Continuing from my last column, I told about the release at the Philadelphia Mint in November 1962 of quantities of 1903-O dollars, hundreds of thousands of them. At the time the 1903-O cataloged in Mint State for $1,500 in the Guide Book of United States Coins, with no others priced higher. As I mentioned before, by that time I had been a dealer for nearly 10 years and had never seen an Uncirculated coin. Now, all of a sudden, they were readily available. To many, this was like finding gold in the streets!
As might be expected, the $1,500 catalog price did not hold for very long, and prices dropped, the lowest being $15 per coin for a 1,000-coin bag. Other silver dollars were released in quantity as well from that long-sealed vault, in particular, the 1898-O and 1904-O, both of which had been considered rare. Now they were available for not much more than face value.
If you were not there when this happened and you were predicting the outcome, you might expect that the market crashed. Coins that were once rare now became common. In actuality, this did not happen. First of all, as only a handful of Mint State 1903-O dollars were known and none had sold recently if anyone took a loss, I never heard about it. Within a year or two, the number of people collecting Morgan dollars increased from perhaps a few thousand to hundreds of thousands nationwide. The result is that prices rose and with the solitary exception of the 1903-O, each and every Morgan silver dollar in the 1962 Guide Book is worth much more today!
Collecting silver dollars is a very pleasant pastime, and if you are looking for a series to add you might consider them. From 1878 to 1921 there are slightly less than 100 different dates and mint marks. 70 to 80 percent of them can be collected in Mint State for under a few hundred dollars, and quite a few for under $100. If you invested in Microsoft when it first went public, or found oil on your property, by all means, strive for MS-65 coins, for which the rarest coin today — an 1893-S — would cost several hundred thousand dollars. Most of us are not so lucky, but we still like Morgan dollars. As part of your collecting experience, you might like to acquire a copy of my Whitman book A Guide Book of Morgan Silver Dollars, available from the Whitman website or any rare coin or book dealer. This contains a lot of history and narrative plus detailed information on each date and mint mark.
A good way to go about collecting Morgan dollars is to use this formula, which I have recommended before. As a suggestion, pick Mint State 65 as a goal and buy coins certified by PCGS or NGC. However, eye appeal and quality can vary. Grade is one thing and overall desirability is another. Using certified coins is a start, cherrypick one for quality. Strive for brilliance, coins without spots or stains, and ones that are sharply struck. For some coin issues such as 1881-S, most are found this way in the marketplace. For others, 1891-O being an example, some are weak. With MS-65 as a goal, and depending on your budget (you can change my guidelines to fit your situation), buy every one you can find priced under $500. Go slowly, and in time you will have a very nice collection of dozens of different coins. As you receive them from dealers or by bidding at auction, study each with a magnifying glass, look at the design, and otherwise appreciate them. Then put them in a safe place. Once this is done, there will be other dollars that you still need. The next step is to take your list of these coins and buy every one in MS-64 that costs $500 or less. After you do that, your list will be smaller, and then buy every one that can be bought in MS-63 for $500 or less.
As mentioned, I used $500 as a guideline. If your budget is greater, you can use $1,000 or some other higher figure as the cutoff point. If your budget is more modest, you can use, say, $300. Whatever amount you choose, by being selective you’ll wind up with some nice coins.
After you finish in MS-63, you will have a very short want list. On it will be such items as 1879-CC, 1889-CC, 1892-S, 1893-S and a few others. Contemplate the values of these, and then individually purchase pieces you can afford. For example, an 1892-S is quite affordable in VF-20 or so grade. There is nothing wrong with circulated coins and the rationale for buying such, to give you a high comfort level, is that these coins were there and did that — were in circulation, passed hand to hand, and were part of the American scene.
See you in the next issue!