The NGC Universal ID is a four digit alphanumeric that groups coins based on a unique combination of date, mintmark, denomination and striking process (MS, PF, or SP). These IDs are a simple organization of all coins prior to variety attribution and grading.
While not particularly rare in circulated grades, the 1896-O dollar is elusive in all Mint State grades, and a major rarity in Gem quality. In The Morgan and Peace Dollar Textbook, Wayne Miller wrote: ?No other Morgan dollar is as consistently deficient in luster, strike, and degree of surface abrasions as the 1896-O. A fully struck piece is rare, an 1896-O with minimum bagmarks is even more unusual. In the author?s opinion, the 1896-O is the rarest of all Morgan dollars in truly Gem condition.?
In 1896, the New Orleans Mint coined 4,900,000 silver dollars, following several years of lean production. This mintage is only a little over 300,000 fewer silver dollars than had been struck in New Orleans during the previous four years combined. It is almost certainly the case that those four years of limited production created this condition rarity as nearly all of these pieces were actually placed in circulation in 1896.
This issue provides an excellent illustration of the often confusing relationship between rarity and mintage. With a production of nearly 5 million coins, the ?96-O has a substantial mintage for Morgan dollar issue. There are nearly 50 different issues that have a lower mintage, including such issues as 1884-CC, 1897, 1898-O, and 1904-O, just to name a few, and none of these dates come even close to the rarity of the ?96-O in high grade. In the Morgan dollar series, rarity is not based on mintage, but on survival. For many dates, substantial portions of the mintage were placed in storage at the Treasury for several decades, until they were released in the 1960s, or even into the 1970s for some of the Carson City issues. Dates that were placed in storage are now the common dates in the series. Other dates, such as the 1896-O, that were released into circulation, are now the rarities or condition rarities of the series. In a few instances, such as the 1893-S, the rarity is explained by a combination of low mintage and release into circulation, and these are the dates that are keys to the series in all grades. The 1889-CC is another example.
The condition rarity status of this date is similar to the 1901 silver dollar. Both are essentially common in circulated grades, but rare in Mint State grades, and when such pieces are found, they are usually at the lowest numerical levels. However, proof examples of 1901 are available to collectors, but not so for the 96-O. Dave Bowers writes: ?Those who are edged out of buying a Gem Mint State 1901 can wink twice and buy a proof quickly, but the collector seeking an 1896-O has no such fallback possibility.?
Description and Analysis courtesy of Heritage Auctions and may not be republished without written permission.
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