1881-O $1 MS66+ Certification #28286072, PCGS #7128

Expert Comments

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)

Numismatic Information

Hoard coins: Throughout the 1950s, a small but steady stream of Uncirculated 1881-O dollars trickled into the market. Occasionally, a bag would surface and be broken up and absorbed into dealer stocks. Philip Maul advertised rolls of this date in The Numismatist in September 1953. In the same publication in September 1957, Harry J. Forman advised readers that he had 1881-O dollars in quantity. Beginning in October 1962, many additional bags of 1881-O dollars were released by the Treasury Department, a dispersal which continued through at least the summer of 1963. Up to that point, 1881-O dollars were somewhat scarce, although hardly rare, in Mint State preservation.

Circulated grades: High-grade circulated coins are very common (see "Two-Beer" Dollars under Additional Information below), as are well-worn pieces. The "two-beer" dollars came from Federal Reserve branch banks at Helena and Missoula, Montana; others from the Continental-Illinois Bank hoard.

Mint State grades: The 1881-O is very common in lower Mint State grades from MS-60 through 62. At the MS-63 level I estimate that 50,000 to 100,000 exist. In MS-64 it is slightly scarcer but still quite available. In MS-65 grade, well struck, the 1881-O is hard to find. Probably, only 1,000 to 2,000 MS-65 or finer pieces survive. The yellow flag of caution goes up for anyone wanting to buy an MS-65, even a certified or slabbed coin, for an MS-65 is apt to cost many multiples of the price of an MS-64, and the actual technical grade difference is slight. Be careful!

The striking of 1881-O dollars is average. Indi-vidual specimens range from flat to well struck. Cherrypicking will pay dividends with this date.

Prooflike coins: Prooflike coins are common, but most are in AU or very low Mint State grades. Probably about 4,000 to 8,000 exist MS-60 PL or finer, all but a few being lower than MS-65. Many prooflikes are one-sided. In the DMPL column, the 1881-O is about equally available, but hardly any are better than MS-64 DMPL. The "Proof' in "World's Greatest Collection" (F.C.C. Boyd), at a then very high $50, has not been traced. Nor has the Jack Roe coin at $115 (1945?), reappearing in Bolender's 183rd Sale (2/23/52), at $67.50. All these prices exceeded Philadelphia's Proofs of the period. On the other hand, the one B.M. Douglas advertised in The Numismatist 12/51 at $17.50 was probably a DMPL.


Circulation strikes:

1. Normal issue. Medium-size 0 mintmark:Breen-5559. 26 VAM varieties.

2. "1881-O/S" (status controversial): A variety described as 1881-O/S, Breen-5560, has been cited by Walter Breen (B-5560), but has not been confirmed by others. Leroy C. Van Allen and Bill Fivaz each report that they have never seen such a variety; Van Allen suggests that VAM-5 or 9 might be mistaken for an overmintmark. Thomas K. DeLorey believes it is just a repunched O. Jeff Oxman believes that it may indeed by an overmintmark, "but the jury is still out; it has similarities with 1882-O/S varieties.(Bill Fivaz and Leroy C. Van Allen letters to the author, each dated October 31, 1992. Thomas K. DeLorey note received November 1992. Jeff Oxman, letter to the author, November 29, 1992.)

Dies prepared: Obverse: 55; Reverse: 40

Circulation strike mintage: 5,708,000

Estimated quantity melted: Unknown, but probably many under the 1918 Pittman Act.

Availability of prooflike coins: AU prooflike coins are common, but there is little demand. Mint State PL and DMPL pieces are readily available but are mostly in lower grade levels.

Characteristics of striking: Average sharpness. Known hoards of Mint State coins: Many bags were released by the Treasury Department in 1962-1964.

Approximate population G-4 to AU-58: 600,000 to 1,000,000 (URS-21)

Availability of prooflike coins: AU prooflike coins are common, but there is little demand. Mint State PL and DMPL pieces are readily available but are mostly in lower grade levels.

Characteristics of striking: Average sharpness. Known hoards of Mint State coins: Many bags were released by the Treasury Department in 1962-1964.

