July 31, 2014

Possibilities for Collecting Morgan Dollars

Together with small cents, Morgan Dollars are perhaps one of the most popular types of U.S. coins to collect. Many Americans have seen or own one of these heavy pieces of silver, and they continue to bring back memories of the old days when they were available at the banks at face value. Even if you were not around at the time, as a coin collector you surely have heard some of these stories and were perhaps mesmerized by what was possible just a relatively short time ago.

Beyond the nostalgic appeal, the Morgan Dollar series includes many common dates which are relatively inexpensive to acquire even in uncirculated condition. This makes the acquisition of one or more individual examples well within reach for the average collector. The pursuit of a complete set, however, is a much different story. A basic set requires a total of 97 coins, struck at five different mints, over a total of 43 years (including 17 years when no silver dollars were struck), with multiple key and semi-key date coins included along the way. While many collectors will choose to pursue such a set, there are other ways to collector Morgan Silver Dollars which are more approachable and less expensive.

In this article, I’d like to provide both beginning and advanced collectors with several possibilities for collecting the series. Some might be well-known, while others are perhaps unfamiliar. Feel free to add a comment how you like to collect Morgan Dollars, or if you have any other ways that make this historical series so popular to collect.

One-per-date

Like many coin series, the Morgan Dollars were struck at multiple mints. This means that a complete set would include multiples of the same date with a different mintmark. Unfortunately for the collector on a limited budget many of the date/mintmark combinations can be rarities which are quite expensive. One way to solve this “problem” is to first collect one of each date and disregard the mintmarks altogether. By doing so, you have the opportunity to acquire one of the more common coin of each year, but still build a feasible and very interesting collection. Most dates have at least one relatively inexpensive coin available, with the 1895 being perhaps the most difficult, as all mints had a relatively low output of silver dollars that year.

This type of collection can also be used as a starting point for a larger set. At a later time, you might decide to start acquiring more mint marked coins and build towards a complete collection.

One-per-mint

This is another well-known set which will consist of a mere five coins, yet all with its own history, spanning all areas of the United States and most decades of the Morgan silver dollar series. This small collection will include a coin struck at the Philadelphia Mint (without a mintmark), the Carson City Mint (with the famous “CC” mintmark), the New Orleans Mint (an “O” mintmark) and the San Francisco Mint (with the “S” mintmark). Finally, in the last year of Morgan silver dollar production, 1921, the Denver mint produced their first silver dollars (with the “D” mintmark).

Except for the Carson City coin all can be acquired in circulated condition for a small premium over the silver value, and in uncirculated condition for as little as $40 a coin. The Carson City silver dollar will cost a little bit more, with perhaps a cost of about $100 in circulated condition and $150 in uncirculated condition. This represents a popular and very feasible set to collect and a provides great introduction to the series.

Major design type set

Collecting by type is a popular way to collect American coins, and most type collectors will include a single Morgan silver dollar in their collection. When studied closely, however, one will be able to discern a number of different design changes during the course of the series.

First of all, the original 1878 design had an eagle on the reverse with eight tail feathers. This was replaced in the same year with a reverse design that had an eagle with only seven tail feathers. In the process some eight tail feather coins were altered in order to reflect the change, creating a 7/8 tail feather variety. The seven tail feather variety remained the design of choice, but can further be divided in the 1878 or 1879 variety, depending on the shape of one of the arrows (the top one, with its feather either slanted or straight) and by the appearance of the eagle’s breast (flat or rounded).

Finally, the 1921 issues have a distinctively different appearance and can be considered to be a separate type as well. As such, a “complete” type set of Morgan Dollars can include anywhere from one to five different coins.

Collecting by Mint

This is a challenging set which is not recommended for the beginning collector, as it is perhaps one step below a complete Morgan dollar set. In this collection one chooses to only collect coins from one mint, such as the San Francisco or Carson City set. Since every Mint has at least one challenging coin, none of these set are easy or cheap to assemble. Yet, they can be rewarding, as especially a complete set of Carson City Morgan dollars is easily recognized and very historical.

