that way.
Q. What advice do you share for buying great coins?
A. You almost always have to overpay for the right coin because the great ones are rarely cheap. Opportunity may be more important than price. The secret is in doing your research, so you know it when it comes along.
Q. Do you have an ultimate goal in coin collecting? If so, how close are you to achieving it?
A. I’ve exceeded any expectation that I had in coin collecting by such a margin that the only goal that remains is to be remembered as a serious collector with good taste and a great eye.
This article is from the current January/February 2020 Rare Coin Market Report. To continue reading this issue, please visit the digital version for the Current Issue. You will be prompted to input the email address linked to your PCGS account. All current PCGS Collectors Club members will have free access to the complete digital Rare Coin Market Report. To purchase a single print issue or 1-year subscription, please visit the RCMR Homepage. If you are not a PCGS Collectors Club Member and wish to join please visit the PCGS membership page at www.pcgs.com/join.