Additional Information

1881 Report (New Orleans)

The Annual Report of the Director of the Mint, 1881, included this information:

"To enable the Philadelphia Mint to employ as much of its force as possible in the coinage of gold, the monthly allotment of silver coinage for the New Orleans Mint was increased and that for the Philadelphia Mint lessened, and to procure sufficient bullion to execute the required coinage at the New Orleans Mint, the owners of the silver bullion were solicited to bid and send their bullion for delivery at that mint.

"The prices for delivery in lots of less than ten thousand ounces at the New Orleans Mint were also fixed from time to time by the director of the Mint, slightly below the equivalent of the London price, and notices of the rates and changes were given to the smelting and refining works in the western states nearest to the mint, with the hope of inducing them to deliver their silver bullion at New Orleans. Two of these refineries have availed themselves of the advantages of direct shipment, saving the previous expense of double transportation to and from the Atlantic sea-board and benefiting the government as well as themselves."

More on the same facility:

"The work of this mint has been principally confined to the manufacture of standard silver dollars, for which the demand through the South continued heavy during the year and nearly equaled the coinage. The monthly allotment of silver coinage was raised to 500,000, and occasionally to 600,000 standard dollars, and executed with dispatch and little additional expense under the efficient management of the officers of the mint."

The New Orleans Mint had 5,088,132 silver dollars on hand (including two million coins transferred to account of the Treasury Department) and during the year had distributed 6,381,486 pieces.

"Two-Beer" Dollars

Dean Tavenner, in The Comprehensive U.S. Silver Dollar Encyclopedia, stated that silver dollars of 1879-O, 1880-O, 1881-O and 1882-O were released in Montana through the Helena branch of the Federal Reserve Bank. The 1879-O dollars were primarily EF-AU and the 1880-O dollars were also EF-AU. The 1881-O dollars were AU and the 1882-Os were AU. Tavenner further noted:

"For the past many years and in several writings I have referred to these as 'two-beer' dollars; i.e., coins which circulated long enough to buy two beers before returning to the vaults from circulation. Why 'two-beer' dollars? Why did they circulate for such a short period of time? Which dates were involved?

"It seems that most of the bags of these dollars were stored at the New Orleans Mint, probably until the mint closed in 1909, and were sent to the Federal Treasury in Washington. There they sat in the back of the vaults…and were among the last of the bags to be released in 1962-1964…Before the autumn of 1962, almost the only 0 mints of these dates [1879-1881] seen were well-circulated coins, mostly VG or Fine in grade.

"The reason for the recalling of dollars during the periods of 'two-beer' dollars are not clear from any reading or study I have ever done. It may have had to do with the various Reconstruction programs in the South. These changed with each administration and the influence of whichever group of car-pet baggers had its claws in the South's various legislatures. It probably had to do with a generous shortage of cash in the economy of the South. It had, no doubt, to do with some extent to the fact that silver dollars were not a popular item with the general population. At any rate, millions of dollars were placed into circulation shortly after their mintage and within a very brief time, withdrawn and sent to the Mint for storage. This happened primarily in 1881 and 1882, and again in 1887 and 1897."
38.10 millimeters
George T. Morgan
26.73 grams
Metal Content
90% Silver, 10% Copper
The United States of America
Pop Higher
Pop Lower
Price Guide
PCGS Population
Auctions - PCGS Graded
Auctions - NGC Graded

Rarity and Survival Estimates

65 or Better 570000 R-1.5 72 / 117 TIE 72 / 117 TIE
All Grades 210000 R-1.8 89 / 117 TIE 89 / 117 TIE
60 or Better 1900 R-4.6 59 / 117 TIE 59 / 117 TIE

Condition Census

Pos Grade Thumbnail Pedigree and History
1 MS66+ PCGS grade MS66+ PCGS grade

Coronet Collection of Morgan Silver Dollars (PCGS Set Registry)

1 MS66+ PCGS grade MS66+ PCGS grade
2 MS66 PCGS grade
2 MS66 PCGS grade

Gold River Collection (PCGS Set Registry)

2 MS66 PCGS grade