Conclusion

As I have mentioned before there is no “correct” way to collect coins and this certainly is appropriate for the Morgan Dollar. Besides some of the sets mentioned above, one can also decide to collect by era, or make a combination of any of the ideas listed above. Collecting Morgan dollars can be a true lifetime endeavor which can be both fun and rewarding.



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Comments

  1. CB says:

    A selection of just 5 coins can provide a collector with three sets at once: by mint, by decade, and by circulated grade (VG, F, VF, XF, AU), This set can also include first and last years struck, a variety or two, and some coins with interesting histories. Example: 1878 8 tail feathers in VF, 1884-CC in AU, 1892-S in VG, 1904-O in F, and 1921-D in XF. 1878 was the only year for the 8 tail feathers variety; most of the 1884-CC dollars were released from the GSA hoard in the 1970′s; the 1892-S is inexpensive in VG, but very expensive in most higher grades; the 1904-O was a scarce and expensive “key” until huge quantities were released by the government in 1962; and 1921-D was the first and only Morgan dollar struck at the Denver Mint.

  2. ho ho silver says:

    I started upgrading to proof like and DMPL….Beautiful 100+ year coins that look proof minted last year.

  3. JB says:

    There is a little area of collecting, called VAMs, that represents a very strong and active collecting community – and a rare place in numismatics where competing collectors collaborate on a regular basis.

  4. I would have thought it was impossible to write an article about collecting Morgan dollars and not even mention VAMs.

  5. TBI says:

    As a collector of Morgan Dollars I started with one coin per date/mint. Over time I found that all Morgans are VAMs. I still collect the date/mint set and also have collected just one date for varieties.I have more coins for that one date than for the entire D/M set.Variety collecting or collecting by die pairs is alive and well

  6. John Goldsmith says:

    All Morgan Dollars are VAMs and the counterfeits that are being produce will not hold up to a VAM expert. VAM collecting will weed out these fake coins. The diagnostic marks are used to identify if the coin is what it is. I feel VAMs will save the Morgan Dollar market from these counterfeits.

  7. Tekkie1 says:

    It was mentioned that there is no wrong way to collect coins and I concur. But if you’re starting a Morgan collection, there’s nothing more fun than looking for and finding a rare Vam. Vams are the way to go IMHO.

  8. Coin Update says:

    Thank you all for the comments. Would any of you like to submit an introductory type of article on collecting VAMs? We’d be happy to bring this field to a wider audience.

    You can contact CoinUpdate at

    coins @ live . com

  9. C. Logan McKechnie
    Owner, VAMs and More

    The word “VAM” on a slab or in an advertisement seems to scare the average collector. “I don’t know anything about VAMs. I’m just finishing my collection.”

    Well, that is a problem because every Morgan and Peace dollar is a VAM.

    “VAM” is an acronym for Leroy Van Allen and A. George Mallis who wrote the Comprehensive Catalog and Encyclopedia of Morgan and Peace Dollars. “VAM Collecting” is the only hobby named after a living person; while Mr. Mallis has passed away, Mr. Van Allen is still very much involved in the hobby and reviews thousands of coins each year to determine if the coins are discovery pieces and given a new VAM number or a piece that requires a revision in his description of the VAM.

    Silver dollars are created by striking metal blanks with hardened dies containing the mirror image of the desired pattern. Through careful study, slight differences can be used to identify specific dies that created the coins. Sometimes these differences occur during the creation of the dies, while other times they are caused by the maintenance or use of the dies. Each die used for each year and at each mint continues to be cataloged by Van Allen, who issues a supplement each year to his original book.

    When the Van Allen/Mallis book was published in 1978, there were just over 2,000 different die pairs that had been identified. Today, the Society of Silver Dollar Collectors—an organization of folks who collect VAMs—maintains a registry. That registry shows there are 5,185 known VAM numbers; 4,119 Morgan Dollar VAMs and 1,066 Peace Dollar VAMs.

    Because of the number, only a few collectors are attempting to gather all of the know coins. In fact, the SSDC Registry only lists four serious attempts. Other collectors approach the hobby in a fine tuned manner. To make the collecting what was referred to as ‘manageable,” Michael Fey and Jeff Oxman in 1996 produced a small, pocket book entitled: The TOP 100, the VAM Keys. That book regenerated vast interest in VAM collecting. While ANACS had been identifying all of the VAMs since 1992, NGC and PCGS stuck their toes in the water and now identify about 350 different coins as VAMs. The Greysheet also only touches on the segment by giving pricing for the 1879-CC Capped Die [VAM3]; the 1887/6 [VAM2]; and the 1887/6-O [VAM 3]. All three of those coins are on the TOP 100 list.

    Following the TOP 100 book, Oxman produced two other list books for the Morgan Dollar, the HOT 50 and The HIT LIST 40. All three books have avid followers who attempt the collect the coins that Oxman has included in his lists.

    Oxman, with Dr. David Close, also produced a TOP 50 book for Peace Dollar Collectors.

    For the collector who knows nothing about VAMs, it needs to be pointed out that the mere identification of the coin does not increase the value of most dollars. Common dollars still remain common dollars and expensive dollars remain expensive dollars. For instance, most 1881 coins—even if identified by VAM number—will still be obtainable at the Greysheet pricing. An 1893-S—even if identified by VAM number—is not going to demand a higher premium.

    However, identification of some of the VAMs sends the pricing through the roof.

    For example, an 1879-S, Reverse of 1878, identified as a VAM 66, 67, 77 or 77a, would demand well over $2,000 in MS60, which is listed in the Greysheet as a $100 coin in that grade.

    The 1878, 7 over 8 Weak, VAM 44 is called the King of VAMs. The coin sells for more than $5,000 in AU compared to $45.00 for a similar none coveted 7 tail feather Morgan. But, the biggest overall jump in prices for identified VAMs are found in the 1878 eight-tail feather reverses. A VAM 14.11 in MS67 is expected to garner more than $100,000 when it comes on the market. Currently a MS67 eight tail feather has a listing of $40,000.

    There are dozens of collectors and dealers who will assist in identifying the VAM numbers on Morgan and Peace Dollars and, for those who want to do it on their own, there are dozens of books that can be obtained to assist. Additionally, there is a website that has all of the VAMs listed and photographs of examples pinned to the identification pages. That web site is http://www.vamworld.com

    So, for the collector who knows nothing about VAMs…it is certainly time to start learning. If not, just throw your money away.

  10. Terry says:

    This will be my third run at collecting a complete set of Morgan and Peace dollars. I was able to actually obtain the 1893 S slabbed PCGS XF in my original collection and did complete both the Morgan and Peace dollar collections in 1996, which I started in 1990. This was a very high ended collection with all coins slabbed PCGS or NGC. It was fun and I spent hundreds of hours bidding, researching and buying coins. I kept that collection until 2000 and sold it for a reasonable profit. I started over again in 2002 and completed both again by the end of 2006. This time few were slabbed but I felt I had learned how to grade with some accuracy so I did not depend on the grading companies so much. In 2009 I sold that collection with a marginal profit, but no losses. I have now started my 3rd collection, this time I have a mix of slabbed and raw coins. I have completed the Peace dollars and have 55 coins collected towards the Morgan dollars. I am not sure if I will be able to make it this time but I will surely try. I have spent over 20 years collecting three Morgan and Peace dollar sets. It has been a blast and I would not trade that time for any other hobby. Key coins are surely the most profitable way to collect but I need closure and that means the whole set. This time I will hold the coins and use them to help my daughter with her college. I have fun collecting, she reaps the benefits of the collection, a perfect situation.

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